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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BlackSheep 提交于 周二, 13/12/2016 - 12:15

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Hello, I would like to ask you some questions: ''Trains travel on rails'' Does ''travel'' have dependent preposition ''on''?(I tried searching, but I didn't find information about it) ''I didn't do it on purpose'' ''This book is on mathematics'' (''on'' is always followed by ''purpose'', and it goes after the verb ''to be'' as well. Does English have preposition + a noun like a noun + dependent preposion?) Thank you very much for helping me

Hello BlackSheep,

No, a variety of prepositions can be used after 'travel' - if you look at the example sentences in different dictionaries (e.g. Cambridge, Oxford) I expect you'll see several.

'on purpose' is a fixed expression (scroll down the page to see the definition), kind of like 'on time' and many others.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

A K Pathak 提交于 周日, 11/12/2016 - 15:38

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Hello. We should always have hope. George had hopes of promotion In the above two example 'hope' is in count and uncount form as you said. please, elaborate this?

Hello A K Pathak,

You can find information on this type of query in a good dictionary. For example, if you search for 'hope' in the Cambridge Dictionary, you'll see a link to a grammar page on 'hope', which I think will answer your questions and will at least give you an explanation and example sentences. After you've looked through that, if you have specific questions, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk, I have read the explanation given on the link, is it correct to conclude that adding modifier to the variable noun can turn it to be countable? For example: 1) You must never give up hope. - hope is uncountable 2) You must never give up YOUR hopes. - hope is countable 3) You must never give up hopes OF becoming a successful scientist - hope is countable Thanks

Hello Kaisoo93,

When nouns have both count and uncount forms, then yes, adding some sort of determiner or a plural ending to the uncount form effectively transforms it into a count form. Note that you can't necessarily do this with all uncount nouns, or at least not in standard English.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

The sky view 提交于 周四, 08/12/2016 - 14:16

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Hello, I have a question about using currency and measurement units. Do we use them as plural or singular? e.g. There are 100 Cents in an one Dollar. 20 dollars is a lot to lose. So, when do we use currency as plural? Many Thanks.

Hello The sky view,

It depends on how you view them. In 'There are 100 cents in a dollar', you're talking about how many cents there in a dollar - since this idea includes the idea of many cents, the plural is used. In '$20 is a lot to lose', on the other hand, the idea is of an amount of money ($20) and in this way it is like one unit in itself. In addition, if the dollars are US dollars, there is a $20 note, so the speaker could be thinking about the $20 note.

It can be a bit difficult to see in this abstract, so if you have any more specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask us.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Elli3 提交于 周三, 07/12/2016 - 02:57

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Hi there, Would you consider "noodles" a count or uncount noun. "I've eaten too much noodles" and "I've eaten too many noodles" –– which of these two sentences is incorrect? Thank you!

Hi Elli3,

'Noodles' is a countable nouns, and so we would say 'too many noodles'. By contrast, 'spaghetti' and 'rice' are uncountable.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Andrew international 提交于 周五, 11/11/2016 - 16:12

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Dear Sir Please tell me whether this sentence is correct or not. In my opinion it is correct but I would like to know your answer. A pair of cotton trousers is Rs. 2000.00. I think it is correct because 'A pair' is the subject. Thank you. Best regards

Hello Andrew international,

Yes, that sentence is correct. The subject is the noun phrase 'A pair of cotton trousers', which is singular.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Andrew international 提交于 周五, 11/11/2016 - 13:16

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Dear Sir I went through your website uncountable nouns and abstract nouns but I couldn't find an answer to this but it was very useful. My question is this: is 'life' an uncountable noun? I think it is so under abstract nouns but I have seen clauses such as - 'his life; 'their lives. Please explain this to me. Thank you in advance. Best regards Andrew international

Hello Andrew international,

Life can be both countable and uncountable. It depends on whether we are talking about life as a general notion or abstract concept, or about the life of a particular person or type of person.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

MCWSL 提交于 周六, 05/11/2016 - 16:39

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Hello. The chair leg is broken Is ''chair leg'' compound noun? If it is so, can I change it to chair-leg? If it is not so, how can we make a difference between noun modifier and compound noun? Do we not use apostrophe(chair's leg) because it is a thing(chair), and preposition ''of'' should be used? Thank you.

