Do I know the difference between countable and uncountable nouns? Why do people learning the English language have difficulty learning the difference between the two? What can I do to learn the difference between countable and uncountable nouns? All of these questions and more will be answered in this lesson.
Countable Nouns Explanation
Countable nouns are used when you simply add -s or -es in the plural form. These nouns have both a singular and a plural form. A few examples would include dog/dogs, house/houses, box/boxes. Study the following examples:
- school/schools, building/buildings
- tree/trees, branch/branches
- blanket/blankets, pillow/pillows
- car/cars, truck/trucks
- table/tables, photo/photos, chair/chairs
- mouse/mice, goose/geese (these are irregular)
You must always remember that countable nouns can be used as both singular and plural. Take a look at the following examples:
- Her dog buries its bone.
- Her dogs bury their bones.
The articles “a”, “an”, and “the” are common when paired with countable nouns:
- She read a book.
- The rain won’t go away.
- They went to the park.
When you are using a countable noun, you will most likely use words such as “a”, “the”, “my”, “this”, “her”, “his”, and “an” to go with it:
- The rabbit jumped into its burrow.
- He beat on the drums.
- When is this essay due?
When you are using the plural form of countable nouns, you do not need the help of other words. Take a look at the following examples:
- We have five children.
- Katie wrote eight books.
- Florida sees a lot of hurricanes.
There are a few of words that are used with countable nouns. A couple of examples of these words are “some” and “any”. These words are also used with uncountable nouns. Take a look at the following examples:
- He played some video games.
- I do not have any work.
Some other words that are used with countable nouns are “a few” and “many”. Note that these two words cannot be used with uncountable nouns.
- I have a few questions.
- That pug doesn’t have many wrinkles.
Non-count (Uncountable) Nouns Explanation
Non-count, or uncountable nouns, are more complex than countable nouns because you cannot add -s or -es at the end of the word to make them plural. Instead, you must have a container word. As an example, if you wanted to count tea, you would say, “I have three cups of tea.” Tea is a noncount noun and cups is the container word. Another example of what you could say is: “I have two gallons of milk.” Most noncount nouns have more than one container word. Take a look at the following examples:
- weather, lightning, thunder
- fruit, fish, salt, rice
- tea, coffee, water
- chess, homework, music
- courage, fun, honesty
Most of the time, the articles “a”, “an”, and “the” are not needed for non-count nouns.You would not normally see “a furniture” or “an enjoyment” in writing. You can use articles when you use a container word. Take a look at these examples:
- a bowl of soup
- a cube of ice
- a closet of clothing
Here are some examples of the words “some” and “any” being used with non-count nouns. Don’t forget they can also be used with count nouns.
- Molly does not have any coffee in her mug.
- We have some watermelon on our plates.
The words “a little” and “much” can never be used with countable nouns. When you see these, you will automatically know that you are seeing uncountable nouns. Here are a few examples:
- We only have a little bread left.
- The sunshine is much brighter than the moonlight.
Take a look at the following table comparing countable and uncountable nouns. The countable nouns are container words for the uncountable nouns:
|bowl||soup, oatmeal, popcorn|
|cup||coffee, tea, soda|
|dollar, pound, yen, dinero||money|
|can||modeling clay, paint|
|drop||blood, gas, water|
A common problem that most non-native English speakers have is that they don’t understand what a countable noun is. They either forget to make the noun plural or they make an uncountable noun countable.
Nouns that are both Countable and Uncountable
Nouns are made countable or uncountable based on the context that they are used. When used as an uncountable noun, the word is used as a general idea. When used as a countable noun, the word is used for a specific item. A few examples are fatty meats, two coffees, and muddy waters.
|These are hard times we’re in.||time||Remember that time?|
|I found three hairs in my food.||hair||My hair is red.|
|I have fond memories of my childhood.||memory||I don’t have a memory of that.|
|My house has four rooms.||room||I will need to make room for more food.|
Measure Words with Uncountable Nouns
Look at the following list. It shows many of the more common words we use to measure uncountable nouns. This list contains words, such as, “a bottle of” and “a cup of”.
- a bag of flour | rice | sugar
- a bar of chocolate | gold | soap
- a cup of milk | coffee | tea
- a bottle of soda | tea | juice
- a glass of beer | juice | water
- a spoonful of sugar | syrup
- a bowl of oatmeal | pasta | soup
- a box of cereal | paper | crackers
- a can of vegetables | soup | tuna
- a carton of ice cream | orange juice | almond milk
- a drop of blood | oil | water
- a grain of rice | sand | salt
- an item of clothing | jewelry | news
- a jar of honey | jam | peanut butter
- a piece of advice | furniture | paper
- a roll of paper | tape | toilet paper
- a slice of bread | cheese | meat
- a tablespoon of butter | pepper | water
- a teaspoon of salt | medicine | sugar
- a tube of toothpaste | lipstick | glue