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Language Focus: Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns can be confusing. Learn how to use them correctly.

Introduction

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns refer to things that we can count. Objects, people and animals are usually countable.

Here are some countable nouns from the reading passage:

  • award
  • plant
  • garden
  • building
  • park
  • toilet
  • place
  • chemical

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns refer to things that we can’t count. Materials, liquids and abstract concepts are usually uncountable.

Here are some uncountable nouns from the reading passage:

  • recognition
  • soil
  • natural light
  • electricity
  • equipment
  • water
  • concrete
  • energy

You can often guess whether a noun is countable or uncountable, but not always. If you’re not sure, you can check in a learner’s dictionary, like the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary.

What are the grammar rules?

If a noun is countable, it means:

  • we can count it – e.g. one plant, two plants;
  • we can use a/an in front of it – e.g. a plant;
  • it has a plural form – e.g. plants.

If a noun is uncountable, it means:

  • we can’t count it;
  • we can’t use a/an in front of it;
  • there isn’t usually a plural form;
  • it takes a singular verb – e.g. more energy is created.

Quantifiers

You need to know whether a noun you’re using is countable or uncountable because it can have an effect on the words you use with it. A good example of this is when you want to use quantifiers. Quantifiers are words like many, a small amount of and a lot of. Some of these words are only used with countable nouns and some are only used with uncountable nouns. Others, like a lot of, can be used with both.

You can use these words with countable nouns:

Large quantity

  • a large number of
  • many
  • a lot of

Small quantity

  • a small number of
  • few

You can use these words with uncountable nouns:

Large quantity

  • a large amount of
  • a lot of

Small quantity

  • a small amount of
  • little

Here are some examples of these quantifiers from the reading passage:

  • a large amount of recognition
  • a large number of plants
  • many buildings
  • few parks
  • little natural light
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