Uncount nouns

Level: beginner

Some nouns in English are uncount nouns. We do not use uncount nouns in the plural and we do not use them with the indefinite article a/an:

We ate a lot of food. (NOT foods)
We bought some new furniture. (NOT furnitures)
That's useful information. (NOT a useful information)

We can use some quantifiers with uncount nouns:

He gave me some useful advice.
They gave us a lot of information.

Uncount nouns often refer to:

Substances: food, water, wine, salt, bread, iron
Human feelings or qualities: anger, cruelty, happiness, honesty, pride
Activities: help, sleep, travel, work
Abstract ideas: beauty, death, fun, life

Common uncount nouns

Some common nouns in English like information are uncount nouns even though they have plurals in other languages:

advice accommodation baggage equipment
furniture homework knowledge luggage
machinery money news traffic

Let me give you some advice.
How much luggage have you got?

Common uncount nouns 1

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If we want to make these things countable, we use expressions like:

a piece of ... a bit of ... an item of ...
pieces of ...  bits of ... items of ... 

Let me give you a piece of advice.
That's a useful piece of equipment.
We bought a few bits of furniture for the new apartment.
She had six separate items of luggage.

However, accommodation, money and traffic cannot be made countable in this way. We need to use other expressions:

I've lived in three flats/apartments. (NOT bits of accommodation)
Smith received three large sums of money. (NOT pieces of money)
We got stuck in two traffic jams. (NOT pieces of traffic)

Common uncount nouns 2

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Common uncount nouns 3

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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 29/10/2013 - 13:01

In reply to by menaka

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Hello menaka, There is a difference in meaning between these: 'A few' = some and enough for the purpose; it has a positive sense. 'Few' = not as many as we would like or not enough for the purpose; it has a negative sense. For example: 'I have few friends' = I am a little lonely and would like more friends. 'I have a few friends' = I'm quite happy with the number of friends I have. So, in your example the speaker is saying that they bought enough bits of furniture - perhaps they will buy more, but they don't lack furniture. If the speaker had said 'We bought few bits of furniture for the apartment' then we would understand that there was a problem of not having enough furniture. There is a similar distinction between 'a little' and 'little' with non-count nouns. 'I have a little time' = I can help you/chat/do something with you. 'I have little time' = I'm in a hurry. You can find more general information on quantifiers here: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/determiners-and-quantifiers/quantifiers I hope that clarifies it for you. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hussain Bahelim on Wed, 14/08/2013 - 04:57

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Hello Team,

You are doing a great job by providing free knowledge for English language. This will be very helpful for person who is not able to afford tuition fee. My question is, in first line you just mentioned that "We do not use uncount nouns in the plural and we do not use them with the indefinite article, a/an." but in the first example "We ate a lot of food" you used article 'a'.

I will really appreciate your time you would spend in replying this.

Regards,

Hussain Bahelim

Hello Hussain Bahelim,

Thank you for your warm words - they are much appreciated and it is nice to know we are helping people with the English studies.

The answer to your question is that we do not use 'a' with the uncount noun 'food', but we do use the quantifying phrase 'a lot of', which should be considered a set/fixed phrase like 'many', 'much', a great deal of' and so on.  By the way, 'a lot of' can be used with both count and uncount nouns: 'a lot of food' and 'a lot of apples'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

Yes, you people are helping definitely. But important thing is, you are helping those who could not afford English Tutor for learning.

So in 'a lot of' we can not say 'a' is an article instead it is whole phrase itself. Is it necessary or is there any rule by which we can only use an article before noun only ?

Sorry I am not native English speaker so lots of confusion.

Regards,

Hussain Bahelim

Hello Hussain,

It is possible to analyse the phrase 'a lot of' in terms of its individual parts but I don't think it's very helpful and so I would suggest learning it as a set phrase, as I said.

Articles are used before nouns, yes, but I'm not sure as to the exact meaning of your second question.  Could you rephrase it, perhaps with an example sentence so I can fully understand?

