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 take singular or plural forms. The singular form uses the determiner a or an before the noun.
(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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- a) Can you give me an / some information, please?
- b) I bought a / some suitcase yesterday.
- c) We need a / some money for the cinema.
- d) He’s eating a / some bread.
- e) I’d like a / some advice about my future.
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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Digby, Beaumont & Granger, Colin. The Heinemann English Grammar: An Intermediate Reference and Practice Book. Heinemann Educational Books, Oxford. (1989) 162-164