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

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Substances as count or uncount nouns 2

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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

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Nouns with two meanings 2

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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

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Mussorie 提交于 周五, 18/06/2021 - 10:08

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Could you please explain how the word "much" is used in the sentence below? 1.I don't think there is a problem much to it. As the rule, problem is a countable noun, then how can we compare a countable noun (problem) with much (which is used for uncountable nouns)?

Hello Mussorie,

I'm afraid that sentence is not correct. As you point out, 'problem' is a count noun.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Kirk, can you please re-write the correct sentence for me? So are you saying that it is not possible to write "problem" with "much"?

Hello Mussorie, 

You could say 'much of a problem', but not 'much problem', which is incorrect. If I've understood what the sentence is supposed to mean, I suppose I'd say 'I don't think there will be much of a problem with it'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Kaisoo93 提交于 周二, 06/04/2021 - 07:49

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Dear Teachers, "Most developed countries have advanced military forces to protect their TERRITORY/TERRITORIES". It should be "territory" or "territories"? Germany's territory, the USA's territory, the UK's territory, so added up should be "territories", am I correct? Thanks

Hi Kaisoo93,

Actually, both territory and territories are correct here. There a couple of things to be aware of:

  1. The noun territory can be uncountable or countable, with the same meaning. So, we could use the uncountable territory.
  2. When the subject is plural, if each subject possesses one of something, you can use a singular noun. For example: Many people have a Facebook account. This means that each person has one account. It doesn't mean that there is only one account in total. You can also say Many people have Facebook accounts in the plural - this also has the 'one account each' meaning. However, it has another possible meaning: that each person has more than one account. 

Going back to your sentence, you can use territory and territories with pretty much the same meaning. But use territory if you mean it in an uncountable sense. Or, use territories to emphasise that each country possesses several territories.

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan, Thank you for your explanation. Is "their accounts" correct in the following sentence? If I change to "their account", does it implies that all people share one facebook account? "Many people have a Facebook account. They use their accountS for different purposes." Thanks

Hi Kaisoo93,

Yes, you could use accounts in the second sentence.

It's also fine to use account. It's true that one possible meaning is that all people share one account, but this is obviously unrealistic in this context, so readers/listeners would definitely understand it as having the other possible meaning: each person uses their own account for different purposes. Using account also has the benefit of keeping the reference consistent with account in the first sentence, so I would recommend that.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Nevı 提交于 周一, 01/03/2021 - 08:11

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Hi guys, I want to know something.I saw this sentence while I was reading a book. 'I missed the last metro home and had to get a taxi.' Then, I searched the noun on the Internet which I had never seen -metro home-, but I couldn't find anything.Whats the meaning of that noun? and Have you ever seen that phrase? Is it common? Thanks a lot!

Hello Nevı,

This sentence has different chunks (parts) than what you are thinking. One chunk is 'I missed the metro' and another is 'home', which here is a short way of saying 'going home' or 'that goes to my home'. In other words, this person missed the last metro that they needed to take in order to get home that day.

We often use 'home' after a noun phrase like this. You could also say, for example, 'the bus home', 'a flight home', etc.

Hope this makes sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Teacher, can we use for other places such as the bus restaurant, the flight London, the train stadium...? Could you tell me Thanks a lot!

Hello Nevı,

No, those are not correct -- you need to say 'the flight to London', 'the train to the stadium', etc.

The word 'home' is unusual and can be used adverbially without the preposition 'to' -- you can see an explanation of this on this page -- look for the paragraph beginning 'We use home as an adverb ...' and you'll see what I mean.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Samin 提交于 周日, 31/01/2021 - 15:01

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Hello please clarify The sky is blue in color I had egg and toast for breakfast We spent the day sitting in the garden There's no electricity in the town because of the floods Here color,Breakfast, day, garden,town, floods countable-- or uncountable?

Claudia 提交于 周二, 18/08/2020 - 16:31

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Hi there: Please could you explain to me why INDUSTRY is a count noun in the exercise "The automobile INDUSTRY is a vital part of the United States economy"? Thanks a lot.

