Countable nouns are nouns that we can count: car, house, book, etc. We can say one car, two cars, three cars, etc.
Singular and plural
Countable nouns have singular and plural forms: a car/cars, a house/houses, a book/books, etc.
a/an + singular countable noun
We CANNOT use a singular countable noun without a determiner like a/an or the.
- I have a car. (NOT
I have car.)
- When I was a child. (NOT
When I was child.)
Uncountable nouns are nouns that we cannot count: money, milk, rain, etc. We cannot say
one money, two moneys, etc.
Uncountable nouns do not have a plural form, they only have a singular form: money/
moneys, milk/ milks, rain/ rains, etc.
We cannot use a/an + uncountable noun. A/an means ‘one’, and we cannot count uncountable nouns.
- I need money. (NOT
- We need to buy sugar. (NOT
Types of words that are uncountable
Some types of words that are typically uncountable are:
- Food, drinks and liquids: cheese, bread, pasta, coffee, milk, petrol, fuel, etc.
- Materials: iron, wood, metal, paper, plastic, etc.
- Abstract ideas and feelings: information, advice, strength, time, love, excitement, etc.
- Illnesses: diabetes, alzheimer, cancer, etc.
- Languages: English, French, Spanish, etc.
Uncountable in English but not in other languages
Some nouns are uncountable in English, but they are countable in other languages. Some of them are: advice, news (it ends in -s, but it’s a singular word), furniture, luggage, baggage, bread, cheese, toast, etc.
Countable and uncountable
Some nouns can be countable and uncountable because they can refer to a unit or to ‘mass’ or ‘material’. Compare:
- Yesterday I had two coffees. (= two cups of coffee)
- I love coffee. (= the liquid that we drink)
- I found one hair in my soup. (one single hair)
- She has beautiful hair. (= the mass of hair on her head)
a/an, some, any
We use a/an + singular countable noun.
- I have a new car.
- She has a brother and a sister.
We cannot use a/an before a plural noun or an uncountable noun.
I need to buy sugar. (NOT a sugar.)
- We saw very beautiful places. (NOT
a very beautiful places.)
We use some and any before countable plural nouns or singular uncountable nouns.
- He gave me some coins.
- He didn’t give me any coins.
- He gave me some money.
We use some in positive sentences.
- We cooked some cookies.
We use any in negative sentences and questions.
- She didn’t send me any messages.
- Have you got any brothers or sisters?
But we use some in questions when we are asking for something or we are offering something.
- Can I have some tea? (=I’m asking for some tea.)
- Would you like some tea? (=I’m offering you some tea.)