Uncountable nouns do not have plural forms and they cannot be used with numbers or the article a/an.
Uncountable nouns are difficult to count! All of these nouns are uncountable:
- Liquids (water, milk, wine)
- Powders (flour, coffee, sugar)
- Gases (air)
- Electricity, money, music…
- Abstract nouns (like happiness, motivation and luck)
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
I. Uncountable Nouns – they have no plural form:
Common nouns that are usually uncountable:
- accommodation, information, advice, behaviour;
- all the metals;
- English (and all other languages)
- furniture, health, knowledge, luggage;
- maths (and all other school subjects);
- rice (and all other grains and cereals);
- salt (and all other condiments);
- water (and all other liquids);
- traffic, transport, trouble
Use: a slice, a lump, a piece with countable nouns for food
1. Nouns we can thing of a single think or substance:
- chocolate, paper, hair, stone;
2. Nouns which are used to refer to a particular varieties:
3. Some drinks
4. time, space, room
III. Uncountable nouns ending in –s, followed by a singular vb
- maths, genetics, arobics, athletics, news
- The news is good.
IV. Nouns ending in –s that are always plural
- trousers, clothes, scissors
To refer to a singular item, use a pair of.
V. Irregular plural forms: nouns which have the same form in the singular and plural
- aircraft, crossroads, species, sheep, series
VI. Collective nouns:
- My family is very big. All of my family are coming to the wedding.
Nouns which only take a plural verb: cattle, the people, the police.
Common Mistakes in the Use of Uncountable Nouns
- Incorrect: I told these news to my father.
- Correct: I told this news to my father.
- Incorrect: The teacher gave us many advices.
- Correct: The teacher gave us some advice.
1. Uncountable or ‘mass’ nouns do not go with numbers, and rarely with plural forms or articles.
Uncountable, or ‘mass’ nouns, define abstract qualities, materials, liquids, collections and things we conceptualise as being without separate identities or boundaries.
- Incorrect: The program aimed at improving the safety of aircraft operations during a severe winter weather.
- Correct: The program aimed at improving the safety of aircraft operations during severe winter weather.
- Incorrect: Arbitration allows resolution of disputes in cases involving the movement by waters of goods required for resupply services.
- Correct: Arbitration allows resolution of disputes in cases involving the movement by water of goods required for resupply services.
- Incorrect: Estimated useful lives currently range between three to five years for electronic equipments and furnitures.
- Correct: Estimated useful lives currently range between three to five years for electronic equipment and furniture.
2. Some determiners only go with countable nouns (many, few, several, every etc). Others only go with uncountable nouns (much, little, less etc). Use the correct type.
- Incorrect: The Company may generate fewer revenue from the sale of these devices than from the sale of PCs.
- Correct: The Company may generate less revenue from the sale of these devices than from the sale of PCs.
- Incorrect: Throughout many of Canada’s history, a large share of federal spending on transport has been in the form of direct subsidies and grants.
- Correct: Throughout much of Canada’s history, a large share of federal spending on transport has been in the form of direct subsidies and grants.
3. Some uncountable nouns are only plural, with no singular equivalent. Common examples include arms (weapons), trousers, glasses (spectacles), goods, groceries, clothes, thanks, police, customs (at national boundaries), remains. They can be used with the definite article ‘the’, but not with the indefinite article ‘a/an’ or numbers.
- Incorrect: The federal government, airport operators and a local police are working closely together.
- Correct: The federal government, airport operators and local police are working closely together.
- Incorrect: It is well known that some Western countries are engaged in the sale of arm to Iraq, despite also imposing sanctions.
- Correct: It is well known that some Western countries are engaged in the sale of arms to Iraq, despite also imposing sanctions.
4. Mixed uses 1: Lots of nouns have both countable and uncountable forms (often with the former being composed of the latter). Contrast:
- We need more photocopying paper (uncountable: generic)
- ‘Apple Daily’ is a popular paper. (countable: a newspaper)
- Have a glass of water before giving a presentation (countable: a drinking cup)
- Much of the Bank of China tower is made of glass. (uncountable: generic)
Don’t mix up their meanings!
5. Mixed uses 2: Lots of abstract nouns have both countable and uncountable forms when their meaning is more or less particular. Contrast:
- Falling in love is an unforgettable experience. (countable)
- She has enough experience to become a manager. (uncountable)
- Shame is a negative emotion. (uncountable)
- It’s a shame that large Corporations can be so greedy. (countable)
Determiners Used with Countable and Uncountable Nouns
a) lots/ a lot of + countable/uncountable nouns
b) much + uncountable nouns
c) many + plural countable nouns
d) little, a little, a bit + uncountable nouns
* little= almost none; a little/ a bit = at least some
e) few, a few + plural countable nouns (=some but not many)
f) some + uncountable nouns and plural nouns (between a little and a lot)
g) hardly any + uncountable and plural countable nouns
h) no/ not any + uncountable and plural nouns