Count Nouns vs. Non-Count Nouns

Nouns - Lesson #5

There are two kinds of common nouns – count nouns and non-count nouns. Count nouns are also called countable nouns. Non-count nouns are also called uncountable nouns.

Count nouns are any noun that we can easily count (1 apple, 2 apples, 3 apples, etc.). Count nouns can be singular (one) or plural (more than one). In the previous two lessons, we talked about how to make plural nouns.

Non-count nouns can be difficult for English learners. It takes time to learn them, and there are exceptions that we need to memorize.

Non-count nouns are things that we cannot count (love, water, air) or cannot count easily because they are too small (sand, rice, salt).

Here are some common things that are non-count nouns.

Liquids: water, soda, juice, coffee, milk
Gases: air, oxygen, CO2
Very small things: snow, sugar, rain, salt, rice, dust
Materials: wood, metal, plastic, cotton, silk
School Subjects: math, science, history, French, German

Abstract nouns are also uncountable. Abstract nouns are not actual things. They are more like ideas. Here are some examples.
  • happiness
  • love
  • education
  • crime
  • money
  • time
Some words seem like they are countable, but they are non-countable.For example, the words time, money, food, and homework are non-count nouns.
  • Time is non-count, but words like minute, hour, second, year, and month are all count nouns.
  • Money is a non-count noun, but words like dollar, cent, yen, won, pound and renminbi are count nouns.
  • Food is a non-count noun, but words like apple, egg, and cookie are all count nouns.
  • Homework is non-count, but ‘10 math problems is' countable.
Some foods are sometimes non-count nouns because they can come in different sizes, shapes, and quantities. Here are some examples.
  • butter
  • cheese
  • spaghetti
  • spinach
  • ice cream
  • yogurt
For example, how much is one ice cream? Is it one scoop of ice cream? One bar of ice cream? One cup of ice cream? It could be many different things. Therefore, it is a non-count noun.

Some nouns can be both countable and uncountable. It depends on the sentence and what we are talking about.

Count NounNon-count Noun
There is a hair in my food. (one hair)Her hair is beautiful.
I bought a paper this morning. (newspaper)Can I have some paper? (like white paper)
There is one light. (one lamp or bulb)There is no light. (light in general)
We bought one pizza.We have some pizza. (don't know how much)
We had a great experience. (one event)I have a lot of experience. (when you have done something for a long time)

You can make non-count nouns into count nouns by using a counter word. Some counter words are bottle, piece, slice, bag, minutes, hours and cup. There are other counter words.

counter word + of + non-count noun

Count NounNon-count Noun
We have 3 bottles of water.We have some water.
She has 4 pieces of bread.She has bread.
I have one slice of cheese.I have some cheese.
We have a bag of flour.We have some flour.
There are a few minutes left.There is a little time left.
Here is a cup of coffee.Here is some coffee.

Sometimes you do not need a counter word. If you are talking about time, you can just say "15 minutes". You do not need to say "15 minutes of time". Everybody knows that minutes is a unit of time.

There is one more thing you need to know. Some words are often used as a non-count noun and a verb.

VerbNon-Count Noun
I love you.She gives me a lot of love.
He works every day.He has a lot of work to do.
Nick practices the guitar.Nick needs more guitar practice.
She helps children.She needs some help.

It can take some time to learn count and non-count nouns well. You will learn many of them naturally as you study English.

Study what we covered in this lesson and try to use it correctly when you speak English, but do not spend too much time on it. As you learn English and listen to English, you will hear how nouns are used and you will be able to use them the same way.