What are countable and uncountable nouns?

2 common types of nouns

Nouns come in two types: countable and uncountable.

Countable nouns are nouns that can be counted: sheep, apples, bottles, drinks, days, years, etc.

Uncountable nouns are nouns that can not be counted: milk, bread, petrol, cement, water, love, peace, etc.

Examples of countable nouns

Singular countable nouns can be preceded by the definite article, the, a, or an:

  • The cat
  • A cat
  • An idea

Plural countable nouns are usually preceded by a number:

  • I read two books last week.
  • We had two visitors today.
  • That crazy old woman has more than a dozen cats.

Plural countable nouns can also be preceded by quantifiers such as some, few and many:

  • She has some books. 
  • She had a few biscuits.
  • Now she has too many lightsabres.

Examples of uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns do not get a definite article. They are always singular, and so they must have a complementing single verb:

  • Tea is
  • That information is available online.
  • There is too much butter on those trays.

Uncountable nouns can be preceded by some/any, much, and little:

  • Is there some food for the cat?
  • I will see if there is any food for the cat.
  • There is not much food for the cat.
  • I only have a little time.

Any countable or uncountable noun that begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) is preceded by the definite article an:

  • An alligator
  • An elephant
  • An ironic twist
  • An opportunity
  • An unfortunate incident
Countable Nouns Can be singular or plural
Used with: the, a, an,  some, any, many, few, enough, plenty, no

Uncountable Nouns

Always singular
Used with: some, any, much, few, a lot of, lots of, a little bit of, enough, plenty, no

Rules for using countable and uncountable nouns

There are some words in English that can be both counted and uncounted, like ‘difficulties’, ‘talks’, and ‘lights’.

They are uncountable in the abstract:

  • The peace talks will take place later this year. (A number of scheduled conferences.)
  • We have had some difficulties. (A number of specific problems.)
  • I love the lights of the city. (Lights can be counted, but in this case, the word is general.)
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