ESL Grammar Issues

Using Count and Noncount Nouns

Count Nouns

Count nouns are things we can count. They can be used in both singular and plural forms. Most countable nouns are made plural by adding -s or -es. Note that the ending
-y changes to -ies when -y is preceded by a consonant.

     Examples: one computer, two computers, three computers

                              an eyelash, ten eyelashes

                              a party, two parties

Some count nouns do not use -s to form the plural:

     Examples: one child, two children

                              one tooth, ten teeth

                              one deer, ten deer (deer is a count noun that can be used for both
                              singular and plural forms.)

Use many, few, a few, each, every, and several with count nouns in plural form:

     Examples: many chairs, few chairs, a few chairs, each chair, every chair,

                              several chairs

NOTE: A count noun always requires an article (a, an or the) in English.

 

Noncount Nouns

Noncount nouns, or mass nouns, are things that can’t be counted, such as happiness, furniture, or milk.  They cannot be made plural.

     Examples: Happiness is often elusive for some people.

                              Her grandmother’s furniture is very old.

                              Milk provides a significant amount of calcium.

Some words of quantity (such as a little or much) are used only with noncount nouns.

Expressions such as a great deal of, much, a little, little and less are also used only with noncount nouns.

     Examples: I hope you don’t have too much homework over the weekend.

                              A little milk is good for you.

                              I wish him a great deal of happiness.

Some common types of noncount nouns:

  • groups consisting of similar items:

       furniture, jewelry, luggage, makeup, traffic, money/change/cash, scenery

  • fluids:

       water, coffee, milk, blood

  • gases:

       oxygen, nitrogen, steam, air

  • substances:

       bread, cheese, butter, ice, iron, silver, glass

  • particles:

       rice, chalk, pepper, flour, salt, sugar

  • abstract ideas or qualities:

       knowledge, beauty, anger, fear, love, information, news, space, energy,
       grammar, vocabulary

  • nouns formed from verbs:

       studying, drawing, swimming

  • languages

       Chinese, English, Spanish, Arabic

  • fields of study:

       biology, chemistry, engineering, history

  • games and sports:

       football, tennis, chess, poker

  • natural phenomena:

       rain, sunshine, fog, hail, snow, thunder, heat

                           (Azar, 1999, Understanding and Using English Grammar)

 

Nouns That are Both Count and Noncount

Many nouns in English can be used as both count and noncount nouns. Often, however, there is a difference in meaning. 

     Examples: I bought a paper. (a newspaper - countable)

                              I bought some paper. (material for writing on - uncountable)

                              There is a hair in my soup!  (one single hair - countable)

                              She has beautiful hair.  (hair on her head - uncountable)