Countable and Uncountable Nouns Made Simple


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Level: Beginner     Reading Time: 6 minutes    Category: Grammar

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Learning English means that you need to learn a lot of nouns. These are the most common kind of words for learners and understanding what they mean is vital.
Yet, learning the meaning of these words is only half of the battle. You also need to learn the different kinds of nouns because you need to understand how they work in a sentence.
If you don’t understand the different kinds of nouns, you are going to make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes hurt your confidence and will reduce your progress.
You don’t need to worry though. I’m here to help!
This article will show you everything you need to know about nouns. You will learn about the different kinds of nouns and how they used by native speakers.

What are Nouns?

Nouns are things. Anything you can see and touch is a noun. Even things you can’t see like ideas, information and air are also nouns.  
[bctt tweet=”Nouns are the building blocks of English so you need to know how to use them to speak English with confidence.” username=”dansensei_”]
When we talk about nouns in English, there are some different groups of nouns you need to know about. It is important to know the differences because it will change how you can use each noun.
We can separate nouns into two main groups: countable and uncountable. We use each group of nouns in different ways. It will also effect things like grammar, articles and quantifiers.

What are countable nouns?

These are words that we can count. Each noun you are talking about is a separate thing. You are able to count how many of that thing exist, so they are countable.
For example:
  • Animals – Cats, dogs, birds, gorillas etc
  • Vehicles – Cars, trains, bikes, airplanes etc.
  • Places – Parks, beaches, cities, train stations etc
  • Items – Books, chairs, computers etc.
  • Food – Apples, tomatoes, burgers etc.
  • People – Brothers, sisters, friends etc.
You can split countable nouns in to two groups, singular and plural. The noun will actually change depending on if it is singular or plural.
This can confuse a lot of English learners at first so let’s take a look at the differences in detail.

What are singular nouns?

Singular nouns are the basic form of the noun. You should use this when you are only talking about one item. You can’t use singular noun words when you want to talk about more than one item.
[bctt tweet=”Singular nouns are the easiest ones to learn because they are the ones that are in your dictionary. You should learn these ones first!” username=”dansensei_”]
Common examples of singular nouns are:
  • Cat,
  • dog,
  • car,
  • bike,
  • train station etc.  
You don’t need to change these nouns in anyway to use them. We can use numbers or determiners like “a, an or the” when we are talking about singular nouns.  

           Read More:     How to Use Articles – A, An and The.

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What are plural nouns?

You use plural nouns when you are talking about more than one of a noun. If you are talking about 2 or more items, you need to use this form. The words are a little harder to learn because they are different to the singular noun versions. How the words change is not always easy to remember.
Plural nouns are difficult to remember because a lot of words don’t follow the rules. There are 3 types of plural noun; regular plurals, same word plurals and irregular plurals.

What Are Regular Plural Nouns?

Regular plural nouns are the easiest ones. You take the singular version of the noun and add ‘s’ to the end of the word.
  • Cats,
  • dogs,
  • cars,
  • bikes
  • train stations
Most regular plurals work this way, but be careful, because some words are a little different.
For words that end in ‘y’ – like city, we remove the ‘y’ and add ‘ies’ so it becomes cities. This is also true for parties, berries and stories. However, not all words that end in ‘y’ follow this pattern. Words like birthdays, delays and ways add ‘s’ to the end like other regular nouns.
If you are not sure how to change a word, you should check in the dictionary.

What are same word plural nouns?

Some plural nouns don’t change at all. We call them same word plurals. The word stays the same no matter how many of that thing we are talking about. Here are some common examples:
  • One fish → Two fish
  • One shrimp → Two shrimp
  • One deer → Two deer
  • One sheep → Two sheep


What are irregular plural nouns?

Irregular plurals are words that don’t follow the regular plural rule of adding S to the end. For example, the plural of child is not childs – It is children. This is an irregular noun.
[bctt tweet=”There are hundreds of irregular plural nouns in English that you need to memorise. The bad news is there is no single rule to help you. There are a few patterns to look out for though.” username=”dansensei_”]
Words that end in F or FE become ~ves.
  • Life → Lives
  • Wife → Wives
  • Leaf → Leaves
Words that end in O become ~oes:
  • Tomato → Tomatoes
  • Potato → Potatoes
  • Superhero → Superheroes
 This doesn’t work for all words that end in O. Some are regular plurals like pianos, zeros and photos.
Words that change vowels:
  • Foot → Feet
  • Tooth → Teeth
  • Man → Men
Words that are totally different with no pattern:
  • Mouse → Mice
  • Child → Children
  • Person → People

What are uncountable nouns?

Countable nouns are nouns that we can count, so, uncountable nouns are nouns that we can’t count. Sometimes, these are called non-count nouns. These nouns are not used with a/an or numbers and they can’t be used in the plural form. There are lots of uncountable nouns in English but here are a few examples:
  • Ideas and experiences: advice, information, progress, news
  • Substances/Materials: water, rice, gold, milk
  • Weather nouns: weather, lightning, rain, snow
  • Names for groups of things: furniture, equipment, rubbish, baggage
Some nouns are always in their plural form, but are actually uncountable. For example:
Trousers: They are usually referred to as a pair of trousers. “I bought 2 pairs of trousers” is fine but I bought a trousers is not OK. Other nouns of this type are:
  • shorts,
  • pants,
  • glasses, and
  • scissors.

Can You Count Uncountable nouns?

When we want to express an amount of an uncountable noun, we often use quantifiers. Common quantifiers are things like much, a lot of, some and a little. There are some other specific words that we use to talk about uncountable nouns. You can use a pair of to talk about things like trousers, but what about for words like furniture, news and milk?
You can use words like a piece of, a bit of or an item of to talk about uncountable nouns. You can also use measurements or containers such as a litre of, a kilogram of or a glass of. These ones are for substances and materials. Here are a few examples:
  • piece of advice
  • bit of rain
  • litre of water
  • bar of chocolate
  • kilogram of rice
  • bag of rubbish

Common Mistakes to avoid:

Is it countable, uncountable or both?

There are some cases where words are both countable and uncountable. Common examples of this are related to animals. When we are talking about the animal they are countable. For example, one chicken, two chickens, three chickens etc. But, when we are talking about the food, they become uncountable. You can use pieces of chicken like other uncountable nouns.
Sometimes one word has different meanings, and one of the meanings is countable and the other is not. For example: “I bought a new iron and ironing board.” in this case iron is countable. Yet, “That train is made of iron” is talking about iron as a substance or material and therefor is uncountable.
These cases are quite rare but it is still important to think about.

Uncountable Nouns pretending to be countable.

There are some cases where we talk about uncountable nouns as if they are countable. Consider this example:
“Can I get a coffee with two sugars to go?”
This is something you might hear in a cafe but there is something strange going on here. Coffee is a liquid and is uncountable. Sugar is a substance and it is uncountable. Usually, you need to talk about coffee and sugar using containers or measurements. A cup of coffee with 2 spoons of sugar is the correct way to say this so why is this rule ignored?
It is quite common when talking about drinks in cafes or bars. It is obvious what container the drinks will be supplied in, so we can skip mentioning it.


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