Countable and uncountable nouns 1

Do you know how to use a, some, any, much and many?

Look at these examples to see how to use countable and uncountable nouns in a sentence.

I'm making a cup of tea.
There's some money on the table.
Have we got any bread?
How many chairs do we need?
How much milk have we got?

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Countable and uncountable nouns 1: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Nouns can be countable or uncountable. Countable nouns can be counted, e.g. an apple, two apples, three apples, etc. Uncountable nouns cannot be counted, e.g. air, rice, water, etc. When you learn a new noun, you should check if it is countable or uncountable and note how it is used in a sentence.

Countable nouns

For positive sentences we can use a/an for singular nouns or some for plurals.

There's a man at the door.
I have some friends in New York.

For negatives we can use a/an for singular nouns or any for plurals.

I don't have a dog.
There aren't any seats.

Uncountable nouns

Here are some examples of uncountable nouns:

bread rice coffee information
money advice luggage furniture

We use some with uncountable nouns in positive sentences and any with negatives.

There's some milk in the fridge.
There isn't any coffee.

Questions

In questions we use a/an, any or how many with countable nouns.

Is there an email address to write to?
Are there any chairs?
How many chairs are there?

And we use any or how much with uncountable nouns.

Is there any sugar?
How much orange juice is there?

But when we are offering something or asking for something, we normally use some.

Do you want some chocolate?
Can we have some more chairs, please?

We also use some in a question when we think the answer will be 'yes'.

Have you got some new glasses?

Other expressions of quantity

A lot of (or lots of) can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.

There are lots of apples on the trees.
There is a lot of snow on the road
.

Notice that we don't usually use many or much in positive sentences. We use a lot of instead.

They have a lot of money.

However, in negative sentences we use not many with countable nouns and not much with uncountable nouns.

There are a lot of carrots but there aren't many potatoes.
There's lots of juice but there isn't much water.

Go to Countable and uncountable nouns 2 to learn more.

Try this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Countable and uncountable nouns 1: Grammar test 2

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Language level

A1 English level (elementary)
A2 English level (pre-intermediate)
Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 17/03/2022 - 17:49

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Hello. Could you please help me choose? Why? I think both are OK.

- My father has a lot of (friendship, friendships).

Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think the most natural thing would be to say '...a lot of friends'. However, of the two you have here I think 'friendships' is the best choice if you want to say how popular he is.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par maccachi le jeu 10/03/2022 - 02:10

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Hello. I was teaching my student using this lesson, and when we were doing the Grammar test 2, we came across sentence 4, "I need some information about train times." My student's answer was "a lot of information" but it was not accepted. Can you please tell me why only "some" can be accepted in this case? I've gone over the theory part but I can't see any reason why "a lot of information" can't be accepted. Thank you so much.

Hello maccachi,

The quantifier 'a lot of' is not grammatically incorrect here but it's hard to think of a context in which it would be used.

We would say 'some information' whenever asking for information unless for some reason we felt the need to warn the other person that we are asking for something unusual. For example, if I had a very long list of questions then I might say 'a lot of information' as a kind of apology, with the sense of 'Sorry I have so many questions'. However, even then we would probably phrase it differently:

"Hi. I need some information about train times. I've got a lot of questions actually - sorry about that!"

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Irina_L le jeu 18/11/2021 - 11:56

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Hello, there! Can you tell me if I say "There aren't many potatoes", it means that "There are some potatoes"? Do these sentences have the same meaning or there is a slight difference? Thank you!

Hi Irina_L,

The sentences do mean something similar. 'Not many' indicates a small amount (e.g., just two or three potatoes), or an insufficient amount (e.g., there are 10 potatoes, but I need 20). 'Some' is more general and could mean a small or a large amount, or a sufficient amount.

Good question and I hope it helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Natasa Tanasa le jeu 04/11/2021 - 15:46

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Hello,

Could you please explain to me when is chocolate countable and when uncountable?

Thank you a lot!

