Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

July 24, 2009

Countable and uncountable nouns – now you get it, now you don’t!

Money is uncountable. What! …giggle, giggle.. but you can count money, that’s crazy!

Of course on the face of it the fact that money is something we count makes sense, but as a noun we are thinking of it in terms of a generic concept rather than a pile of coins.

Countable nouns

These are concrete, can be counted , take an indefinite article and can be pluralised

  • I’d like an apple and three oranges please.

Uncountable nouns

These  are more ‘abstract’, cannot be counted individually, do not take an indefinite article and cannot be pluralised.

  • I’d like some fruit and coffee please.

less and fewer

With countable nouns we use fewer , uncountable less

  • There were fewer people than last year so we served less champagne.

(fewer as a determiner seems to be disappearing and you will see/hear less used even with countable nouns – less people – this is still considered incorrect although it is common)

Quantifying uncountable nouns

We can make uncountable nouns countable by quantifying them or making them more specific.

  • A glass of wine.
  • Three slices of bread.
  • piece of  cake.
  • A bit of luck.

The countable nouns bit, piece, slice etc.. are commonly used to do this along with the preposition ‘of’.

 We can also make them countable by referring to a specific type of the noun:

  • People visit famous Spas to take the waters. (here waters refers to the specific waters of the Spa area)

Nouns connected with emotion can also be made countable:

  • Fear of spiders is common.
  • She had a fear of spiders.

Nouns that can be countable and uncountable

Some nouns can be both countable and uncountable but the  have different meanings in each case and these shouldn’t be confused. Here are some examples.

  • Tea  – Do you like tea? (the drink)                 

                          Would you like a tea? ( a cup of tea)              (this is the same for all drinks and some foods)

  • Drawing – He’s very good at drawing.

                                    He gave me a drawing for my birthday.

  • Newspaper  –  Wrap everything in newspaper before packing.

                                               Did you buy a newspaper today?

  • Glass – She makes tiny animals from glass.

                              Can you pass me a glass?

For more information and an exercise see Internet Grammar

As ever check it in your grammar book to find more examples and ensure that you understand the rules and usage.

Remember you may have to make a conscious effort in the beginning to make sure you use them correctly but with practice it will become second nature.



  1. […] the next few posts we will look at some of these categories (countable and uncountable has been explored in a previous post)  in more detail and point out the pitfalls for advanced […]

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  2. […] Nouns such as furniture, money or luggage describe a group of objects and are uncountable […]

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