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Countable and Uncountable Nouns in English

What makes one noun countable and the other uncountable in English? 

Countable nouns are specific items that can be counted individually, such as “apples” or “dogs.” Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, represent something as a whole, like “music” or “sand” and are not counted as separate units.

Read on to learn more about the differences between countable and uncountable nouns.

You’ll also find examples and resources for perfecting your noun skills!

Contents

What Are Countable Nouns?

A countable noun, as the name suggests, is a noun that can be counted or numbered. It can also be turned into a plural. Often countable nouns refer to things or objects that we can see, feel or touch (but not always!).

For instance:

  • vegetables
  • toys
  • cars
  • chairs
  • books
  • countries
  • oceans
  • days
  • rooms
  • friends
  • stars
  • people
  • children
  • ideas

If you aren’t sure if a noun is countable or not, ask yourself if you can place a number right before it. Since all countable nouns can be expressed in terms of a number, they all have singular and plural forms.

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.

In their singular form, these nouns usually have an article (“a,” “an” or “the”), or the number “one” before it.

For example:

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. 

For example:

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.

Most objects around us, as well as collective nouns (such as teams, groups and bands), are 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. Often, uncountable nouns also refer to abstract nouns.

For example:

  • sunshine
  • information
  • travel
  • work
  • time
  • money
  • magic
  • furniture
  • knowledge
  • happiness
  • jealousy
  • justice
  • advice
  • luck

Here are examples of how they look in a sentence: 

We all seek happiness in our lives.

She makes a lot of money.

His 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.

Certain materials are uncountable nouns, like:

  • silk
  • satin
  • concrete
  • sand
  • clay

Some food or drink items are also uncountable nouns, such as:

  • water
  • tea
  • coffee
  • milk
  • rice
  • flour
  • fruit

You’ll also notice that most uncountable nouns don’t have a plural form. So, to express the amount or quantity, such nouns are often used with words like “some,” “much,” ” a lot” and so on.

For instance:

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.

How to Turn an Uncountable Noun into a Countable Noun

If you want to express an uncountable noun in terms of exact numbers or measurements, you need to add a countable noun before it that is used to specify amounts.

For example:

  • cup
  • glass
  • bottle
  • can
  • piece
  • slice

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 pieces of good advice.

However, for certain tricky words, it depends entirely on the context. You have to study the sentence carefully to know if the noun is countable or not.

For instance:

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” or “the”) or words like “some,” “few” and “many” to figure it out. And if there are none, then they’re probably uncountable nouns.

Main Differences Between Countable and Uncountable Nouns

To summarize, countable nouns

  • can be expressed with 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”

And uncountable nouns...

  • can’t be directly expressed with 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

Resources for Practicing Countable and Uncountable 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.

 

By now, the differences between countable and uncountable nouns should be clear to 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!

And One More Thing...

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FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

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