countable_uncountable

Countable and uncountable nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns

countable_and_uncountable_nounsThe English language has different rules about countable and uncountable nouns than some other languages. Basic rules about countable and uncountable nouns are –

  • A countable noun can be counted (e.g. one apple, two apples).
  • An uncountable noun cannot be counted (e.g. sugar – it’s hard to ‘count’ the number of small sugar grains).

Abstract nouns (things you cannot can’t feel, touch, see, hear, or taste) are usually uncountable too. For example: knowledge, leisure.

Here are some examples of countable and uncountable nouns.

There are more examples of uncountable and uncountable nouns in the picture too.

Countable nouns:

car, table, pencil, computer

Uncountable nouns:

water, bread, milk, information, education

When you learn new words in English, it is important to know whether the nouns you are learning are countable or uncountable nouns because the words and the grammar you use in sentences are different.

Remember that the rules in English might be different to the rules about countable and uncountable nouns in your own language!

Countable and uncountable nouns – ‘a‘ or ‘an‘ and making plurals

1. Use a or an before a single countable noun.

Single countable noun examples:

  • a car
  • an apple

2. Don’t use a or an before an uncountable noun

Uncountable noun examples:

  • water (not a water),
  • information (not an information)

3. Add +s or +es after more than one countable noun (plural countable nouns).

Plural countable noun examples:

  • two cars
  • five potatoes

Remember though that some nouns are irregular – you don’t add ‘s’ or ‘es’ when you make them plural and you just need to learn them! e.g. child / children, man / men, tooth / teeth etc.

4. Don’t add +s or +es after an uncountable noun (they have no plural)

Uncountable noun examples:

  • milk (not milks)
  • leisure (not leisures)

Countable and uncountable nouns – ‘some’ and ‘no’

1. Use some when talking about more than one countable noun and with uncountable nouns in positive sentences.

For example:

  • There are some cars parked on the street. (there is more than one car on the street)
  • There is some milk in the fridge. (there is milk in the fridge)

Also note the differences is grammar. Remember uncountable nouns have no plural form so in the example above ‘milk’ takes the ‘is’ form of the verb ‘to be’.

There are some cars. (NOT There is some cars or There are some car)

There is some milk. (NOT There are some milk or There is some milks)

2. The opposite of ‘some‘ is ‘none‘. You can use ‘no‘ in a ‘positive’ sentence structure to say that something is not present.

For example:

  • There are no cars parked on the street. (there zero cars on the street)
  • There is no milk in the fridge. (milk is not in the fridge)

Also note the differences is grammar. Remember uncountable nouns have no plural form so in the example above ‘milk’ takes the ‘is’ form of the verb ‘to be’.

There are no cars. (NOT There is no cars or There are no car)

There is some milk. (NOT There are no milk or There is no milks)

Countable and uncountable nouns rule – ‘any

Use any when talking about more than one countable noun and with uncountable nouns in negative sentences and in questions.

  • There aren’t any books about that topic at the library.
  • Are there any books about that topic at the library?
  • There isn’t any information about that topic at the library.
  • Is there any information about that topic at the library?

Also note the differences is grammar. Remember uncountable nouns have no plural form so in the example above ‘information’ takes the ‘is’ form of the verb ‘to be’.

There aren’t any books. (NOT There aren’t some books or There isn’t no books)

Are there any books? (NOT Is there some books? or Are there any book?)

There isn’t any information. (NOT There isn’t no information or There aren’t any information)

Is there any information? (NOT Is there some informations? or Are there any information?)

Countable and uncountable nouns rule – ‘many’ and ‘much’

Use many when talking about more than one countable noun in negative sentences and in questions.

Use much when talking about uncountable nouns in negative sentences and in questions.

Much and many follow the same rules as ‘any‘ but the meaning is different.

Can you see the difference? Look at the examples below.

1. Countable nouns – ‘any‘ and ‘many

  • There aren’t any books about that topic at the library. (there are zero books on the topic)
  • There aren’t many books about that topic at the library. (there are a small number of books on the topic)
  • Are there any books about that topic at the library? (the speaker wants to know if the library has books on the topic)
  • Are there many books about that topic at the library? (the speaker wants to to know the quantity of books on the topic at the library)

2. Countable nouns – ‘any‘ and ‘much

  • There isn’t any information about that topic at the library. (there is zero information on the topic)
  • There isn’t much information about that topic at the library. (there is a small amount of information on the topic)
  • Is there any information about that topic at the library? (the speaker wants to know if the library has information on the topic)
  • Is there much information about that topic at the library? (the speaker wants to to know the quantity of information on the topic)

Also note the differences is grammar. Remember uncountable nouns have no plural form so in the example above ‘information’ takes the ‘is’ form of the verb ‘to be’.

There aren’t many books. (NOT There aren’t much books or There isn’t many books)

Are there many books? (NOT Is there many books? or Are there much books?)

There isn’t much information. (NOT There isn’t many information or There aren’t much information)

Is there much information? (NOT Is there many information? or Is there much informations?)

 

Countable and uncountable nouns –  a lot of (lots of), too many, too much

A lot of (lots of), too many and too much can be used with countable and uncountable nouns to talk about quantity (bigger amounts).

Here are some rules and information about when to use them and the differences in meaning.

1. Use a lot of (lots of) and too many when talking about plural countable nouns. Be careful as the meanings are different!

Compare these examples:

  • There were some people at the party. (There was more than one person at the party)
  • There were a lot of people at the party. (There were a large number of people at the party)
  • There were lots of people at the party. (There were a large number of people at the party)

Note: Too many describes the quantity in a negative way.

  • There were too many people at the party (negative – the speaker thinks the party was so crowded they didn’t enjoy it)

2. Use a lot of (lots of) and too much when talking about uncountable nouns. Be careful as the meanings are different!

Compare these examples:

  • The manager gave his staff some information to read before the meeting. (The staff had something to read)
  • The manager gave his staff a lot of information to read before the meeting. (The staff had a large amount of information to read)
  • The manager gave his staff lots of information to read before the meeting. (The staff had a large amount of information to read)

Note: Too much describes the quantity in a negative way.

  • The manager gave his staff too much information to read before the meeting. (negative – the speaker thinks the boss was treating his staff unfairly)

Countable and uncountable nouns (a) few, (a) little

Few, a few, little, and a little can be used with countable and uncountable nouns to talk about quantity (smaller amounts).

Here are some rules and information about when to use them and the differences in meaning.

1. Use few or a few when talking about plural countable nouns.

Examples:

  • There were a few people waiting in the queue. (There were a small number of people in the queue)
  • There were few people waiting in the queue. (There were a very small number of people)

Note: Few describes the quantity in a negative way.

  • He has a few friends (neutral)
  • He has few friends (negative – the speaker probably thinks the person doesn’t have enough friends)

2. Use little or a little when talking about uncountable nouns.

Examples:

I have a little money left. (I have a small amount of money)

I have little money left. (My money is almost all gone)

Examples:

Note: Little describes the quantity in a negative way.

  • He has a little understanding of the subject. (neutral)
  • He has little understanding of the subject. (negative – the speaker thinks the person doesn’t have enough knowledge about about the subject)

 

Click here to try the countable and uncountable noun exercises.

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