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Countable and Uncountable Nouns

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Being able to identify between countable and uncountable nouns is necessary to use English grammar correctly.

Countable nouns

Most nouns in English are countable:
He has two homes, one in London and one in Spain.
The beer cost six pounds.
I’ve never seen Sarah travel with less than two suitcases.

Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns are those that cannot be counted. This distinction between countable nouns and uncountable nouns is determined on how English speakers see these nouns. Many uncountable nouns in English are countable in other languages. These nouns are often seen as a single concept or a 'single group' or 'grouping' that cannot be divided. Generally we do not use plural forms with uncountable nouns. However some of these nouns do end with an 's' but should not be seen as countable nouns.

In hot climates you should drink plenty of water.
The information you sent me was invaluable.
I've always been given good advice by Terry.
Politics is not a very interesting subject to my mind.
(Politics is uncountable despite the's'’)

Uncountable nouns can be grouped as follows

Liquids and gases water, milk, air, coffee, smoke, mist etc.
Solid and powder or grains wood, metal, pastry, rice, sand, cheese etc.
Energy heat, cold, light, sunshine, radiation etc
Subjects English, economics, maths, science etc
Data and abstracts information, advice, education, intelligence etc
Grouped ideas or concepts fruit, money, food, news, drink, luggage etc

Sometimes an uncountable noun is used in plural form. This is usually connected to drink or materials. It usually means 'cups of', 'bottles of' or 'types of’

I've already drunk two coffees this morning. (Cups of coffee)
We bought three wines. (3 bottles or 3 types of wine)
The country produces hundreds of different cheeses. (Different types of cheese)

Multiple meanings

There are many words in English with multiple meanings. It is possible for a noun to have one meaning which falls under one of the groups above which makes it uncountable and to have another meaning which is countable. 'Light' is a good example.
We couldn't really see anything because there was hardly any light.
The streets are decorated with beautiful lights for Christmas.

In the first example 'light' refers to the energy and is not countable. In the second example 'lights' refers to light bulbs which are countable. So each word still fits into the rules explained above which is generally what happens as nouns in English fall into the 'concepts' behind what makes nouns countable or uncountable.

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

Now choose the correct sentence from each pair from the following:

  • 1 - Which is correct?

  • 2 - Which is correct?

  • 3 - Which is correct?

  • 4 - Which is correct?

  • 5 - Which is correct?

  • 6 - Which is correct?

  • 7 - Which is correct?

  • 8 - Which is correct?

  • 9 - Which is correct?