Hi Claudia,

For industry, the countable and uncountable nouns have slightly different meanings. The uncountable noun means 'companies and activities that produce goods or services'. The countable noun is more specific. It means 'companies and activities that produce a specific good or service'. That's why it's countable here – it refers to a specific industry (rather than goods or service production in general).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

knownman 提交于 周二, 28/07/2020 - 09:35

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Hello I would like to ask something about the sentence that I quoted from BBC Food: Each serving provides 285 kcal, 20g protein, 33g carbohydrates (of which 11g sugars), 7g fat (of which 3g saturates), 6g fibre and 0.8g salt Why is that used 33 carbohydrates of which 11g sugars 3g saturates carbohydrate, sugar and saturate are uncountable in this context. Aren't they? And why we don't use salt, fibre with plural form if we use the above ones with plural forms.
Hi knownman, You're right that it would also make sense to use uncountable forms here. But using plural countable forms is the way that recipes are normally written. They give a sense that there are a number of different types. - carbohydrates (e.g. sugars, starches) - sugars (e.g. glucose, fructose) With 'salt', my guess is that recipe writers use 'salt' (uncountable) rather than 'salts' (countable) because, although there are many types of salt in the world, salt in food is mostly a single type (sodium chloride). Best regards, Jonathan The LearnEnglish Team
This is really helpful. Thanks.

itspb008 提交于 周日, 19/04/2020 - 11:29

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Abstract ideas, Human feelings and Activities how to use them as Noun with both a count and an uncount form? Can you please explain it with example as I'm having problem in understanding?

Hello itspb008

Could you please tell me where on this page the things you are referring to are located? If they are not here, could you please give some examples of what you mean? We are happy to try to help you with grammar rules related to this topic, but we do ask that you make your questions specific, as it's quite difficult to answer such general questions.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

itspb008 提交于 周三, 15/04/2020 - 15:06

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Yes, just one SUGAR, please. Why is it Uncountable? If you're going to the shops, can you buy me a bar of CHOCOLATE? Why is it Uncountable? How can we use Nouns with both count and uncount in different sentences? When we use industries, businesses, properties etc ? When we use industry, business, property etc?

Hello itspb008,

In your sentences, both one sugar and a bar of chocolate are countable, not uncountable.

 

Some nouns can be used as either countable or uncountable nouns. When we think of sugar as a substance which we weigh by the kilo, then it is uncountable. When we think of sugar as a something we add to coffee which can be measured in lumps or spoonfuls, then it can be countable. Another example would be coffee. The substance is uncountable, but we can say a coffee when we are talking about a cup of coffee, for example.

When we talk about industry as a concept (as a sector of the economy, for example) then it is uncountable. If we want to talk about particular kinds of industry (the constuction industry, the automobile industry, the tech industry etc) then we can use the word as a countable noun: some industries are coping better with the current situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, Then, I think, the questions number 4 and 10 are wrong in "Substances as count or uncount nouns1" exercise. I mean I marked as a count noun for 'Yes just one sugar, please' NUMBER 4 and 'can you buy me a bar of chocolate?' NUMBER 10 But hey are showed as wrong. They are showed as uncount nouns.

Hi knownman,

I see! You're right, question 4 was showing the wrong answer. I've corrected it now. Thanks to you and itspb008 for noticing the mistake.

Question 10 is correct, as the question focuses only on chocolate (not on the whole phrase a bar of chocolate). Chocolate is uncount because it's a substance, not a unit of the substance. But a bar is a count noun, and so is a bar of chocolate (the phrase as a whole).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, dear friends! I need your help with a phrase at the beginning of a text about tea: "... tea is ... evergreen plant". I understand that we should put an article "an" before evergreen, but what about an article before "tea" in this case? I consulted several dictionaries (including Oxford): tea in general is uncountable, but when we speak about a plant "tea" may be a countable noun. So, if the phrase is: "A tea plant is evergreen" it is correct, isn't it? But "a tea is an evergreen plant" sounds for me incorrect... The same thing with "the tea is an evergreen plant" because we do not speak about any concrete tea. What do you think? Thank you and with best wishes, Aislin.