Hello Natasa Tanasa,

'chocolate' is a count noun when we use it to speak about a specific quantity, usually a piece that a person eats at one time. Often this small piece of chocolate is packaged for individual consumption. For example, a restaurant I used to go to always put one small piece of chocolate (in individual wrappers) per customer on the table with the bill. So if there were three of us at the table, they gave us three chocolates (three individually-wrapped pieces of chocolate).

In all other situations that I can think of, we use 'chocolate' as an uncount noun.

By the way, this general rule applies to other nouns such as 'water' (we sometimes call a bottle of water 'a water'), 'coffee', 'beer', etc.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Denys le mer 06/10/2021 - 11:51

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What's the difference between "positive sentence" and "affirmative sentence"? I believe the first term is lessser-used.

Can't we use "some" in positive / affirmative sentences with Countable nouns? E.g. "There're some bottles of milk in the fridge" by meaning "I don't remember quantity of milk bottles, but I am certain of milk in the fridge".

Hi Denys,

'Positive sentence' and 'affirmative sentence' refer to the same thing. You're right, 'affirmative sentence' is the normal technical term. We've used 'positive' in the explanation above because this page is aimed at A1/A2-level users.

Yes, we can use 'some' in positive/affirmative sentences with countable nouns. As the 'Countable nouns' section above states, 'For positive sentences we can use 'a'/'an' for singular nouns or 'some' for plurals.'

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par Rafaela1 le mer 21/04/2021 - 13:13

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Occasionally I mistakenly say 'informations are ...'. Tricky!

Soumis par roberto90 le lun 12/04/2021 - 10:00

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is this sentence correct as well? I've bought some new shoes but I didn't get any shirt.

Hello again Roberto,

People would understand it, but really 'any' should be 'a'. We use 'any' with plural count nouns (e.g. 'shirts') or uncount nouns (e.g. 'bread') and 'a' with singular count nouns (e.g. 'a shirt').

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par Rafaela1 le dim 14/03/2021 - 12:28

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Hello admins, I've got a question. Will you please tell me the difference between 'There aren't any seats' and 'There isn't any seat'? ;)

Hello Rafaela1,

They mean much the same thing. The first one suggests that someone was asking or thinking about finding multiple seats and the second one suggests just one seat, but if you asked to enter a place that was already at full capacity, someone might say either or both of them to you with the same meaning.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Maahir le dim 14/03/2021 - 07:02

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Hi, Thanks for the great lessons you're providing us. Just wondering why money is listed under the uncountable nouns while it can be counted in number. for exmp. 1/2/3 dollar. could you please explain it more. Thanks.
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Soumis par Jonathan R le dim 14/03/2021 - 12:03

En réponse à par Maahir

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Hi Maahir,

In your example, it's the word dollar (not the word money) that is countable. The word money is different - it refers to an amount, and is (normally) uncountable. :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par lipo3 le sam 30/01/2021 - 22:17

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Hello and thank you for these great and varied ressources. Being a teacher, is it possible to print the grammar lessons? there s no overhead projector in the classroam making teaching from this website difficult. Thank you.

Hello lipo3,

We're glad that you find the lessons useful. You are welcome to print them as long as the pages clearly indicate that the lesson was written by the British Council and that it comes from our website.

Thanks for asking -- hope that helps you!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Pienk le dim 03/01/2021 - 07:48

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hello, I did not understand the complete meaning of uncountable nouns.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 03/01/2021 - 08:21

En réponse à par Pienk

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Hello Pienk,

Uncountable nouns are things that we cannot number as individual things but rather see as a quantity.

For example, in my kitchen I have some bananas. I can count them: one banana, two bananas etc. I can add more and have three or four or five bananas.

Now imagine that I take my bananas and crush them because I want to make a banana smoothie. Now I don't have separate bananas; I just have a quantity of crushed banana in a jug, so I say I have 'some banana'. If I add more then I just say 'more banana'. The banana is now uncountable.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good day Peter, I am just a little confused about what you said there. So when the "banana" is now uncountable, can we say 'much banana'? since 'much' is for uncountable noun and 'banana' here is uncountable. Which is the right one?

Hello karl_97,

You could say that, yes. However, we generally use 'much' in negative sentences or questions. In affirmative sentences we use 'a lot of' or similar phrases:

Don't put any more in! There's already too much banana in the smoothie.

