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Adjectives with Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Summary:

This resource provides basic guidelines of adjective and adverb use.

Contributors:Paul Lynch, Chris Berry
Last Edited: 2017-08-01 02:27:04

The Basic Rules: Adjectives

A countable noun is usually something you can count quantitatively. Countable nouns can be expressed in plural form, usually by adding an “s” to the singular form. For example, "cat--cats," "season--seasons," "student--students."

Usually, you can add a numerical quantity to such nouns, like “two cats” or “two students”. If you aren’t sure whether a noun is countable or not countable, try attaching a number to it. He had “two respects” wouldn’t work, so “respect” is an uncountable noun.

An uncountable noun is a noun that usually cannot be expressed in a plural form. It is not something you can quantify. For example, "milk," "water," "air," "money," "food" are uncountable nouns. Usually, you can't say, "He had many moneys." or “The airs smelled good this morning.”

Milk and water are uncountable nouns. However, you may hear someone say, “Can I have two milks?” or “You should get two waters.” In these particular cases, the person has simply dropped off the countable part of the phrase: “Can I have two [cartons of] milk?” or “You should get two [bottles of] water.” In these cases, adding an “s” to milk and water is accepted in verbal speech, but you wouldn’t normally do so in a writing class.

Most adjectives can modify both countable and uncountable nouns. For example, you can say, "The cat was gray" or "The air was gray." However, the difference between a countable and uncountable noun does matter with certain adjectives, such as the following:

Much/Many

"Much" modifies only uncountable nouns.

"Many" modifies only countable nouns.

Much or Many?

Incorrect Examples:

A lot of/lots of

"A lot of" and "lots of" are informal substitutes for much and many. They are used with uncountable nouns when they mean "much" and with countable nouns when they mean "many."

Little/Few

"Little" modifies only uncountable nouns.

"Few" modifies only countable nouns.

Little or Few?

Incorrect Examples:

A little bit of

"A little bit of" is informal and always precedes an uncountable noun.

Some/Any

Both "some" and "any" can modify countable and uncountable nouns.

Even though “some” and “any” can modify both countable and uncountable nouns, both should be used with the plural form if there is one.

Plenty of

"Plenty of" modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

Enough

Enough modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

No

No modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

Here is a chart that summarizes which adjectives modify countable or uncountable nouns.

Countable Nouns Uncountable Nouns Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Many

Few

Little

Much

A little bit of

Some/Any

Plenty of

Enough

No

A lot of/Lots of

 

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