Countable and Uncountable Nouns - DPU International College
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  • Modified July 27, 2016

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

In English, unlike many Asian languages, nouns, which are the names given to people, places, activities or things, can be countable or uncountable, which makes it possible to tell the difference between things in terms of quantity or number.

Nouns are found in the subject position of a sentence, the object position, or as the object of a preposition.

 

The boy         eats      sandwiches                   in the morning.

Subject                       Object                           Object of a preposition

 

Is a noun countable or uncountable?                                                                                                          

If you go to a supermarket to buy rice, you would buy a quantity of rice. You would buy it by the kilogram; whereas if you were buying shirts, you would buy a finite number e.g. 3 shirts.

Consequently, some things are described in terms of quantity (uncountable nouns) and other things can be described in terms of number (countable nouns). This leads to a number of important other factors:

Note: the use of articles is also affected by countable/uncountable nouns. See class 2.

 

1) Subject-verb agreement:

We saw in previous classes how in English we have to change the verb to match the subject: I am…, he is…, you are…, we are…, they are…, I have…, and you have…, etc

 

Subject Verb Prepositional phrase Adverbial phrase
Who/What? What action? When? How often?
Iget upat 7 a.m.every day. (Singular)
The boygets upat 6 a.m. every day. (3rd person singular)
Weget up at 8 a.m.every day. (Plural)

 

Whether the subject is countable or uncountable affects subject-verb agreement:

Uncountable (always singular):     Sugar is sweet.      Fried rice is delicious.

A gerund         (always singular):    Running is fun.    Doing homework is boring.

 

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CountableThe student is Thai (Singular). The students are Thai (Plural)

 

Task: Write the correct verb in the gap

1) The dog ……………………………  in the park every afternoon.     (run)

2) The dogs………………………….. in the park every afternoon.      (run)

3) Running in the park…………….. fun.                                           (be)

4) My mum…………………….. dinner at 6pm.                                 (make)

5) My friends…………………… shopping after class.                       (go)

6) My mum and dad……………….. in offices.                                 (work)

7) Water………………… important for all living things.                     (be)

8) Waiting for my friend…………………… boring.                            (be)

9) My friend………………………… long, black hair.                         (have)

10) My friends…………………… many books.                                (have)

 

2)  Singular and plural nouns (countable)

The next decision a speaker or writer makes is related to how many people, activities or things (i.e. nouns) are we talking or writing about, and in particular, whether it is one or more than one.

The student   = one student                                 (singular)

The students = more than one student                  (plural)

 

3)  Quantifiers

What are quantifiers?

A quantifier is a word or phrase which is used before a noun to indicate the number or quantity:  ‘some’, ‘many’, ‘a lot of’ and ‘a few’ are examples of quantifiers.

Quantifiers can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns. For example:

There are many books in the library
He’s got only a few baht.
How much money have you got?
There is a large quantity of sugar in my tea.
He’s got more friends than his sister.

 

With Uncountable Nouns
• much
• a little/little/very little
• a bit (of)
• a great deal of
• a large amount of
• a large quantity of

 

With Both
• all
• enough
• no/none
• not any
• some
• any
• a lot of
• lots of
• plenty of

 

With Countable Nouns
• many
• a few/few/very few
• a number (of)
• several
• a large number of
• a great number of
• a majority of


Much, many, a lot of, a few, a little


Many
anda few are used only with countable nouns. For example,

 

There are many people in this room

Many people enjoy watching movies.

I have invited many of my friends to the party.

There are not many people here today (i.e. a small number)

There are a few people waiting outside.

A few people bought tickets for the concert.

 

A lot of can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns, but you have to be careful.

If the noun is uncountable the verb is singular:

‘There is a lot of sugar in my coffee’

But if the noun is countable, the verb is plural:

‘There are a lot of cars parked outside’

 

Much is used only for uncountable nouns:

‘There is much unemployment in the city.’

‘There is much pollution in Bangkok’

‘I didn’t spend much money when I was shopping’

 

A little is also used for uncountable nouns. It means a small quantity.

‘I like a little sugar in my tea’

‘I always add a little chilli to my noodle soup.’

 

 

Task: Write an appropriate quantifier before the nouns in the following sentences:

1) …………………… of my classmates like Korean pop music.

2) …………………… people become multi-millionaires.

3) I like to add……………….. milk to my coffee- just one spoonful.

 

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4) When I graduate, I want to earn………………..money. I want to be rich.

5) Too……………… pollution is caused by cars.

6) There are………….. problems for one parent families.

7) I don’t want to eat …………..sugar. I want to lose weight.

8) There are……………………… students in the class. Only three are present at the moment.

9) There is……………..water on the floor. Someone should get a big bucket and a mop.

10) I have……………..time to prepare for the exams.

 


Some’ and ‘any
 

We use some and any in both answers to questions and in statements.

Some is used for both countable and uncountable nouns, for example,

‘I have some money in my wallet.’ (Uncountable)

‘I have many friends.’ (Countable)

 

Any is used in questions or in negative statements for both countable and uncountable nouns.

‘Do you have any sugar in your coffee?’ (Uncountable)

‘Do you have any pets?’ (Countable)   (‘Yes, I have some pets’ / ‘No, I don’t have any pets’’)

 

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Task: Insert ‘some’ or ‘any’ in the following sentences

1: I would like…………..cake, please.

2: Did you see…………… students in the library?

3: My brother found……………. interesting websites about sport.

4: I haven’t eaten…………… food today. I am hungry.

5: I saw………some nice flowers in the market.

6: I haven’t got…………..bread. I need to go shopping.

7: She has…………… news for you.

8: They didn’t have……………… information about it.

9: Do you have……………..books in your bag?

10: Would you like…………….soup?

 

Too’ and ‘Enough

Tooindicates an excessive quantity or number, which means a quantity or number of something that is more than you need, or is possible.

There are too many people to fit in my car.

The bag is too expensive. I can’t afford it.

The suitcase is too heavy. I can’t pick it up.

There is too much sugar in my tea. I can’t drink it.

 

Enough means a sufficient number or quantity of something, so it can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns. ‘Not enough’ means there is an insufficient quantity or number of something.

For example,

I have enough money to buy my lunch.  (Uncountable)

There isn’t enough milk. Can you buy some? (Uncountable)

There are enough good players in my class for a football team. (Countable)

I don’t have enough eggs to make a cake. (Countable)

Enough can also be used with adjectives, for example,

He is tall enough to play basketball.

She isn’t old enough to go to a bar.

 

Task: Decide whether ‘too/too much/too many’ or ‘enough/not enough’ is appropriate in the following sentences:

1 There is………………….. milk. I will have to buy some more.

2 The dress costs………………… money. I can’t afford it.

3 I have…………………time to finish my first draft on Thursday.

4 There are………………..people on the bus. I can’t find a seat.

5 I have……………rice to make dinner tonight, but I will have to buy some more tomorrow.

 

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6 I don’t have……………friends.

7 He isn’t tall…………….to join the army.

8 I need to lose weight. I am…………….big for my clothes.

 

Each and Every

When we use ‘each’ or ‘every’, the noun is always singular, for example:

‘Each person must bring an ID card and 50 baht.’

‘Every student must wear a uniform’

‘I study every day’                                                                                                      

‘I work in a different place each week’.

 

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