Nouns: countable and uncountable

Nouns: countable and uncountable

Do you know how to use a, some, any, much and many? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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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Hello lily7983,

Waste is usually an uncountable noun and we modify it with quantifiers that go with uncountable nouns: a lot of, a great deal of, some, a little etc.

Wastes (plural) is unusual, but it does exist to describe types of waste. The Cambridge Dictionary gives this example: Oil spills are common, as is the dumping of toxic industrial wastes.

 

I would not say 'plastic wastes' unless in context you are very specifically talking about a number of different types of plastic waste.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Amir__760__ on Fri, 14/07/2023 - 08:51

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I have trouble understanding the punctuation applied by some writers, which is inconsistent with what I learned from grammar books. For instance, I learned that a comma should be placed before coordinating conjunctions such as 'and' and 'but.' However, why is a period sometimes placed before them?

I have another question, too. Which of the following is grammatically correct?

People don't have a good life.

People don't have good lives.

Hi Amir__760__,

There isn't a single standard way of punctuation that everybody agrees on. Different books and resources may teach different and contradictory ways. For example, in school I learned the opposite of what you learned - that a comma should never be placed before coordinating conjunctions. Different newspapers and websites may also use different style guidelines in their writing.

Another point of view is that because language usage is so varied, it's unrealistic to define a rule to cover all situations, and that writers should use their judgement about when to use a comma. Functionally, a comma visually separates the elements in the sentence. If a sentence is long, a comma separates the elements clearly and helps the reader to make sense of the long sentence (while in a short and simple sentence, a comma may be unnecessary). Using a period (full stop) is an even clearer separation of elements. In these cases, the key question is: Does using a comma (or period) make the message easier for the reader to understand? Being easy to understand is usually more important than simply following 'rules' of pronunciation, unless you are in a situation where your language is being tested (e.g. a language exam).

It's also worth considering what kind of writing you are talking about. Modern and informal types of writing (e.g. personal emails, social media messages) tend to be lighter in terms of punctuation than more formal types (e.g. essays).

About your second question, they are both grammatically correct and mean the same thing.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

I'm so thankful for your quick, illustrative response. That matter had been bothering me for a long time.
So, both of them are grammatically correct and their being correct isn't just limited to that certain noun, right?

Hi Amir__760__,

Yes, right! And I'm glad that this was helpful for you.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by chandrumbt on Tue, 30/05/2023 - 03:04

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Do we need to use quantifiers always before uncountable nouns? For example, is it okay to say, "Did you get water?" or "I've got apples."

Hi chandrumbt,

No, not always. Those sentences are perfectly fine! 

Jonathan 

LearnEnglish team

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Submitted by simiriti on Thu, 06/04/2023 - 12:56

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In English grammar, nouns can be classified as countable or uncountable, also known as count and mass nouns respectively.

Countable nouns refer to things that can be counted as individual units, such as "book," "chair," or "apple." These nouns can be used with numbers and articles such as "a," "an," or "the." They also have plural forms, such as "books," "chairs," or "apples."

Uncountable nouns refer to things that cannot be counted as individual units, such as "water," "rice," or "knowledge." These nouns usually do not have a plural form and cannot be used with numbers or indefinite articles like "a" or "an," but they can be used with some quantifiers like "some," "any," or "much."

However, some nouns can function as both countable and uncountable depending on the context. For example, "coffee" can be an uncountable noun, as in "I like to drink coffee," or a countable noun, as in "I ordered two coffees."

It's important to understand the difference between countable and uncountable nouns to use them correctly in sentences and to choose the appropriate determiners and modifiers.

Hi!
I wonder if context could make this usage correct: "The only way out of underdevelopment was revolution."
Is it wrong not to say "a revolution"?

Hi Maria Montoya,

No, that's totally fine! The word "revolution" can be countable or uncountable. In its uncountable sense, it's fine without an article.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team