Many thanks,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abdorawa on Sat, 10/08/2013 - 18:49

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Thanka you for your effort.my question is:the deferences between a piece of... and pieces of...

Hello Abdowawa,

'A piece of' is singular (one piece); 'pieces of' is plural (more than one piece).

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mydearfriend73 on Sat, 22/06/2013 - 13:31

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I'm a bits of puzzle here, if Gas is uncount noun then what is gaseous ? Kindly explain? Millions thanks in advance.

Hello Mydearfriend73,

If you look on the right of the page you'll see a little window headed 'Cambridge Dictionaries Online', which you can use to look up items of vocabulary.  Try it with 'gaseous' and you'll be able to answer your own question!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cmoeller on Wed, 10/04/2013 - 00:41

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Hello, could someone help me with the word "Sustainability" and how to use it, please? I supose it is an uncount noun (is there some other grammatical term to describe 'Sustainability'?) There is no plural; it cannot be used with the indefinite article. It can be used with quantifiers such as 'some' or 'little' - what type of words are these quantifiers? Thanks a lot for your help, Carina

Hello Carina!

 

Yes, you're right - sustainability is uncountable. If you look it up using our online dictionary, you'll see the noun has [U] in brackets after it - uncountable. I am not sure what you mean by 'how to use it' though - are you asking about the meaning or the use? It is used like any other noun, and it is usually used to talk about environmental issues, specifically whether or not something can be done for a long time without damaging the environment:

 

Sustainability is big issue in environmental politics.

 

As for some or little - these words are just quantifiers. You can read about them here.

Hope that helps!

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Thanks Jeremy. In terms of usage of the word; there can be "little sustainability" but not "three sustainability". Isn't 'three' also a quantifier? Also, 'sustainability' can be used with quantifiers such as 'some' or 'greater' but not with 'few' ("few sustainability" sounds odd). Why is this the case? Cheers, Carina

... I think I found the answers to my 2nd post. Because sustainability is an uncountable noun, it cannot be used with numbers. Thanks Jeremy. Carina

Submitted by Naseer Ahmed on Sat, 02/03/2013 - 19:35

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Hi All,

i am new learner

 

Submitted by Olga-Brignano on Sun, 17/02/2013 - 20:54

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Hello everybody!
Could you explain to me which is right, please.
1. How much time you do you spend on the Internet?

-About 5 hours.

-That is too many!(or too much)
2.How much do you weigh?

– 80 kilos.

– That`s too much! (or too many)
Thanks a lot. 

Submitted by achmadsubchan on Tue, 12/06/2012 - 05:32

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it's very helpful...thank u

 

Submitted by Alexman on Mon, 27/02/2012 - 12:15

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Dear All

 

I hope my message finds you all well

 

please I have a question about a snetence like this one (Hi Book Worms! Hope everyone "has had" a great week) in this sentence writin (has then followed by had) so waht is the name of this rule I mean is it past perfect or what 

 

I also get lost in grammer you might notice what can i do and how am I suposed to start 

I dream to be an Expert in using english by passing IELTS 

 

Hello Alexman!


I know what you mean. That sentence does sound a bit confusing!

 

If you look at it though, it's still present because it uses has. The next part, had, is the past participle of 'have'. Put together, has had IS a perfect tense - but it's the present perfect, not the past perfect! You can guess that, because the example you chose is about the same week they are talking about. Past perfect is for things which are definitely in the past. You can read more about the differences on our pages about present perfectpast perfect, and the perfect forms generally.


Keep looking through our pages for help with grammar - but don't forget there are other things which are just as important for the IELTS exam.
Hope that helps!

Jeremy Bee

Submitted by sugra_azimova on Sat, 04/02/2012 - 12:32

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hello please answer to my question:why we say a lot of food?is it true?i think we must use lot of food.

Submitted by Anastasia Rybina on Thu, 12/01/2012 - 18:02

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I like this class))