Countable and Uncountable Nouns in English

Introduction

Nouns in English grammar can be either countable or uncountable. Countable nouns refer to individual things and we can use them in the singular or plural (e.g. coin/coins). Most nouns in the English language are countable. Uncountable nouns, also known as mass nouns, refer to things we consider a whole or mass and cannot be counted (e.g. money). Many abstract nouns (e.g. happiness) are uncountable in English.

Learn the rules for countable and uncountable nouns in English grammar with Lingolia’s online grammar explanations and interactive exercises.

Mike and his sister Sandra are shopping. They need milk, apples, and bread.

Sandra wants to make a cake tomorrow. She needs 6 eggs, 400 grams of flour, a block of chocolate and some strawberries.

At the checkout, Mike doesn’t have any money, just a few coins in his pocket – oops!

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Countable Nouns

  • Most English nouns are countable nouns. This means they can be used in both the singular and the plural.
    Example:
    An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
    Apples are healthy.
  • We can put numbers and indefinite articles in front of countable nouns.
    Example:
    one banknote, two banknotes
    one coin, two coins
    a cake
    a sister
  • We cannot use singular countable nouns without articles or possessive pronouns (a/the/your).
    Example:
    I saw your sister yesterday.
    (not: I saw sister yesterday.)Can you give me a hand?
    (not: Can you give me hand?)
    However, we can use plural countable nouns alone.
    Example:
    Did you buy apples? Yes, but I forgot to buy stawberries.
  • We can use some/any/(a) few/many with plural countable nouns.
    Example:
    We need some apples.
    I don’t have any eggs.
    There are a few strawberries in the fridge.
    Mike dosen’t have many coins.
  • Some collections of countable nouns have a corresponding uncountable noun which describes them as a whole/mass.
    Example:
    suitcases, bags, trunks = baggage
    tables, chairs, couches = furniture
    peaches, bananas, apples = fruit (but: one vegetable, two vegetables)
    socks, dresses, t-shirts = clothes

Uncountable Nouns

  • Some English nouns are uncountable nouns. This means they only have one form. Most uncountable nouns are singular, but some are plural see below singular/plural uncountable nouns.
    Example:
    I drink milk everday.
    Milk is healthy.
    (not: Milks are healthy.)
    My tousers are too big.
    (not: My trouser is too big.)
  • We cannot usually put numbers in front of uncountable nouns.
    Example:
    money
    (not: one money/two moneys)
    milk (not: one milk/two milks)
    bread (not: one bread/two breads)
  • We can use many uncountable nouns without an article or possessive pronoun.
    Example:
    We need flour and chocolate to make a cake.
    (not: …a flour and a chocolate…)
    Can you buy milk on the way home?
    (not: can you buy a milk…)
  • We use some/any/little/much with uncountable nouns.
    Example:
    We can buy some bread at the bakery.
    We don’t have any milk.
    There’s a little flour in the pantry.
    Mike doesn’t have much money.
  • Materials, liquids, and collections are often uncountable nouns.
    example:
    materials – paper, wood, gold, glass etc.
    liquids – water, milk, oil, coffee, etc.
    collections – furniture, luggage, traffic etc.

Counting Uncountable Nouns

Although we can’t count uncountable nouns themselves, we can use different units, such as a bottle/grain/glass/loaf/piece/kilo/gram of, to count them. Here, we are counting the units rather than the actual uncountable nouns.

UnitUncountable NounExample
a glass of milk/water/juice Can I have a glass of milk and 2 glasses of water, please?
a cup of tea/coffee I can’t drink more than 2 cups of coffee a day.
a slice of cake/pizza/bread Molly eats 2 slices of bread for breakfast every morning.
a piece of bread/paper/information/advice/chewing gum/equipment/furniture/luggage/news

Laura forgot to tell them an important piece of information.
Nathan stood on a piece of chewing gum.

a loaf of bread He went to the bakery to buy a loaf of bread.
a bottle of water/wine/beer There were 39 bottles of beer in the cellar.
a jar of honey/jam/peanut butter Paul bought 2 jars of honey.
a block of chocolate/gold A block of chocolate a day keeps the doctor away.
a can of cola/soft drink I remember when a can of cola cost $0.50!
a gram/kilo of chicken/flour/rice/butter We need half a kilo of chicken and 250 grams of rice.
a litre of milk/water/oil Michael drinks three litres of milk a week.
a grain of sand/salt/rice It’s impossible to count all the grains of sand on the beach.
a spoon of sugar A spoon of sugar helps the medicine go down.
a bowl of pasta/cereal/yogurt I had a bowl of pasta for lunch.

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Some nouns have both a countable and an uncountable form. The countable form usually refers to something more specific and the uncountable form to something more general.

CountableMeaningUncountableMeaning
I'm just ducking out to buy a paper a paper = a newspaper Her necklace was made of paper. paper = material
I have been to Ireland three times. … times = how often Hurry up! we don’t have much time. much time = in general
I’ve got a hair in my mouth. a hair = one strand of hair Michael died his hair blue. hair = all the hairs on his head
She has a business in South Africa. a business = a company Let’s get down to business. business = commercial activity
How many countries are in the European Union? a country = a nation I grew up in the country. country = outside of the city
I like this work by Turner. a work = a piece of art They don’t want to go to work. work = a job

Singular/Plural Uncountable Nouns

Some uncountable nouns are used in plural and some are used in singular.

  • Singular uncountable nouns are used with verbs in the third person singular.
    Here is a list of common singular uncountable nouns: advice, bread, chewing gum, equipment, fun, furniture, grass, information, knowledge, luck, luggage, money, milk, news, pasta, poetry, progress, rain, research, rice, snow, traffic, travel, weather, work, …
    Example:
    money – Money makes the world go around.
    (not: Money make the world go around.)
    milk – The milk has gone sour.
    (not: The milk have gone sour.)
    news – The news was wonderful.
    (not: The news were wonderful.)
  • Plural uncountables are used with verbs in the plural.
    Here is a list of common plural uncountable nouns: clothes, remains, thanks, groceries, glasses, jeans, scissors, trousers/pants
    Example:
    clothes – His clothes are too big.
    (not: His clothes is too big.)
    groceries – The groceries were expensive..
    (not: The groceries was expensive.)