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ESOL 7

Countable and uncountable nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns

A noun is a person, place, or thing.

Nouns can be either countable or uncountable. 

Countable nouns are those that refer to something that can be counted (1 cat, 2 cats, 3 cats).
They have both singular and plural forms (e.g. cat/catswoman/womencountry/countries).
In the singular, they can be preceded by a or an.
Most nouns are in this category.

A smaller number of nouns do not typically refer to things that can be counted, so they do not regularly have a plural form: these are known as uncountable nouns.
Examples include: rain, flour, earth, wine, or wood.
Uncountable nouns cannot be preceded by a or an.
Many abstract nouns are uncountable, e.g. happiness, truth, darkness, humor.

Some uncountable nouns can be used in the plural as well, depending on the meaning or context of the word. Please look at the sentences below:

Would you like some coffee? uncountable because it's referring to the drink in general
He ordered a coffee. countable, because it's referring to a cup of coffee
There's no truth to the rumors. uncountable, because it refers to the quality or state of being true
The fundamental truths about human nature. countable, because it's referring to facts or beliefs that are true

In the the New Oxford American Dictionary, nouns that are chiefly uncountable are described as "mass nouns".
This type of noun entry may also include an example sentence showing a countable use of the type described above. For example:

  • beer noun [mass noun] an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavored with hops: a pint of beer [count noun] he ordered a beer.

There are some words that should only be used with countable nouns and some that you should only use with uncountable nouns. Here are the most common examples:

 

Please watch and listen to this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-CTP0JpnWc

 

 word   with countable noun?   with uncountable noun?   examples 
few, fewer         ✓Yes         ✗No fewer students; few cars
little, less, least         ✗No         ✓Yes less food; little time
many, several         ✓Yes         ✗No several books; many changes
much         ✗No         ✓Yes much pleasure; much sleep

Is the underlined noun countable or uncountable? (answers below)

  1. The children fell asleep quickly after a busy day of fun.
  2. Be careful! The water is deep.
  3. The parade included fire trucks and police cars.
  4. We like the large bottles of mineral water.
  5. My mother uses real butter in the cakes she bakes.
  6. How many politicians does it take to pass a simple law?
  7. Most kids like milk, but Joey hates it.
  8. Most pottery is made of clay.
  9. Michael can play several different musical instruments.
  10. I was feeling so stressed that I ate an entire box of cookies.

Answers:

1 – countable

2 – uncountable

3 – countable

4 – countable

5 – uncountable

6 – countable

7 – uncountable

8 – uncountable

9 – countable

10 – countable