Posted by Grant Richardson, 3rd August, 2018
A simple but often forgotten grammar rule:
In English, unlike in Chinese, some nouns can be counted (e.g. birds), while others cannot be counted (e.g. air).
Countable nouns have a singular form and a plural form:
- 1 idea, 2 ideas, 3 ideas…
- 1 thing, 2 things, 3 things…
In contrast, uncountable nouns normally do not have a plural form (though, there are exceptions; see below):
For uncountable nouns, you can use “… much (+ plural form)”, not “… many”
Note that much is used for negatives or for questions.
For positive sentences, in spoken English, we normally use a lot of or so much… E.g. So much food / A lot of food.
Other quantifiers for uncountable nouns are:
plenty of, some, any, a little, loads of (informal), stacks of (informal), heaps of (informal)
For every uncountable noun, there is normally a counter. For example:
I ate a bowl of cereal for breakfast
Quiz: Can you match the following uncountable nouns on the left with the correct counter on the right? (Answers: see below)
|1||celery / incense / butter||A||a bar of|
|2||chocolate / soap||B||a bottle of|
|3||coffee / hot chocolate / tea||C||a bowl of|
|4||deodorant / soda / fly spray||D||a can of|
|5||lettuce / cabbage||E||a cup of|
|6||pizza / pineapple / of the action||F||a head of|
|7||rice / porridge / soup||G||a member of|
|8||sugar / salt / syrup||H||a roll of|
|9||staff / the team / a group||I||a piece of|
|10||toilet paper / footage||J||a stick of|
|11||water / wine / orange juice||K||a teaspoon of|
|12||software / information / technology||L||a slice of|
Some nouns can be used as either uncountable or countable plural. That is, they don’t always need a counter word.
For example, wine can be:
Other nouns which can be used as either countable or uncountable: