What are countable and uncountable nouns? The basic rule is very simple:
- A countable noun can be counted (e.g. one apple, two apples).
- An uncountable noun cannot be counted (e.g. sugar – it’s hard to ‘count’ the number of small sugar grains!).
However, the more you learn about these two types of nouns, the more difficult it becomes! Let’s start with a short list of nouns that are countable and a short list of nouns that uncountable.
Here are some general rules that can help (note that they don’t always work – they are just a guideline):
- Countable nouns are normally something you could draw (you can draw a cup, but how do you draw milk without drawing a cup?)
- Abstract nouns (things you can’t feel, touch, see, hear, or taste) are usually uncountable (information, education and leisure for example)
- Liquids and gases are usually uncountable (milk, air)
- Objects to small to easily count are uncountable (sugar grains are too small so sugar is uncountable; grapes can be counted, so they are countable)
- Materials are generally uncountable (metal, plastic, leather)
- Subjects at school are generally uncountable (history, maths, English)
So now you know what countable and uncountable nouns are, why does it matter? Well, there are different grammar rules for using each type of noun, so we’ll look at some of these rules now.
Rule #1 – We only use a or an before a single, countable noun.
- a car
- an apple
- NOT a water
- NOT an information
Rule #2 – We only add +s or +es after more than one (plural) countable noun
- two cars
- five potatoes
- NOT milks
- NOT leisures
Remember though that some nouns are irregular – you don’t add ‘s’ or ‘es’ when you make them plural and you just need to learn them! e.g. child / children, man / men, tooth / teeth etc.