Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

What is the difference between countable and uncountable nouns?

Nouns can be countable or uncountable. Countable nouns are the name of separate objects, people, etc, which we can count; they have singular and plural forms.

One book      two books

A man      some men

 

Uncountable nouns are nouns which we do not see as separate, and which we cannot count; they do not have plural forms.

milk      rice      music

 

When talking about more than one of these items you can use the determiner some.

some milk    some rice    some music.

 

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns take singular or plural forms. The singular form uses the determiner a or an before the noun.

cat

an iron.

 

(Or in their singular/plural forms):

one cat      two cats

one woman       three women

She has one cat        she has two cats

There is a woman in the garden       There are three women in the garden.

 

Uncountable nouns 

Uncountable nouns are the things that we cannot count with numbers. They may be the names for abstract ideas or qualities. They may also be the name for physical objects that are too small or things you can’t hold (i.e. liquids, powders, gases, etc). Uncountable nouns are used with a singular verb. They don’t have a plural form.

We can’t use a/an with these nouns.

To express a quantity of an uncountable noun, use words or expressions such as some/a lot of/much/a bit of/a great deal of, etc.

tea          sugar       water          air

knowledge          beauty          anger

fear          love          money         research

safety          evidence      advice

 

Forming questions

To form a question about the quantity of a countable noun you ask ‘how many?’ followed by the plural countable noun.

How many pets do you have?

How many women are in the house?

How many shops are there on this street?

 

Watch out for:

Some nouns are countable in other languages and uncountable in English. Often, the most common nouns to get confused are:

furniture, luggage, information, accommodation, travel, weather, work, traffic, bread, behaviour, baggage, advice.

 

For example,

How much bread should I buy?

I didn’t make much progress today.

I would like to give you some advice.

We did an hour of work yesterday.

 

Exercise

1) Look at the list of words below. Are they countable or uncountable?

 

cheese                                   banana                                   wine

bread                                     egg                                         tomatoes

water                                     orange                                   rice

carrots                                   people                                    meat

 

2) Make a list of the things above using a/an or some.

For example:

some cheese...

an apple…

 

Exercise 2

Charles is making an omelette for the first time. He is talking to his wife, Alice, who is watching TV.

 

1) Fill in the gaps with some or any.

 

Charles: Alice! Have we got ______ eggs?

Alice: Yes, there are _____ eggs in the cupboard.

Charles: Have we got _____ cheese?

Alice: Yes, there’s ______ cheese in the fridge.

Charles: Can I use _____ olive oil?

Alice: Yes, of course.

Charles: I need ______ tomatoes.

Alice: We haven’t got ______, Charles. Would you like me to go and buy ______?

Charles: No, thanks, I’m fine.

 

2) Chose between a/an and some to complete each sentence below.

  1. a) Can you give me an / some information, please?
  2. b) I bought a / some suitcase yesterday.
  3. c) We need a / some money for the cinema.
  4. d) He’s eating a / some bread.
  5. e) I’d like a / some advice about my future.

 

Vocabulary bank:

Countable (adj) able to be counted

Uncountable (adj) can't be counted

Separate (verb) cause to move or be apart

Some (determiner) an unspecified amount or number of*

*Not to be confused with the noun ‘sum’ meaning a particular amount of money.

Substitute (noun) a person or thing acting or serving in the place of another

Quantity (noun) the amount or number of a material or abstract thing not usually estimated by spatial measurement

 

This blog was written by Intrepid English teacher, Tom. Find out more about Tom on his Intrepid English Teacher profile page

 

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Sources/Further Reading:

Digby, Beaumont & Granger, Colin. The Heinemann English Grammar: An Intermediate Reference and Practice Book. Heinemann Educational Books, Oxford. (1989) 162-164

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/beginner-grammar/countable-uncountable-nouns-1

https://www.ef.co.uk/english-resources/english-grammar/countable-and-uncountable-nouns/

 

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