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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


Substances as count or uncount nouns 2


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


Nouns with two meanings 2


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




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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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'.

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

I have read this sentence, the United Oil Company are putting prices up by 12%. In the guidelines said that when we consider these nouns plural in spoken English. My question would be, what about written English?

Hi zjboss,

I would say that plural is the most common in both spoken and written English.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


At the bottom of this page, there's a chart of the abstract noun usage. The chart has this sentence ''we had a great time in Ibiza...'' and under (a specific period of time). Why isn't ''the'' used there if it has (a specific period of time) under? I still see the sentence with the article ''a'' as ''there are many great times and we had one of them which isn't particular'', in other words, I think a listener doesn't know what ''time''. It is the same with the sentence above ''the job requires a knowledge of statistics and basic computing''. Shouldn't the article ''the'' be used instead there?

Thank you very much

Hello MCWSL,

I'm sorry but we really can't provide explanations of how and why language is used the way it is on other sites. We have enough to do explaining the examples on our own pages (which we are happy to do) but can't offer an explanatory service for any and all examples on the internet! If you have a question about an example on the Cambridge Dictionary site then I suggest you contact them.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Re: passive voice or not

Tea is grown in Sri Lanka. Tea is exported. The structure of these two sentences seems to be pasive Please let me know whether they are passive or not.
Thank you.
Andrew international

Hello Andrew international,

Yes, both of those sentences are passive.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Ref. on Sunday
Thank you very much for explaning the above mentioned phrase
It was not very clear for me before.
Andrew international