Hello MCSWL,

Yes, it is a compound noun. Sometimes compound nouns are two separate words, sometimes they become one and sometimes there's a hyphen. In this case, it's 'chair leg'.
As far as I know, there is no simple way to know whether two nouns can be used together in a compound as they are here – it is a matter of convention, i.e. it's how people have come to use the language.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

MCWSL 提交于 周五, 04/11/2016 - 11:07

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Hello. If we hyphenate words in order to work as a compound adjective, do we use plural nouns? For example this sentence: She had a concealed-weapons permit. Shouldn't it be concealed-weapon permit? Thank you.

Hello MCSWL,

Normally the noun is singular in compound forms, though there are exceptions. In any case, in this case, I'd say 'concealed weapon permit'. Compound adjectives are normally noun + adj, noun + participle or adj + participle; 'concealed weapon' is an adj + noun, so a hyphen shouldn't be used there as far as I know.

If you haven't seen it already, Oxford has a page on hyphenation that might be of interest for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

MCWSL 提交于 周六, 29/10/2016 - 16:31

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Hello, why do we use apostrophe here : ''a two minutes' drive'' and in this sentence we do not ''a two minute rest''. How can I know whether to use apostrophe or an noun modifier? Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

I would not use an apostrophe in either case, but would hyphenate the phrase:

a two-minute drive

a two-minute rest

In these examples two-minute is an adjective and no apostophe is used.

It is possible to use an apostrophe, but it must be written without the indefinite article and is then treated as an uncountable noun with a quantifier (similar to 'some' or 'plenty of'), not an adjective + noun:

two minutes' drive

two minutes' rest

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

MCWSL 提交于 周日, 23/10/2016 - 21:30

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Hello. Could you explain the difference between noun and noun that is formed from a verb. For example: swim,swimming or wet, wetness. Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

A noun formed from a verb with -ing is called a gerund. It functions in the same was as any other noun and can fulfil the same roles in the sentence. For more information about gerunds, see this page.

Your second example is not a noun formed from a verb. 'Wet' is an adjective; 'wetness' is a noun. Again, this functions as a normal noun - there is no difference in its use.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I am sorry for wrongly formulated question. ''wet'' according to Cambridge Dictionary can be a noun. Could you explain what is the difference between wet and wetness? Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

There's not a big difference between them, though 'wetness' is more common when the meaning is more abstract.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Tonyloveheart 提交于 周六, 22/10/2016 - 01:16

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Hi, for the uncount nouns section, I'm confused about when to add s to nouns, like in the following sentence: "Mary explores the actions of a scientist who creates a human being from dead organism tissue." Should we add s to tissue or put an article in front of dead? Thank you

Kirk 提交于 周六, 22/10/2016 - 07:57

Tonyloveheart 回复

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Hello Tonyloveheart,

'tissue' is one of many nouns that can be used as both count and uncount nouns. Here, I think you could use it as either a plural count noun or an uncount noun - uncount is probably slightly better - so no article is needed. I don't know what the context is or if it's otherwise important, but I'd say you could omit the word 'organism', i.e. I'd probably say 'from dead tissue'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! Could you explain me the difference between "noodle" and "noodles"? Thanks

Hello Liza,

I think the best resource for you is the dictionary entry for 'noodle'. As you'll see, in its most common use, 'noodle' is a count noun, though it is usually plural, as usually people make more than one piece. When it's used in a compound noun (e.g. 'noodle soup', '), 'noodle' is used in the singular.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Agog 提交于 周二, 04/10/2016 - 18:55

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Sir please consider the following sentence : "Owing to heavy engagement he could not write even the two - third of the book of which the publication was expected before January. " Is this sentence correct? And what exactly does the second part mean? Doest it mean publication house was supposed to meet some orders of some particular magazine or so. Or does it mean that the writer was expected to finish writing before deadline for the publisher.

Hello Agog,

That does not seem a very well-constructed sentence to me, though it is hard to comment fully without knowing the context.

Without knowing the context it is hard to interpret. It seems to mean that the book was to be published before January, but that the writer did not complete his or her work in time. Normally the writer finishes the book well before the publication date because there is a lot of work to do between the end of the writing and the actual publication (editing, typesetting, marketing etc).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team 

Thank you sir. Also is use of "two-third" correct or there should be "two - thirds"?

divergent 提交于 周四, 29/09/2016 - 18:32

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Hi sir I really need to know that the word electricity is countable or uncountable ... i know is sounds ridiculous or whatever but In webster(dictionary)I found out that it has plural form ... electricities and the first use was in 1646...so I got confused....and I'd be pleased if you can answer me as soon as possible...cause its kinda way more important for me to know
Hello Sir, IncorrectIt was difficult marriage. IncorrectThat's very interesting property. How much is it? IncorrectIt's not easy to run business and raise a family IncorrectPhysics are not my best subject. Kindly let me know the cause of these sentences incorrect.

