A word that refers to a person, place, thing, event, substance or quality; can be either countable or uncountable.
Countable nouns have singular and plural forms while uncountable nouns can be used only in the singular form.
In English grammar, words that refer to people, places or things are called nouns. There are several ways to classify nouns. One way is whether they are countable (also known as count) or uncountable (also known as non-count) nouns. Countable nouns, as the term suggests, refer to things that can be counted.
They have singular and plural forms.
- table, tables; month, months; pen, pens.
A countable noun becomes plural by adding s at the end of the word.Of course, there are exceptions –
- man, men; child, children; goose, geese.
In contrast, uncountable nouns cannot be counted. They have a singular form and do not have a plural form – you can’t add an s to it. E.g., dirt, rice, information and hair. Some uncountable nouns are abstract nouns such as advice and knowledge.
- Her jewellery is designed by a well-known celebrity.
- I needed some advice, so I went to see the counsellor.
Some nouns can be countable or uncountable depending on the context or situation.
- We’ll have two coffees (countable).
- I don’t like coffee (uncountable).
You cannot refer to a singular countable noun on its own. It is usually used preceded by an article. Articles refer to indefinite articles – a, an – and the definite article the.
When the countable noun is mentioned for the first time, you use an indefinite article a for words beginning with a consonant sound or an if the noun begins with a vowel sound. However, when a countable noun is mentioned for the second time, it is usually preceded by the definite article the.
- I saw a (indefinite article) cat yesterday.1he (definite article) cat was grey with black stripes.
- The girl was wearing a (indefinite article preceding word with aconsonant sound ‘”you”) uniform but it looked faded.
Sometimes when uncountable nouns are treated as countable nouns, you can use the indefinite article.
- Please select a wine that you like.
The indefinite article is not used with uncountable nouns. Instead, the definite article the can be used with uncountable nouns when referring to specific items.
- I found the luggage that I had lost.
- I appreciated the honesty of the salesman.
You can use “the” with countable nouns when there is only one such thing or person in existence.
- The baby stared at the moon in fascination.
- Please take me to the doctor near the market. I’m not feeling well.
Tricky Uncountable Nouns
The noun “fruit” is usually considered as an uncountable noun.
- Fruit is good for your health.
- When referring to a single piece of fruit, you would say,
- She has only a piece of fruit for lunch!
However, when referring to different kinds of fruit, you may use fruit as a countable noun.
- I love to shop at that supermarket – they have a wide variety of tropical fruits.
- Similarly, you may use an indefinite article for uncountable nouns when you are referring to a single item.
- a piece of furniture, a bottle of water, a grain of rice.
Countable and uncountable nouns may also be used with quantifiers.These are words that express amount or quantity. Common examples are some, any, more, few, little, several.
However, there are some quantifiers that can be used with only countable nouns: many, few, a few, fewer, several.
- The citizens came to the meeting with many suggestions on how to improve their neighbourhood.
- Fewer tourists visited that area as it was known to be unsafe.
Some other quantifiers can be used with only uncountable nouns: much, little, a little bit of, some.
- Would you like some tea? There’s very little dessert left.
Some quantifiers may be used with both countable and uncountable nouns:
- all,some, any, lots of, plenty of, enough.
- He has enough courage to face the bullies.
- We have some plates for the party tonight. Tracy will bring more.
Countable nouns may take singular or plural verbs.
- Our neighbour is singing at the competition tonight.
- Our neighbours are singing at the competition tonight.
However, uncountable nouns are considered singular and may take only singular verbs.
Nouns such as luggage, furniture and jewellery are uncountable nouns and take singular verbs.
- The furniture in this house needs to be replaced.
- The apparatus for the next experiment has been set up. My luggage has been checked in.
- Uncountable nouns ending with s may pose a problem to users of English.
These nouns have the plural endings, but they take a singular verb.
- The news is not good.
- Mathematics is a very important subject.
All uncountable nouns associated with clothes are plural uncountables. They cannot be used in the singular form or with numbers. We cannot say for example a shorts or two shorts. Instead we should say:
- Can you lend me a pair of shorts? I didn’t bring mine.