What is the difference between a countable and uncountable noun? Why is it that so many people learning English do not know the difference between count and noncount nouns? How can I tell the difference between a count and noncount noun? These questions and more are answered in this lesson.
Countable Nouns Explanation
When you use countable nouns you form the plural by adding an “s” or “es”. They have both singular and plural forms. For example: cat/cats, car/cars, hat/hats. Look at these other examples:
- Boy/boys, girl/girls
- Man/men, woman/women (these are irregular)
- couch/couches, counter/counters
- apple/apples, cake/cakes, cookie/cookies
- shirt/shirts, tie, ties, belt, belts
- computer/computers, phone/phones, keyboard/keyboards
Remember, the most important thing to remember is that countable nouns can be expressed as either singular or plural:
- Her sister is late.
- Her sisters are late.
In many cases we use the articles “a”, “an” and “the”:
- I would like a new car.
- Tom Cruise is an actor.
- Timmy is on the bus.
If you are using a countable noun in the singular form you will use words such as a, the, my, this, her, his and an:
- My dog needs a haircut.
- Did he drive his truck?
- Do you like our rug?
If you are using a countable noun in the plural form you can use it on its own without the need for other words:
- He gets a lot of haircuts.
- Jimmy owns three trucks.
- We have five rugs.
Words like some and any are typically used for countable nouns in the plural form. They are also used with non-count nouns so make sure you remember that as well. Look at these examples with countable nouns:
- Tim had some peaches.
- We do not have any bikes.
Other words that are commonly used are a few and many when you are using countable nouns. Remember, these two words are not used with uncountable nouns.
- We have only a few bananas left over.
- He doesn’t have many friends.
Noncount (Uncountable) Nouns Explanation
Noncount, or what are referred to as uncountable nouns, cannot be counted on their own and you cannot add an “s” or “es” to make them plural. To use noncount nouns you have to use a container word. For example to count water you would say I have two glasses of water. Water is the noncount noun and glasses is the container word. You could also say I have three liters of water. There is usually more than one container word per noncount noun. Here are more examples of noncount nouns:
- Sympathy, jealousy, sadness, love
- Intelligence, strength, health
- Rice, salt, beer, coffee
- Electricity, smoke, light
In most cases, you will not use articles “a”, “an” or “the” for noncount nouns. It is not common to see “a sadness” or “an electricity”. When a container word is used then you can use articles. Here are a few examples:
- a liter of juice
- a taste of fat
- a small amount of sadness
The words some and any are used with noncount nouns. Remember, they are also used with countable nouns as well. Here are some examples of some and any with noncount nouns:
- Bill has some juice in the bottle.
- I like to eat any food that Jennifer cooks.
Words that are not used with countable nouns are a little and much. When you see these it will indicate that you are seeing uncountable nouns. Examples:
- I have a little patience left with him.
- We do not have much time left to complete it.
Here are some countable and uncountable nouns. The countable nouns are used as container words for the uncountable ones:
One of the most common mistakes for non-native English speakers is not understanding what is a countable noun. When they make this mistake they either forget to make it plural or they make an uncountable noun, countable.
Nouns that are both Countable and Uncountable
The context in which you use the noun can make it countable of uncountable. One factor is if you are using a classification before the noun count noun. A few examples are muddy waters, hard times, and precious metals.
|Jenny avoids fatty meats.||meat||I like to eat meat.|
|He likes to eat spicy foods.||food||What food do we have leftover?|
|It is not good to have too many fears.||fear||What is one fear that you have?|
|I like green and black teas.||tea||Buy some tea today.|
Here is a video lesson for countable and uncountable nouns: