The Writing Center

Count vs. Noncount Nouns

Before you can form plurals correctly, you need to understand the difference between count and noncount nouns. Noncount nouns are a large group of “mass” or “collective” nouns that do not make a distinction between singular and plural forms. Even though these nouns may refer to large quantities of things, they act like singular nouns grammatically:

  1. They can never take the plural ending “s”

  2. They always take a singular verb.

  3. They cannot be used with the indefinite article “a/an” and are frequently used with no article at all.

  4. They are used with collective quantity words like “a lot of,” “some,” “any,” “much,” or “more,” instead of count words like “many,” “several,” “two,” or “few.”

Please note: Some nouns can be used as either non-count or count nouns, and the meaning of these nouns changes slightly depending on the form being used. The non-count form refers to the whole idea or quantity, whereas the count noun refers to a specific example or type.

Noncount

Count

(1a) Linguistics is the study of language.

(2a) To paint requires a lot of work.

(3a) This wine is delicious.
(1b) Some languages, like English and Spanish, are international.

(2b) This painting is a work of art.

(3b) The wines of France are famous.

Adapted from: Grammar Choices for Graduate and Professional Writers by Nigel A. Caplan

The following categories of words frequently contain noncount nouns:

Category

Words

Examples

Abstractions

Beauty, revenge, knowledge, progress, poverty

Ignorance causes poverty.

Liquids and gases

water, beer, air, gasoline, milk

Gas is cheaper than oil.
Wine is my favorite beverage.

Materials

gold, silver, wood, glass, san

He had a will made of iron. Gold is more valuable than silver.

Categories of food

rice, flour, cheese, salt, yogur

t Bread is delicious.
Meat and cheese are sources of protein.

Languages

French, English, Korean

Navejo is a complex language. Do you speak German?

Academic fields

physics, astronomy, music

Philosophy is a difficult subject. My brother is majoring in biology.

Sports and games

tennis, golf, basketball

Do you play chess? Soccer is becoming more popular in America.

Weather

fog, wind, snow

Severe drought can cause famine.
The city of Buffalo gets more snow than most cities in New York state.

Natural phenomena

gravity, nuclear energy, magnetism

Electricity is a form of energy. Newton discovered the principles of gravity.

Gerunds (verbal nouns)

running, singing, smoking

Swimming is excellent exercise. Sleeping during class is not recommended.

Groups of things of varying size and shape

jewelry, garbage, luggage, equipment

Fine jewelry is expensive. Trash was thrown everywhere i the room.

 

More rules for nouncount nouns:

Rule

Explanation

Example

How do you denote a specific number or quantity of noncount nouns?

Use count nouns such as piece, ton, cup, etc. paired with of and a plural verb.

Ten pieces of jewelry were stolen.

What about general quantities?

Use general words such as more, much, a lot of, less, and a large quantity of, but keep your noncount noun singular.

We need to do more research.

A lot of valuable information is contained in this paper.

What if the noncount noun is definite?

As soon as you specify a noncount noun by attaching a defining phrase to it, you must use the just as you would with any other noun.

The beauty of the night was overwhelming.

The information that you gave me was valuable.

(VS. Information is valuable.)

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