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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




Thank you very much for the explanation, Peter.

I just have one more question. As you said, using ''a'' with a count/uncount noun we describe one of others. Doesn't that make the ''one'' particular and unique?

And I understand that the difference between ''a'' and ''the'' with a count/uncount noun is that if we use ''the,'' we have to describe that particular noun earlier and if ''a,'' we have to describe it later.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

Many thanks again.

Hello MCWSL,

When we use the indefinite article we are describing one from a group but without specifying which one. In other words the article means something like 'any one of them - it does not matter which', not 'this particular one and only this one' (which is the meaning of the definite article).

There is no obligation to describe the noun later. It can remain just a general identifier. When we use the definite article, of course, the noun must be identified.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Could anyone correct my sentence.
They are philosophers whose thinking match to the today's idealist school of thought.

Hello Asgharkhan8,

For one thing, since 'thinking' is grammatically singular, the verb 'match' should be singular ('matches'). Also, the word 'to' isn't needed; neither is 'the': '... whose thinking match today's idealist ....'

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Asgharkhan8,

You're correct in saying that the 'thinking' is done by the philosophers, but 'thinking' is the subject in the second clause '(their) thinking matches today's idealist school of thought'. If we divided that one sentence into two, it would be something like: 'They are the philosophers. The philosophers' thinking matches today's idealist school of thought.' As you can see, the subject of the verb 'matches' is 'thinking'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I am a non-native speaker of English, so I'm asking for your help. Why do we use the zero article in the following phrases (I have found them in dictionaries):
a change of address
a change of government
a switch from student to teacher
Are the words after the prepositions countable nouns?
Could you provide me with some more examples of this usage of normally countable nouns.
I would be very greatful for your explanation, because I cannot understand it by myself thus far.

Hello Oleg27,

Sometimes the article is used or not used as part of a fixed expression and other times it is used on the basis of its meaning.

In your examples it is useful to think about how the meaning changes when different articles are used:

a change of an address  - this would suggest you have multiple addresses and change one

a change of the address - this would be used only when the address has already been mentioned and you are referring back to this

Without the article the meaning is more general and is about the concept of changing address. However, the phrase is also a fixed expression. You can see this when you consider how the plural is formed: not changes of addresses but changes of address.

The same applies to all three examples: they are general in meaning, describing the concepts of 'government', 'student' and 'teacher' rather than particular examples of these.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

hello sir,
i have doubt on these sentences. please correct me
1. i have two pairs of shoes. or I have two pair of shoes.
2. i have 3 years experience. or I have 3 three year experience.
3. i buy 2 liters of milk. or i buy 2 liter of milk.
i have 5 rupee note. (it's correct) so in this way what about the above.......

Hello Afia shakir khan,

'two pairs of shoes', 'three years of experience', and 'two litres of milk' are the correct forms in these sentences because in all of them you are talking about more than one - there are two pairs, three years and two litres.

The reason we say 'a five rupee note' is that there is only one note. The note is worth five rupees, and you could even say 'I have five rupees', but if you mention the note, then it's a five-rupee note. The same could also be true of your sentence about the milk: if the milk came in a two-litre container, you could say you bought 'a two-litre of milk'.

I hope that clears it up for you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Ok but is it
ten lords a leaping
ten lords aleaping
ten lords-a-leaping
tin lards be lappin