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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Hello keanit,

Many words in English have two meanings and you can usually tell from the context which meaning is relevant.  As with any vocabulary which is different from the words in your own language, you simply have to learn and remember the meanings.

You can often tell if a noun is countable or uncountable from its physical properties. Things which come in individual units (so you can identify one, two, three etc) are countable, such as apples, days, chairs, rivers, cars and so on.  On the other hand, things which we can only describe by saying 'more' or 'less' are uncountable, such as apple sauce, time, wood, water, traffic and so on.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

AbdulMohsin 提交于 周日, 11/05/2014 - 15:22

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Hello Can you correct this Thousand of people gathered.

Hello AbdulMohsin,

We would say either

Thousands of people gathered.

or

A thousand people gathered.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

AbdulMohsin 提交于 周六, 03/05/2014 - 17:03

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hello Peter Thanks for ur prompt reply 500-Piece Jigsaw puzzle that her puzzle her daughter had been doing. why 500 pieces is incorrect in the above sentence?

Hello AbdulMohsin,

In these kind of nouns with a number-unit of measurement, the plural is not used. For example: a 500-piece puzzle, a 50-euro note, a ten-hour course. This is just the way that English has developed, but it might help to think of the number-unit of measurement as a kind of adjective - adjectives have no plural form in English.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

AbdulMohsin 提交于 周五, 02/05/2014 - 12:57

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Hello Everyone Which sentence is Correct 1.It now gives a great pleasure to introduce that marvelous Ventriloqist,Marco Lutman or .It now gives great pleasure to introduce that marvelous Ventriloqist,Marco Lutman

Hello AbdulMohsin,

'Pleasure' is uncountable, so the first sentence (with 'a') is incorrect.

To make the sentence more natural we would also change the second sentence slightly:

It now gives me great pleasure to introduce that marvelous Ventriloqist,Marco Lutman.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

fizazack 提交于 周五, 07/03/2014 - 15:25

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Hello teacher.. "1)The government is very unpopular. 2)The government are always changing their minds." I understand the first sentence. but on the second sentence "the govrnment are" , i thought it is like this " the goverments are" since it is plural. thank you . :)

Hello fizazack,

This is an example of a collective noun.  In British English many collective nouns, such as 'police', 'government', 'family' or 'army', can be used as both singular and plural; in American English they are, I believe, treated as singular.  Thereore in British English both 'the government is...' and 'the government are...' are correct.  Which you use depends on whether you are conceiving the government (or the army, the police etc) as a single body - as an institution - or as a collection of people.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I would like to check on the correct tense to be used in the following question:

“Our school choir ___________ performing at XYZ Opening Ceremony in two weeks’ time.  They have been practising hard for it.
(1)       is
(2)       are
(3)       was
(4)       were”

The term “school choir” is a collective noun and in the context of the first sentence, refers to the choir as a whole as it is acting in unison.  Hence, in my view, it is a singular collective noun here and should read “Our school choir is performing at …”.

Having said the above, my first view was that future tense should be used in the sentence since we are talking about a future action/event i.e. the sentence should read “Our school choir will be performing at XYZ Opening Ceremony in two weeks’ time.”  Since this is not in the list, the next best answer should be “is”.

Hi QWC,

There are a number of nouns in English which can be treated as either singular or plural, and 'choir' is one of these - some others are 'the police', 'the crowd', and 'the audience'. We can choose singular (if we want to talk about the group thinking of it as a whole) or plural (if we are thinking of it as a collection of individuals).

Bearing this in mind, the key question is not singular or plural, but rather time reference.  In your example, the time reference is future time, so we need either 'is' or 'are', not 'was' or 'were'.  Either of these would make a present continuous form, used for future arrangements and so appropriate here.

I hope this clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

robby564 提交于 周四, 01/08/2013 - 19:12

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"this is one of the best novels that I've ever heard"

In the above sentence should we use novel or novels........