Hello Imran,

In the first three sentences, the indefinite article 'a' is missing before singular count nouns. In the last, 'physics' is a singular noun.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, I am confuse with above exercise, I have 5 out of 8. in previous lesson of Uncounted Noun U have read that, we do not use in definite article with uncounted noun but in above exercise the indefinite articles used before uncounted nouns. Kindly let me the correct sense of it.

Hello Imran,

Can you please copy the sentences that you have questions about into a comment? Please also of course tell us what you don't understand about them.

We'd really appreciate it if you could do that, as it makes it easier for us to respond clearly and concisely if we know exactly what you have questions about.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, "How many languages do you know?" How many language do you know?" Kindly let me know what the correct form of above sentences.

Hello Imran 26,

'language' can be a count or uncount noun, depending on how it's used. In this case, when you're talking about different languages, it of course must be a plural count noun. 'how much' is used with uncount nouns and 'how many' with count nouns.

Therefore the first sentence is the correct one.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello Sir, I have red multiples time in many places that "Industries,properties,works" but in above I have red that these all are non-count noun. We how we can write these words like that?

Hello Imran 26,

You have to check the dictionary a bit more carefully. 'industry', for example, is used as both an uncount and a count noun. If you read all of the Cambridge Dictionary entry, you'll see this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

MCWSL 提交于 周二, 20/09/2016 - 10:09

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Hello, I have this sentence: Sally will help you with your housework. I think that ''housework'' is direct object and pronoun ''you'' is indirect object. Am I right? I wanted to ask one more question: Where is the difference between these two sentences? I wish you good luck and I wish good luck to you. Thank you.

Hello MCSWL,

In the sentence about housework, 'housework' is the object of the preposition 'with' and 'you' is the direct object, though it's true that it's kind of like an indirect object in terms of what it means.

As for the second sentence, there is no difference in meaning. In the first, 'you' is an indirect object and in the second 'you' is an object of the preposition 'to', but this preposition phrase ('to you') communicates the same idea as the indirect object 'you' does in the first sentence.

I hope this helped you! Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Agog 提交于 周三, 07/09/2016 - 17:55

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I need to know whether "majority" takes singular or plural verb?

Hello Agog,

The answer is that it can take both forms. It depends on how the speaker perceives the thing being described: if the speaker is thinking about a group of individuals then he or she will tend to use a plural verb; if the speaker is thinking about the group as a whole or a unit then he or she will tend to use a singular verb.

There are many examples of nouns which work this way. For example, I can say either of the following:

Manchester United are the best!

Manchester United is the best!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

lisa Tran 提交于 周三, 31/08/2016 - 16:32

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dear sir is it correct when I write" I bought two pairs of new blue jeans yesterday" ? I don't know how to arrange " new blue" in this sentence. Thank you

Hello lisa Tran,

Yes, that is perfectly correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Andrew international 提交于 周一, 08/08/2016 - 11:30

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Dear Sir These sentences are puzzling for me. Would you tell me they are right or wrong. It is about using 'a' 'the' The cow is a useful animal. A cow is a useful animal. A horse is a noble animal. The horse is a noble animal. My problem is : 'the' is a specific determiner and 'a' is a general determiner. Is it allright to use both articles or not. Thank you. Regards

Hello Andrew international,

I'd recommend you not think of 'the' as a 'specific determiner' and of 'a' as a general determiner, because it's more complex than this. Our Articles 1 and 2 pages present articles in general in a way that many people find helpful.

The specific case of 'the' and 'a' in sentences like the ones you ask about is a tricky one. Both are correct and there is no significant difference in meaning, and, as I mentioned in my last comment, the plural form of the subject (e.g. 'Cows are ...') is much more common than 'the' or 'a'.

The sentence with 'the' could be found in a nature documentary, for example, where a whole species is being discussed. The sentence with 'a' could be found in a documentary on farms, where a whole class of farm animals is being discussed. 

It's difficult to say much more than this on this topic. I'd suggest you pay special attention to how articles are used as you read. This should help you understand them better, though also consider that articles is one of the points of English grammar that is most difficult to master, so be patient with yourself.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Andrew international 提交于 周六, 06/08/2016 - 10:07

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Dear Sir I went through your websites carefully but still I have a few things to be clarified . Such as: How much equipment do you have? How much is one equipment? How many of the equipment are sevicable? How many of the equipment are defective? Are these questions correct if not please tell me why? Thank you. Regards