Here is part 5 of the series on "Nouns". This is about count & uncountable nouns. It is good to use in your classroom or at your home for review for your children. There are exercises and exercises that can be downloaded also.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
The major division of English nouns is into "countable" and
Countable nouns are also called "count nouns".
Uncountable nouns are also called "mass nouns".
This is money, right? Can you count it?
You cannot count it
because all the
money here is from
If you were to take
one, you could
count it. Example:
Can be Both
Countable nouns are easy to recognize. They are things that
we can count. For example: "pen". We can count pens. We can
have one, two, three or more pens. Here are some more
dog, cat, animal, man, person
bottle, box, litre
coin, note, dollar
cup, plate, fork
table, chair, suitcase, bag
Countable nouns can be singular or plural:
My dog is playing.
My dogs are hungry.
We can use the indefinite article a/an with countable nouns:
A dog is an animal.
When a countable noun is singular, we must use a word like
a/the/my/this with it:
I want an orange. (not I want orange.)
Where is my bottle? (not Where is bottle?)
When a countable noun is plural, we can use it alone:
I like oranges.
Bottles can break.
We can use some and any with countable nouns:
I've got some dollars.
Have you got any pens?
We can use a few and many with countable nouns:
I've got a few dollars.
I haven't got many pens.
"People" is countable. "People" is the plural of "person". We
can count people:
There is one person here.
There are three people here.
Uncountable nouns are substances, concepts etc that we cannot
divide into separate elements. We cannot "count" them. For
example, we cannot count "milk". We can count "bottles of
milk" or "litres of milk", but we cannot count "milk" itself. Here
are some more uncountable nouns:
music, art, love, happiness
advice, information, news
rice, sugar, butter, water
electricity, gas, power
We usually treat uncountable nouns as singular. We use a
singular verb. For example:
This news is very important.
Your luggage looks heavy.
We do not usually use the indefinite article a/an with
uncountable nouns. We cannot say "an information" or "a
music". But we can say a something of:
a piece of news
a bottle of water
a grain of rice
We can use some and any with uncountable nouns:
I've got some money.
Have you got any rice?
In a question, you should use “any”. Although the use of
“some” is very common in everyday speaking.
We can use a little and much with uncountable nouns:
I've got a little money.
I haven't got much rice.
Uncountable nouns are also called "mass nouns".
Know the different categories of non-count nouns.
The chart below illustrates the different types of non-count
nouns. Remember that these categories include other nouns
that are count. For example, lightning, a natural event [one of
the categories], is non-count, but hurricane, a different
natural event, is a count noun. When you don't know what
type of noun you have, consult a dictionary that provides such
advice, courage, enjoyment, fun, help, honesty, information, intelligence,
knowledge, patience, etc.
chess, homework, housework, music, reading, singing, sleeping, soccer,
tennis, work, etc.
Food beef, bread, butter, fish, macaroni, meat, popcorn, pork, poultry, toast, etc.
air, exhaust, helium, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, pollution, smog, smoke,
Groups of Similar Items
baggage, clothing, furniture, hardware, luggage, equipment, mail, money,
software, vocabulary, etc.
Liquids blood, coffee, gasoline, milk, oil, soup, syrup, tea, water, wine, etc.
electricity, gravity, heat, humidity, moonlight, rain, snow, sunshine, thunder,
aluminum, asphalt, chalk, cloth, concrete, cotton, glue, lumber, wood, wool,
Particles or Grains corn, dirt, dust, flour, hair, pepper, rice, salt, sugar, wheat, etc.
Know how to indicate number with non-count nouns.
Thunder, a non-count noun, cannot have an s added at the end. You
can, however, lie awake in bed counting the number of times you
hear thunder boom during a storm.
When you want to indicate number with a non-count word, you
have two options. First, you can put of in front of the non-count
word—for example, of thunder—and then attach the resulting
prepositional phrase to an appropriate count word.
Kristina heard seven claps of thunder.
A second option is to make the non-count noun an adjective
that you place before a count noun. Then you could write a
sentence like this:
Thunderheads filled the sky.
Here are some more examples:
Non-count Noun Countable Version
advice pieces of advice
homework homework assignments
bread loaves of bread, slices of bread
smoke puffs of smoke, plumes of smoke
software software applications
wine bottles of wine, glasses of wine
snow storms, snowflakes, snow
cloth bolts of cloth, yards of cloth
dirt piles of dirt, truckloads of dirt
Nouns that can be Countable and Uncountable
When you learn a new word, it's a good idea to learn whether
it's countable or uncountable.
