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?
|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.
|« Singular«||« Plural«|
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:
|a lot||a lot|
|a couple||a bit/a little|
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)
- words to do with the weather: lighting, rain, thunder
Some words are always in the plural but cannot be counted:
- glasses (for your eyes)