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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

Helli JakiGeh,

When we use 'half of + noun' the verb which follows agrees with the noun. For example:

half of the people are ['people' is plural, so the verb is plural]

half of the toaster is ['toaster' is singular, so the verb is singular]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
I'd like to know which one of the following sentences is correct and why?
- He showed good command of English language. Or
- He showed (a) good command of English language.
- He managed to achieve good enhancement in various language skills. Or
- He managed to achieve (a) good enhancement in various language skills.

Hello Raghad hm,

When we use 'command' with this meaning, normally it has a determiner like 'a' or 'her' in front of it, so the second sentence is the correct one here.

As for the other two, I'd say the second one is better. It is grammatically correct, though it sounds a bit odd to me. Most native speakers would probably phrase this idea as 'He managed to improve his language skills' or something similar.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks.

Hi
"Some nouns have both a count and an uncount form", as mentioned in point no. 2 above. How to decide whether it's to be used as a count or an uncount in a particular context?

Hi Adya's,

There is no rule which lets you know this in advance; you simply have to learn it as you learn the words. Sometimes there is a logical reason, of course. For example, 'coffee' is an uncount noun when describing the substance we use but a count noun when we are talking about cups of coffee.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! I would like to ask about the word "dollars", whether it's ok for it to be followed by either singular or plural verb.
Eg. Ten thousand dollars is/are needed to make this investement.
Twenty dollars a day is/are a very low salary.

Thank you!
Kelly

Hello Kelly,

In general, plurals nouns will take plural verbs, as in the first sentence, where 'are' is correct. In the second sentence, however, 'is' is correct. This is because you're talking about a salary, so the idea of the $20 (as a salary) is singular.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
What verb should be used with plural nouns like 'Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games.
For example, 'The Olympic Games is/are going to start next month'.
Thanks

Hello naghmairam,

A plural verb is used for the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and any others with the word 'games' in the title.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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