Countable nouns are the names of separate objects, people, ideas etc which can be counted. They have plurals.
Examples are: dog, tree, girl, book, occasion and link
We can use numbers and the article a/an with countable nouns.
- a dog
- two books
- three girls
Uncountable or mass nouns are the names of materials, liquids, abstract qualities, collections and other things which we do not see as separate objects. Most uncountable nouns are singular with no plurals. Examples are: wheat, sand, weather, water, wool, milk
We cannot use numbers with uncountable nouns. They are also not normally used with the article a/an.
Here is a list of common words which are usually uncountable in English. Corresponding countable expressions are given in brackets.
accommodation (countable – a place to live)
advice (a piece of advice)
baggage (a piece of baggage; a bag, a case)
bread (a piece of bread; a loaf; a roll)
chess (a game of chess)
chewing gum (a piece of chewing gum)
equipment (a piece of equipment; a tool)
furniture (a piece/article of furniture)
grass (a blade of grass)
information (a piece of information)
knowledge (a fact)
lightning (a flash of lightning)
luck (a bit/stroke of luck)
luggage (a piece of luggage; a bag)
money (a note; a coin; a sum)
news (a piece of news)
poetry (a poem)
thunder (a clap of thunder)
travel (a journey/trip)
work (a job; a piece of work)
Countable or uncountable
Sometimes it is not easy to see whether a noun is countable or uncountable. For instance, travel is normally uncountable, while journey is countable. It is impossible to give complete details. The following rules, however, should help.
The names of illnesses are usually uncountable in English. Examples are: chickenpox, measles, cancer, diabetes, flu etc.
- If you have had chickenpox, you can’t get it again.
But note that the words for some minor ailments are uncountable. Examples are: a cold, a headache
- I have a bad headache.
Many nouns have both countable and uncountable uses, sometimes with a difference of meaning.
Words for materials are usually uncountable. But note that the same word is often used as countable noun to refer to something made of the material.
- Have you got some typing paper? (uncountable)
- I want a paper. (countable)
- Have you got any coffee?
- Could I have two coffees? (= two cups of coffee)
Many abstract nouns are uncountable when used in a general sense. The same noun can be countable in a particular sense.
- She hasn’t got enough experience for the job. (uncountable)
- It was a strange experience. (countable)
- Take your own time. (uncountable)
- Have a good time. (countable)
Plural uncountable nouns
Some uncountable nouns are plural. They have no singular forms with the same meaning, and cannot be used with numbers. Examples are: trousers, jeans, pyjamas, pants, scissors, spectacles, glasses, arms, goods, customs, groceries, clothes and thanks
- Have you bought the groceries?
- Many thanks for your help.
Other plural uncountable nouns include the expressions the British, the Dutch, the English, the French, the Irish, the Spanish and the Welsh.