Countable and Uncountable Nouns: The Differences, Tips, Resources and More!
Raise your hand if you think English grammar is confusing!
We can never count the total number of stars in the sky.
Yet stars is a “countable” noun.
But we can be fairly certain about the amount of milk and coffee in our homes.
Nevertheless, milk and coffee are both “uncountable” nouns.
So what makes one noun countable and the other uncountable?
If you’re confused about the differences between countable and uncountable nouns, you’ve come to the right post. Read on to learn how to tell them apart, find examples and explore resources for perfecting your noun skills!
Countable and Uncountable Nouns: The Differences, Tips, Resources and More!
Resources for Practicing Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Online Quizzes and Exercises for Perfecting Your Nouns
To test your understanding of countable and uncountable nouns, there are plenty of online exercises that can help you keep track of your progress.
First, if you want to brush up on nouns before moving on to countables and uncountables, give the exercises on Perfect English Grammar a try.
However, if you want to focus purely on countable and uncountable nouns, the exercises on AgendaWeb have you covered.
If you’re looking for a short multiple choice quiz, then try this one from MyEnglishPages. You’ll see a variety of sentences and must select from the dropdown menu whether the nouns are countable or uncountable.
Finally, for a comprehensive exercise with fill-in-the-blanks, multiple-choice problems and grammar notes, you’ll want to give this one on English Exercises a shot.
What Are Countable Nouns?
A countable noun, as the very name suggests, is a noun that can be counted or numbered.
Usually, they refer to things or objects that we can see, feel or touch. For instance, fruits, vegetables, toys, cars, books, countries, oceans, days, rooms, friends and stars are all “countable” nouns.
Now you might be wondering why “stars” is countable, as we don’t know the number of stars in the universe.
It’s “countable” because you can still say a number before it. When you look up at the night sky, you may never finish counting the stars, but you can certainly begin counting them. You can say, “Tonight I see five stars from my rooftop.”
If you aren’t sure if a noun is countable or not, ask yourself if you can place a number right before it. For instance:
- There are five red cars on the road.
- She’s carrying three eggs in a basket.
- Two people are standing outside the gate.
- Only one sandwich is left.
However, you can’t say “There’s one milk” left. Instead, you have to say “There’s one glass of milk” or “There’s one milk bottle” to express the same idea. In this case, it’s the “glass” or “bottle” that are the countable nouns, while “milk” remains uncountable.
This brings us to the next bit.
Since all countable nouns can be expressed in terms of a number, they all have singular and plural forms. In their singular form, these nouns usually have an article (“a,” “an” or “the”), or the number “one” before it.
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
- A century (100 years) has already passed.
Similarly, their plural forms usually have a number before it or are preceded by words like “few,” “many,” “several” and so on.
- Eight out of 10 apples were rotten.
- There are a few girls in the class.
- How many countries have you visited?
- Several centuries have passed.
To sum up, countable nouns are those nouns that can be…
- expressed in terms of numbers
- have singular and plural forms
- can have a numeral or an article before it
- can be preceded by words like “few,” “many” and “several”
Most objects around us, as well as collective nouns (such as teams, groups and bands), are countable nouns.
Take a moment and look around. List five separate items that you can see.
Chances are, they’re all countable nouns!
What Are Uncountable Nouns?
“Uncountable” nouns are nouns that can’t be counted, or rather, which can’t be directly expressed in terms of numbers. For example, sunshine, information, travel, work, time, money, magic and furniture are all uncountable nouns.
Usually, uncountable nouns refer to abstract nouns such as happiness, jealousy, justice, advice, luck and so on. For example:
- We all seek happiness in our lives.
- Her face was filled with jealousy when she saw his new girlfriend.
- Rohan’s success as a movie star is a result of his hard work, rather than his luck.
- My kids find it relaxing to play with clay.
However, certain objects and common nouns can also be uncountable. Certain materials (such as silk, satin, concrete, sand and clay) and food or drink items (such as water, tea, coffee, milk, rice and flour) can’t be directly expressed with a number before it.
- There’s sand in your shoes.
- I need five yards of satin.
- Do you prefer tea or coffee?
- Mix one cup of flour with half a glass of milk.
If you study the examples carefully, you’ll notice that whenever a number is mentioned, there’s a countable noun (“yard,” “cup” and “glass”) between the number and the uncountable noun.
You’ll also notice that most uncountable nouns don’t have a plural form. However, to express the amount or quantity, such nouns are often preceded with words like “some,” “much,” ” a lot” and so on.
- Can I borrow some milk to bake the cake?
- His mother has placed much hope in him.
- A lot of effort is needed to finish this task.
To sum up, uncountable nouns…
- can’t be directly expressed in terms of numbers
- usually don’t have a plural form
- can have words like “some,” “much” and “a lot” before them
- can be preceded by a number and a countable noun
Usually, abstract nouns, as well as certain common nouns, are uncountable.
If you feel ready to test yourself, try to come up with five uncountable nouns that aren’t mentioned in this post!
How to Turn an Uncountable Noun into a Countable Noun
As you’ve already figured out, to express an uncountable noun in terms of exact numbers or measurements, you need to add a countable noun before it.
Take a look at the following examples.
Can I have some water?
Yes, there’s a glass of water on the table.
Is there any cheese in the fridge?
Yes, there are three slices of cheese still left.
She gave me some terrible advice about my love life!
Really? When I spoke to her, I came away with at least two points of good advice.
However, for certain “tricky” (difficult or confusing) words, it depends entirely on the context. You have to study the sentence carefully to know if the noun is countable or not.
The floor is covered with loose hair. (uncountable)
A stray hair clung to her sweaty face. (countable)
The hotel has 20 rooms. (countable)
Is there room for me on the bus? (uncountable)
And sometimes, an abstract noun can be used as a countable noun.
Only the truth can set you free. (uncountable)
There are two truths in this story. (countable)
Helen’s beauty can’t be surpassed. (uncountable)
What are you two beauties doing here by the pool? (countable)
If you’re confused if a noun is countable or not, look for articles (“a stray hair”) or words like “some,” “few” and “many” to figure it out. And if there are none (for example, “only truth” or “loose hair”) then they’re probably uncountable nouns.
By now, the differences between countable and uncountable nouns should be clear to you. You should also be able to express an uncountable noun in terms of numbers with the method I’ve taught you!
Try to reread the differences between countable and uncountable nouns to memorize them and then test your understanding with the practice exercises I’ve listed above.
It’s okay if you make mistakes in the beginning. Just keep practicing regularly and you’re sure to make a lot of progress!