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In English, some words (nouns) are countable, others are not. This means that you can quantify some things and not others.

Here is an easy way to check if a word is countable. This works for most nouns, but there are, of course, exceptions. We’ll look at the exceptions further down.

Most objects are countable, for example: a hat, a table, a cat, a pen, a tree, a flower, a bottle, a house, a room, etc.

Most uncountable nouns need to be measured with a scale: rice, flour, water, juice, air, saliva, etc.

Think about the logic behind it: liquids cannot be counted, so each type of liquid is an uncountable noun, like coffee.

Most things that are too small to be counted individually are uncountable: sand, dirt, semolina.

Okay, that’s easy enough. But how do we use them when we speak or write?

Countable nouns
SingularPlural
a house(2) houses
an apple(3) apples
a pen(10) pens

Now let’s have some examples in sentences:

  • I bought a house recently.
  • I like those pens over there.
  • I would like 5 apples please.
  • I only have a few minutes.
  • She gave me the pen on the table.
Uncountable nouns
« Singular« « Plural« 
floursome flour
sandsome sand
watersome water
Warning: uncountable nouns are always conjugated as singular, eg.: The sand is very hot.

And again, let’s have some examples:

  • I would like 2 bottles of water please.
  • I need some water.
  • Can you measure out 300 grams of flour for me?
  • There is so much sand in my shoe!
  • If you’re going to the shop, could you buy some flour?

We can quantify uncountable nouns by preceding them with words like: cup; bottle; number of kilograms, grams or litres, etc.; piece, as in « a piece of cake ».

What if we have an imprecise quantity?

No problem, use the following table:

CountableUncountable
a fewsome
manymuch*
a lota lot
a couplea bit/a little
*Much is usually used with negatives or questions. Alternatively, you can say: « so much » or simply use « a lot » if you’re unsure!

Strange exceptions

Here are some words that are uncountable and which may not be so easy to remember. This is not an exhaustive list!

  • furniture (refers to desks, beds, chairs, etc.)
  • advice (you can give a person some advice, or a piece of advice)
  • information
  • news
  • work
  • progress
  • luck
  • words to do with the weather: lighting, rain, thunder
  • accommodation
  • traffic
  • research

Some words are always in the plural but cannot be counted:

  • pants/trousers/shorts
  • pyjamas
  • glasses (for your eyes)
  • scissors

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