Self-Study: Countable and Uncountable Nouns
What are countable and uncountable nouns?
Most nouns are countable. This means that you can count them:
- One book, two books, three books etc.
Some nouns are uncountable, meaning that you can’t count them:
- One rice, two rices, three rices
Here is a list of common uncountable nouns:
- Liquids: water, wine, milk etc.
- Abstract ideas: advice, news, information, motivation
- Weather: sunshine, snow, rain, weather
- Feelings: happiness, sadness, anger, etc.
- Energy: electricity, gas, power, oil etc.
- Sport: football, tennis, volleyball etc.
- Others: furniture, hair, transportation, stress, money, luggage, rice, bread, music, sand, soup
Uncountable nouns are usually singular:
- The water is cold.
- The advice was good.
- The news is bad.
- Her hair is black.
- There isn’t any coffee.
There are a few uncountable nouns that are plural:
- The goods have been spoiled.
- The clothes are new.
“Pair nouns” such as glasses and trousers are also plural:
- The trousers are blue.
- My glasses are broken.
- The scissors are sharp.
Uncountable nouns are often preceded by “some” in positive sentences and “any” in negative sentences or questions.
- I have some information for you. (not: I have an information or I have two informations.)
- We don’t have any water. (not: We don’t have a water or we don’t have two waters.)
- Do you have any news? (not: Do you have a news or do you have two news?)
We can make some uncountable nouns countable in the following ways:
- One glass of milk, two bottles of wine, three cups of coffee, four drops of water etc.
- One piece of advice, two pieces of news, three pieces of information
Much / many / a lot of
We use much with uncountable nouns, often in questions and negative sentences:
- How much money do you have?
- How much milk is left?
- We don’t have much time.
We use many with countable nouns, often in questions and negative sentences:
- How many coins do you have?
- How many boxes are left?
- We don’t have many options.
We use “a lot of” with both countable and uncountable nouns:
- We have a lot of time. (We can also say “We have much time.”, but this is less usual)
- We have a lot of money. (We can also say “We have much money.”, but this is less usual)
- We have a lot of boxes. (We can also say “We have many boxes.”)
- We have a lot of options. (We can also say “We have many options.”)
- Do you have a lot of applicants. (We can also say “Do you have many applicants?”)
- We don’t have a lot of water. (We can also say “We don’t have much water.”)
Please note you can also say “lots of” instead of “a lot of”.
A little /a bit of / a few
These expressions all mean “some”.
“A little” and “a bit of” are used with uncountable nouns:
- I have a little time. / I have a bit of time. (= I have some time)
“A few” is used with countable nouns:
- I have a few apples. (= I have some apples)
Little / few
“Little” and “few” mean “not very much”.
Little is used with uncountable nouns:
- I have little money. (= I don’t have very much money)
Few is used with countable nouns.
- I have few ideas. (= I don’t have many ideas)
- I have a few ideas. (= I have some ideas)
Please note that it is more normal in English to say, for example, the following:
- I don’t have very much money. (rather than I have little money)
- I don’t have many ideas. (rather than I have few ideas)
Less / fewer
Less and fewer are used to compare nouns. They are the opposite of more.
Less is used with uncountable nouns:
- I have less time than yesterday. (= Yesterday I had more time than today)
Fewer is used with countable nouns:
- I have fewer opportunities in my new job than in my old one. (= I had more opportunities in my old job than in my new one.)