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Count and Noncount Nouns (with Articles and Adjectives)

Summary:

This handout discusses the differences between count nouns and noncount nouns. Count nouns can be pluralized; noncount nouns cannot.

Contributors:Paul Lynch, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2011-10-19 12:41:41

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns refer to things that we can count. Such nouns can take either singular or plural form.

Concrete nouns may be countable.

There are a dozen flowers in the vase.
He ate an apple for a snack.

Collective nouns are countable.

She attended three classes today.
London is home to several orchestras.

Some proper nouns are countable.

There are many Greeks living in New York.
The Vanderbilts would throw lavish parties at their Newport summer mansion.

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns refer to things that we cannot count. Such nouns take only singular form.

Abstract nouns are uncountable.

The price of freedom is constant vigilance.
Her writing shows maturity and intelligence.

Some concrete nouns are uncountable (when understood in their undivided sense).

The price of oil has stabilized recently.
May I borrow some rice?

While uncountable nouns do not generally take a plural form, sometimes they may be pluralized when used in a countable sense. The difference between the uncountable and countable meanings of nouns that are used in either sense can be seen in the following chart:

Uncountable Sense Countable Sense
Art is often called limitation of
life.
I read a book aout the folkarts of Sweden.
Life is precious. A cat has nine lives.
Religion has been a powerful force in history. Many religions are practiced in the United States.
She has beautiful skin. The hull of a kayak is made of animal skins.
Dr. Moulton is an expert in ancient Greek sculpture. We have several sculptures in our home.
We use only recycled paper in our office. Where are those important papers?

Using Articles with Countable and Uncountable Nouns

A countable noun always takes either the indefinite (a, an) or definite (the) article when it is singular. When plural, it takes the definite article if it refers to a definite, specific group and no article if it is used in a general sense.

The guest of honor arrived late.
You are welcome as a guest in our home.
The guests at your party yesterday made a lot of noise.
Guests are welcome here anytime.

Uncountable nouns never take the indefinite article (a or an), but they do take singular verbs. The is sometimes used with uncountable nouns in the same way it is used with plural countable nouns, that is, to refer to a specific object, group, or idea.

Information is a precious commodity in our computerized world.
The information in your files is correct.
Sugar has become more expensive recently.
Please pass me the sugar.

Categories of Uncountable Nouns

Abstract Material Generic Non-Plurals with -s
advice
help
information
knowledge
trouble
work
enjoyment
fun
recreation
relaxation
meat
rice
bread
cake
coffee
ice cream
water
oil
grass
hair
fruit
wildlife
equipment
machinery
furniture
mail
luggage
jewelry
clothing
money
mathematics
economics
physics
civics
ethics
mumps
measles
news
tennis
(other games)

Quantity Adjectives with Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Some, Any

Both words modify either countable or uncountable nouns.

There are some cookies in the jar. (countable)
There is some water on the floor. (uncountable)
Did you eat any food? (uncountable)
Do you serve any vegetarian dishes? (countable)

Much, Many

Much modifies only uncountable nouns.

How much money will we need?
They ate so much cake that they started to feel sick.
Much effort will be required to solve this problem.

Many modifies only countable nouns.

How many children do you have?
They had so many books that they had to stack them in the hall.
Many Americans travel to Europe each year.

A lot of, Lots of

These words are informal substitutes for much and many.

Lots of effort will be required to solve this problem. (uncountable)
A lot of Americans travel to Europe each year. (countable)

Little, Quite a little, Few, Quite a few

Little and quite a littlemodify only uncountable nouns.

We had a little ice cream after dinner.
They offered little help for my problem. (meaning "only a small amount")
They offered quite a little help for my problem. (meaning "a large amount") (See quite a bit of, below.)

Few and quite a few modify only countable nouns.

A few doctors from the hospital play on the softball team.
Few restaurants in this town offer vegetarian dishes. (meaning "only a small number")
Quite a few restaurants in this town offer vegetarian dishes. (meaning "a large number")

A little bit of, Quite a bit of

These informal phrases usually precede uncountable nouns. Quite a bit of has the same meaning as quite a little and is used more commonly.

There's a little bit of pepper in the soup. (meaning "a small amount")
There's quite a bit of pepper in the soup. (meaning "a large amount")

Enough

This word modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

I don't have enough potatoes to make the soup.
We have enough money to buy a car.

Plenty of

This term modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

There are plenty of mountains in Switzerland.
She has plenty of money in the bank.

No

This word modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

There were no squirrels in the park today.
We have no time left to finish the project.

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