I like a lot of banana so go ahead and put it all in.

How much banana should I add?

 

You can compare these with the countable equivalents:

Don't put any more in! There are already too many bananas in the bowl.

When I buy fruit for the week I like to get a lot of bananas as they're very healthy.

How many banana should I take? One each or would you like more?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par cyn nat le mar 15/12/2020 - 06:55

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hello, I want to ask, how about hair? Is it countable or uncountable nouns?

Hello cyn nat,

Hair is countable when we are talking about a strands of hair, but it is uncountable when we are talking about hairstyles or appearance:

Look at my jumper. It's got dog hairs all over it.

I love the colour of your hair!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Akash Rathore le lun 14/12/2020 - 05:04

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Hello Sir, I have some doubts. Please help me resolve them. Usage of singular and plural verb (has and have). 1. Two and a half year has passed. 2. Two and a half years have passed. how sentences 1 and 2 are correct? 3. One year and a half has passed. ( or have)
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Soumis par Kirk le lun 14/12/2020 - 07:49

En réponse à par Akash Rathore

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Hello again Akash Rathore,

Only 2 is correct. Sentence 3 is correct with 'have'. This is because 'one and a half ' is considered plural.

Please note that it takes us a little time to reply to your comments -- there's no need to ask the same question in more than one place.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Harry le ven 20/11/2020 - 08:11

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Hello! I noticed something is strange to understand for me.In test 2, no.6 answer is "much".But the explanation mentioned above said that that answer can be submitted by "any" for uncountable nouns in negative sentences. Would you mind if you correct my opinion?

Hi Harry,

You're right! Any is fine too. I've added it as another answer to question 6. 

Thanks for letting us know about it :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nurieta le ven 23/10/2020 - 12:18

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Hi! I have a question. I would like to know, when do you use "a lot of" or "lots of"?. For example: Lots of things are mysteries, or .... Now I have lots of time, could you say too, " a lot of " in both sentences? I don´t understand, if you can use this expression whenever you want. Thanks :)

Hi Nurieta,

Yes! You can use both lots of and a lot of in those examples. They have the same meaning and style. There's no difference between them :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par Rafaela1 le mar 20/10/2020 - 16:34

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I'm wondering if "water" is countable or uncountable. For example, is there any difference in meaning between crystal clear water and crystal clear waters? ;)

Hello Rafaela1,

Water is generally uncountable. However, we can say waters when we are talking about a body of water, especially an ocean or sea.

The dictionary offers this definition:

waters plural

(1): a band of seawater abutting on the land of a particular sovereignty and under the control of that sovereignty

(2): the sea of a particular part of the earth

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/water

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par mrshk le mar 20/10/2020 - 09:04

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Hello, I don't understand why bread is uncountable..
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Soumis par Peter M. le mer 21/10/2020 - 07:45

En réponse à par mrshk

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Hello mrshk,

Bread is uncountable in English because we use it to mean the foodstuff rather than a single item. When we talk about items we use phrases like this:

a loaf of bread

a slice of bread

a piece of bread

a crust of bread

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par Rafaela1 le mer 23/09/2020 - 13:33

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When we use "some" in a question expecting the answer will be 'yes', what answer would be possible if the answer is 'no'? Q: Have you got some new glasses? A: No, I haven't got any glasses. No, you're wrong. No, I've got no glasses. No, wish I had.

Hello Rafaela1,

Many responses are possible. You're right that the question suggests an answer, so a negative response is a form of contradiction:

No, actually I haven't.

No, I haven't. Why do you ask?

No, but I wish I had!

It really depends on what the speaker (responder) wants to say and what the two people's relationship is. 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par Ninel_Georgia le ven 04/09/2020 - 11:25

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Hello, ,,when we are offering something or asking for something, we normally use some''. Is it correct to use ,,any'' Ex: Do you want any money?
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Soumis par Kirk le ven 04/09/2020 - 14:26

En réponse à par Ninel_Georgia

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Hello Ninel_Georgia,

We typically use 'any' in questions, but it's also OK to use 'some' if you expect people to say 'yes', or if you want to encourage them to say 'yes'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team