Hello Aislin

Given no particular context, the forms that are correct here include: 'Tea is an evergreen plant', 'Tea plants are evergreen', 'A tea plant is evergreen' or 'The tea plant is evergreen' (or 'is an evergreen plant').

If you're speaking about tea plants in general, then the most commonly used form would probably be the second sentence I listed above.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

amirfd 提交于 周六, 01/06/2019 - 23:42

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Hello. What is MS Word? I know. It's a software. Open source softwares provide a rich resource ... 'software' is a countable or uncountable noun? Has 'software' become a countable noun?
Hello anirfd, I would not use 'software' as a countable noun. I would say 'a piece of software', not 'a software'. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

cbenglish 提交于 周四, 04/04/2019 - 04:25

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Dear sirs, I have this sentence: "Her artistic talents were wasted in that boring job." I checked the meaning of the noun talent in my dictionary and it says talent can be both countable and uncountable. Can I also say: "Her artistic talent was wasted in that boring job"? In this case, I am using talent as an uncountable noun in that sense that the noun talent now includes several unknown talents. Did I get it right or there is a difference in meaning when talent is used as an uncountable noun rather than a countable noun? Thanks.
Hello cbenglish, Your sentence is correct. In this context there is no difference in meaning and you could use either form. More generally, the uncountable form describes a person's overall ability in a given area, while the countable form may be more specific and describe particular concrete abilities. Thus, 'artistic talent' describes a person's overall ability, while 'artistic talents' might describe painting, photography, drawing etc. Peter The LearnEnglish Team

learning 提交于 周日, 09/09/2018 - 04:23

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Dear Teacher, I have a question about nouns. Let's say a man is wearing a shirt and a tie. Another man is wearing a shirt and a tie, too. Which of the following is correct? 1) Both of them are wearing shirts and ties. 2) Both of them are wearing a shirt and a tie. 1) seems to be more common, but is more ambiguous than 2). If you say 1), I wouldn't know if each of them is wearing more than one shirt/tie, but 2) means each is wearing a shirt and a tie. If you could shed some light it'd be great. Thank you.

Hello learning,

Sentence 2 is generally considered the correct one, for the reason you state. But, as you note, sometimes you can see or hear sentences like 1, even when the meaning is that each person is only wearing one shirt and tie. I would encourage you to use the second version.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk, I'd like to ask why do we use "lies" instead of "lie" although we have two nouns (Independence and Sovereignty) in the sentence below: "Psychological Defence posits that the assurance of independence and sovereignty for Singapore lies in the spirit of Singaporeans." Thanks!

Hi YH,

The subject of 'lies' is 'assurance', which is the head of the noun phrase 'the assurance of independence and sovereignty for Singapore'. Since 'assurance' is grammatically singular, so is the verb.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

amol 提交于 周三, 23/05/2018 - 16:10

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Hello, Is there a difference between 'order' and 'orders?' He will not work except order / orders. Which word to use? Regards.

Hi amol,

I'm afraid that sentence is not correct in standard British English with either 'order' or 'orders'. Perhaps you mean something like 'He will not work except under orders' or 'He will not work unless he is ordered to'?

'order' can be a noun as well as a verb. In my first sentence, it is a noun and in my second sentence it is a passive verb. I'd suggest you check the dictionary for more examples of how it is used.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

jiaojiaopeter 提交于 周二, 22/05/2018 - 00:58

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hi,teacher ,i have a question about that "it was a difficult marriage ",why we need to add "a" ?

Hi jiaojiaopeter,

We have a choice here of the indefinite article (a difficult marriage), the definite article (the difficult marriage) or the zero article (marriage).

 

We use the zero article when we are talking in general terms about marriage as a concept:

Marriage is an important institution

Marriage exists in virtually every culture

Note there is no adjective here (such as difficult) because the meaning is general and abstract.

 

We use the indefinite article when we are talking about one marriage, but are not identifying a particular marriage. In other words a marriage means one marriage - it's not important which one:

A successful marriage requires a lot of patience and understanding.

We celebrate a marriage every hour on Saturdays. It's the most popular day!

In your example, the phrase a difficult marriage tells us that there are many difficult marriages and we are talking about one example.

 

We use the definite article when we are referring to a particular example and both the speaker and the listener know which one it is.

