Countable or uncountable nouns? These concepts can be frustrating for English learners but it's not as hard as it seems. These explanations will make it easier to understand.
A quick reminder: A noun is a word which names a person, place, thing, animal or idea.
All common nouns are either countable or uncountable.
Countable nouns are things that you can count. When we say "count" we mean adding things together to get a total number such as three cats, five pencils, one train.
Examples of countable nouns:
book, magazine, table, chair, sofa, computer, mouse, dog, orange, sand, bottle, car, rug, radio, clock, pen.
Since we can count them, countable nouns can be either singular (just one single thing) or plural (more than one thing):
Uncountable nouns are difficult to count or divide into separate parts. Uncountable nouns are also called "mass" nouns. The word mass refers to a large amount of a substance that has no particular shape.
We can use the indefinite articles a / an with singular countable nouns:
We can use determiners (e.g, the, this, these, those, his, my) with countable nouns:
Uncountable nouns are singular. You cannot make them plural, therefore:
When a countable noun is plural, we don’t need a determiner if were talking about something in general.
We can use many and few with plural countable nouns:
We can use some and any with either plural countable or uncountable nouns:
We can use much and little with uncountable nouns.
Partitive expressions make it possible to make uncountable nouns countable. What’s a partitive?
Partitives are words that express a container or unit of measurement.
glass, bottle, can, box, cup, spoon full, handful, bunch, loaf, piece, slice, scoop, grain, kilo, etc.
Once you put the uncountable nouns inside of these containers, then we can count them. This is why we typically use the partitive followed by the word “of”:
NOTE: Often in English you will hear people use a number before an uncountable noun. This is confusing! For example, although coffee is an uncountable noun. It’s a liquid so you can’t count it. But you can measure it or put it inside a container and count the number of containers.
So for example you may hear someone say they normally drink three coffees a day. What they’re really saying is that they drink three cups of coffee each day.
To make things a little complicated, some nouns can be both countable or uncountable. It depends on the meaning you are trying to convey. For example:
Remember your friend Ms. Dictionary? She uses the following symbols to tell you whether a noun is countable [C] or uncountable [U]. I always recommend learners purchase a quality dictionary—there’s so much valuable information in them.