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Common problems with count and uncount nouns

Level: beginner 

Substances as count or uncount nouns

Substances are usually uncount nouns:

Would you like some cheese?
Coffee keeps me awake at night.
Wine makes me sleepy.

but they can also be used as count nouns:

I'd like a coffee, please. = I'd like a [cup of] coffee.
May I have a white wine? = May I have a [glass of] white wine?
They sell a lot of coffees. = They sell a lot of [different kinds of] coffee.
I prefer white wines to red. = I prefer [different kinds of] white wine to red.
They had over twenty cheeses. = They had over twenty [types of] cheese.
This is an excellent soft cheese. = This [kind of] soft cheese is excellent.

Substances as count or uncount nouns 1

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Substances as count or uncount nouns 2

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Nouns with both a count and an uncount form

Some nouns have both a count and an uncount form. Their meanings are closely related:

George had hopes of promotion.
We should always have hope.


There's a danger of avalanches on the mountain.
Some people enjoy danger.

Level: intermediate

Nouns with two meanings

Some nouns have two meanings, one count and the other uncount:

Can I have a glass of water?
I cut myself on some glass.

 

Is English a difficult language?
Linguistics is the study of language.

The Times is an excellent paper.
It's made of paper.

Other nouns like this are:

business industry property wood
power time work hair
Nouns with two meanings 1

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Nouns with two meanings 2

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Uncount nouns that end in –s

Some uncount nouns end in –s. They look like plural count nouns, but they are not.

Nouns like this generally refer to:

Subjects of study: mathematics, physics, economics, etc.
Activities: gymnastics, athletics, etc. 
Games: cards, darts, billiards, etc.
Diseases: mumps, measles, rabies, etc.

Economics is a very difficult subject.
Billiards is easier than pool or snooker.

Uncount nouns that end in –s

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Comments

Hi hrnmo,

All of those sentences are correct. Words like 'team' and 'family' are collective nouns which can be plural or singular. This is because we can think of a family, for example, as either one thing (a unit) or as a collection of individuals (a group).

There are quite a few words like this, such as police, government, army, Manchester United and orchestra.

There is more information on this point on the page, under point 5 (Group Nouns).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hi, can you please explain this. Below is the explanation of how plural nouns are used. then why this sentence is incorrect "I need to buy a new trousers."

A few plural nouns, like binoculars, refer to things that have two parts.

glasses jeans knickers pincers pants pliers
pyjamas scissors shorts spectacles tights trainers
trousers tweezers
These binoculars were very expensive
Those trousers are too long.

To make it clear we are talking about one of these items, we use a pair of …

I need a new pair of spectacles.
I’ve bought a pair of blue jeans.

Hi navira,

'Trousers' is a plural noun and so we cannot say 'a trousers'. You can say either of the following:

I need to buy some new trousers.

I need to buy a new pair of trousers.

In the first sentence, 'trousers' is plural. In the second 'pair' is a singular noun, just as 'group', 'collection', 'set' and so on are singular. These are called 'collective nouns'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Kindly Sir,
These two questions baffles me. And i got them wrong.
How can a scissors be "some scissors"?
How can "run a business" be correct?

According to what i read uncountable nouns do not go with an indefinite article A/An.
Or am i misunderstanding the rule?

Choose the correct sentence.
It's not easy to run a business and raise a family.
It's not easy to run business and raise a family.

Choose the correct sentence.
Can you lend me some scissors?
Can you lend me a scissors?

Hello Faizan,

Even though 'scissors' refers to one object, it is a plural noun and so often is sometimes used with plural determiners (such as 'some'). You can also hear people say 'a scissors', though I'm not sure this would be considered correct by everyone. Another, more standard way of referring to them is to say 'a pair of scissors' (which is singular).

'business' is used as both a count and uncount noun. In this case, it refers to a particular company, and in this use it is a count noun.

It's great that you've asked these questions -- you will learn a lot this way!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

''100 000 is much''
''100 000 is many''

Which should I use if the meaning here is the number is big in amount?

Thank you.

Hello JamlMakav,

To be honest, I'd say '100,000 is a lot' and not either of the forms you ask about.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Please explain this to me.
Can we say most money ? Eg. Most money was spent on recreation.
Money is uncountable so can't we say much mony.
Thank you
Best regards
Andrew international

Hello Andrew international,

The meaning of 'most money' and 'much money' is not the same. 'Much' means the same as 'a lot of', but we generally use 'much' in questions ('How much money have you got?') and negatives ('I haven't got much money') rather than affirmative sentences. It is perfectly fine to say 'It cost a lot of money'.

'Most' means 'more than the rest' or 'more than half the total', depending on the context. For example:

'The government spent some money on education and culture, but it spent most money on health.'

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there,

''Half of the toaster work (or works)''

Is half of it still singular?

Thank you.

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