Hello robby564,

I've just answered this question on another page.  Please post questions once only.  We are a small team so it sometimes takes a little time before we answer questions, but if we are asked the same question multiple times it slows the process down more.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Mydearfriend73 提交于 周六, 22/06/2013 - 14:25

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If Company is uncountable, then can we say a company or two companies? How about staff of the company and all the staff of the company are there considered as uncountable?
Company is not uncountable; it is a collective noun. A collective noun refers to a group of nouns, like army, school, choir, etc. In that sense, company refers to a group of people that run a business together. But if you are referring not to one group but several groups, you use the plural form companies. Collectives have plural forms to express you are expressing more than one collective nouns, e.g.: In WWII, the British and American armies fought together. My son likes Animal Planet because he likes watching schools swimming. Of all the choirs, my school choir is the best! Hope it helps.

sunrisereem 提交于 周六, 25/05/2013 - 13:24

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Hello I have a question about  countable and uncountable nouns

when i want to offer cake and chocolate what is the difference when i say would you like some cakes? and would like a chocolate?  and what is the difference between some cake and some cakes and some chocolate, a chocolate and some chocolates in offering and which the correct

Hello sunrisereham,

The differences are as follows:

'Would you like some cakes?'  >  you have a number of (probably small) cakes and you are offering several of them to your guest.

'Would you like some cake?'  >  you are offering a piece of (probably a slice of) a larger cake.

Would you like some chocolate?'  > you are offering a piece of (a part of) a bar of chocolate.

'Would you like a chocolate?'  >  you are offering one (small) chocolate, probably from a box containing lots of small chocolates.

'Would you like some chocolates?'  >  you are offering your guest two, three or more of the chocolates from the box.

You can find more on count and non-count nouns here and here.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team.

Jackhinchliffe 提交于 周一, 05/11/2012 - 18:39

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my question is about travel word .

i think travel is used as uncountable word so we dont use a with italso i think we use singular verb with news,family,company 

 

also i want to be sure if we can convert uncountable nouns into countable by adding a+of such as you have beautiful hair _____there is a hair in my soup 

 

can we use number with plural or not??

 uncountable?are experience,luck,work,and job 

Hello Jackhinchliffe!

That's quite a lot of questions! However, the answer is the same. Some uncountable nouns can also be used as countable nouns, although the meaning is usually slightly different. Other uncountable nouns are only used uncountably.

Travel is usually uncountable, as in 'I like travel'. Sometimes, though, it means journeys. 'Let me tell you about my travels in Asia.' But we don't ever say 'a
travel'.

Hair, like you say, can be uncountable (he has brown hair) and mean all of the hair on someone's head, or it can be a single piece of hair, or even 2 hairs.

For the other words, again, some like experience (He has experience with computers; My trip to Japan was a good experience) or work (Work is important; a work of art) can be uncountable or countable, but luck is only uncountable, and Job is always countable.

The best thing to do is to use a good dictionary to check the word. Don't forget we have a search box for the Cambridge Dictionaries included on the site!

 

Hope that helps!

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

hello sir, 

I've got a problem with the following sentence

"THIS IS  ONE OF THE BEST NOVELS THAT I'VE EVER HEARD"

should we use novel or novels ........

Hello robby564,

The correct form is 'novels' because 'one of...' needs a plural noun after it.  The meaning is one of a group - here, all of the novels which the person has read.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

andreelasacoche 提交于 周一, 15/10/2012 - 15:55

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Hello,

Just a question; thanks to help me... In the case we would like to say :

Barcelona are the winner or Barcelona are the winners ?

Andrée

Hello everyone! I'm almost new here and I want to thank you for the wonderful work you do ( the BC team).

I also have a question. You used the example "The largest group are the boys." to illustrate that we sometimes think of a group as several individuals, and therefore we use the plural form of the verb. But in this example, we don't use the "are" form of the verb "to be" related to "the largest group"(underlined), but with "the boys" - or am I wrong? Thank you!

lenhondao 提交于 周六, 11/02/2012 - 07:34

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What are tow meaning of language, victory, marriage, use, power, work, and property ?