Sometimes a word that means one thing as a non-count noun
has a slightly different meaning if it also has a countable
version. Remember, then, that the classifications count and
non-count are not absolute.
Time is a good example. When you use this word to mean the
unceasing flow of experience that includes past, present, and
future, with no distinct beginning or end, then time is a non-
count noun. Read this example:
Time dragged as Simon sat through yet another boring chick
flick with his girlfriend Roseanne.
Time = non-count because it has no specific beginning and,
for poor Simon, no foreseeable end.
When time refers to a specific experience which starts at a
certain moment and ends after a number of countable units
[minutes, hours, days, etc.], then the noun is count. Here is
On his last to Disney World, Joe rode Space Mountain
Times = count because a ride on Space Mountain is a
measurable unit of experience, one that you can clock with a
Sometimes, the same noun can be countable and uncountable,
often with a change of meaning.
There are two hairs in my coffee! hair I don't have much hair.
There are two lights in our bedroom. light Close the curtain. There's too much light!
Shhhhh! I thought I heard a noise.
There are so many different noises in the city.
It's difficult to work when there is so much
Have you got a paper to read? (newspaper)
Hand me those student papers.
I want to draw a picture. Have you got some
Our house has seven rooms. room Is there room for me to sit here?
We had a great time at the party.
How many times have I told you no?
Have you got time for a cup of coffee?
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's greatest
I have no money. I need work!
Drinks (coffee, water, orange juice) are usually uncountable. But if we are
thinking of a cup or a glass, we can say (in a restaurant, for example):
Two teas and one coffee please.
Partitive Structure with Uncountable Nouns
To count or quantify an uncountable noun we use a unit of measurement - a
measure word. For example, we cannot usually say “two breads” because
“bread” is uncountable. So, if we want to specify a quantity of bread we use a
measure word such as “loaf” or “slice” in a structure like “two loaves of bread”
or “two slices of bread”. We call this structure a partitive structure.
two cups of coffee
several games of tennis
a drop of water
We can use the same uncountable noun in different partitive expressions
with different meanings. For example, a loaf of bread and a slice of
bread are partitive expressions with different meanings. A loaf of bread
is what we call a whole unit of bread that we buy from a baker. A slice of
bread is what we call a smaller unit of bread after it has been cut from a
Here are some more examples:
Don't forget to buy a bag of rice when you go shopping.
Can I have one cup of coffee and two cups of tea.
The police found some items of clothing scattered around the floor.
I need a truck that will take at least three pieces of furniture.
You'd think a tablespoon of honey would be more than enough.
The word "partitive" indicates that only "part" of a whole is being referred to. The partitive
structure using a measure word is common with uncountable nouns, but it can also be
used with countable nouns, for example: a series of accidents, two boxes of matches, a can
Common Measure Words with Uncountable Nouns
Partitive expressions using measure words collocate strongly.
a bag of flour | rice | gold dust
a bar of chocolate | gold | soap
a bottle of Coke | milk | water | wine
a bowl of cereal | rice | soup
a box of cereal | paper
a can of cream | meat | tuna
a carton of ice-cream | orange juice | milk
a cup of hot chocolate | coffee | tea
a drop of blood | oil | water
a glass of beer | juice | water | wine
a grain of rice | sand | truth
an item of clothing | expenditure | news
a jar of honey | jam | peanut butter
a piece of advice | furniture | paper
a roll of paper | tape | toilet paper | Scotch tape
a slice of bread | cheese | meat | toast
a spoonful of sugar | syrup | whisky
a tablespoon of butter | honey | ketchup
a teaspoon of cinnamon | medicine | salt
a tube of glue | lipstick | toothpaste
Measure words are common with uncountable nouns, but some of them can
also be used with countable nouns, for example: two boxes of matches, a can
1. __________ students are in the class?
How many of
2. I don't have __________ about the Internet.
3. Can you give me __________ information?
4. Wow, what a large __________ of money!
Choose the best answer for each of the following:
5. __________ time do you have?
6. I need _______ things for my new house.
7. I like to take __________ photos.
8. Dave wants to have __________ children.
Are the following nouns count or non-count? Put an N next to the non-
count nouns and a C next to the count nouns. If the noun can be either non-
count or count depending on the context, put a D next to it.
The link below is to some worksheets that you can
use for class work, home work, or for yourself.
Cont & Uncountable Nouns Work Sheets
Any questions, comments, advice, and / or wishes –
you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org