Remember the marriage we were talking about last night?

Bob and Sue got married in 1996. The marriage lasted less than three years.

 

You can read more about articles in this section (use the links on the right to go to particular pages) and on this page and this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter M, Thank you very much you explain difference between a difficult marriage and simple marriage careful and understandable. Now I know how to use nouns with two meanings. Kind regards, Diana

blessnick 提交于 周日, 25/03/2018 - 15:50

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Hi just a question on scissors. If I would like to have one scissors, should I say can I have some scissors?

Hi blessnick,

Yes, 'scissors' is always grammatically plural, even when we refer to just one of them. If you want to ask someone to pass you some, you could say 'Can I have some scissors?' or 'Can I have a pair of scissors?' or 'Can you pass the scissors?'

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Andrew international 提交于 周五, 16/02/2018 - 07:28

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Hi Peter In your above answer to 'navira' the first sentence: 'Trousers ' is a plural noun and... My question: What is the subject of that sentence? Is it 'a plural noun' I have heard the subject could come after the verb. please let me know. Let me know wether this is correct, too: Some new trousers is for sale. Thank you. Regards

Hi Andrew,

'Trousers' is the subject, 'is' is the verb (a linking verb or copula) and 'a plural noun' is a subject complement. The reason a singular verb is used is that the sentence describes the word 'trousers' (it means 'the word trousers'), not the item which we wear.

Your sentence is not correct because 'trousers' is a plural noun here. You need to say 'Some new trousers are on sale'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Andrew international 提交于 周三, 14/02/2018 - 12:42

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Hello Sir I request your help regarding these sentences: This sheep is black. Changing this into plural. These sheep is black. or are black or Some sheep is black. Which sentence is correct? For eg. This equipment is new. Changing this to plural. Some equipment is new. One cannot say; these equipment are new because one cannot use a plural verb with an uncountable nown. Please advice me regarding the 1st example. 'This sheep is black.' Thank you. Regards

Hello Andrew international,

'The sheep are black'. As for the sentence with equipment, I would say there is no plural form -- as you point out, how can you make something uncountable countable? 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

EnglishZenon 提交于 周六, 13/01/2018 - 17:46

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Hi all! :) "That's a very interesting property. How much is it?" I intuitively answered this even though I was not sure why it goes like "That's A very interesting..." From one of the first lessons: "We use the indefinite article, a/an, with count nouns when the hearer/reader does not know exactly which one we are referring to." But the reader/hearer in this case knows exactly which property we're talking about... Someone cares to explain? :) Thank you!

Hi EnglishZenon,

It is possible to say 'the interesting property' here. The context is important.

 

The reason we usually say 'an' in this case (your instincts were good, of course) is as follows:

We use 'the' when we want to identify a particular thing within a group. For example:

That's a property. [one of many properties]

That's the property. [a specific property which has been identified previously]

 

The same distintion applies when an adjective is added:

That's an interesting property. [one of many interesting properties]

That's the interesting property. [a specfic interesting property which has been identified previously]

 

In other words, 'the interesting property' would be a way of identifying a particular interesting property from other interesting properties, not a way of stating that one property alone is interesting.

 

The reason we can also say 'the interesting property' is that it could be a reformulation of 'the property which is interesting', which would identify a particular property in the sense of 'there are many properties, but only one has the characteristic of being interesting'. As I said above, context is key here because articles are related to the level of shared information between speakers.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

SteveS 提交于 周三, 10/01/2018 - 15:08

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Hi, Not sure if anyone can help but the department I work in is creating a new department for Estimating. The name for the new team will be the 'Estmation Team'; should it not be 'Estimating Team'? The first choice just doesn't seem correct to me

Hello SteveS,

I'm afraid I'm not sure what to recommend, in part because I don't understand exactly what that department's function will be. I'd suggest looking at websites of other companies in your sector to see what language is in use by your peers.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hrnmno 提交于 周六, 16/12/2017 - 05:14

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Hi there, In the following sentences, which is correct? 1). The cricket team has just finished their exercises The cricket team have just finished their exercises 2). Their family is smaller than ours Their family are smaller than ours Would you Please explain the logic as well. Thank you.