Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Noun the part of speech that is used to name a person, place, thing, quality, or action and can function as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or an appositive. Webster’s Dictionary
In the English language, there are countable and uncountable nouns. Recognizing the difference between the two is important for your English skills in general, and more immediately for your IELTS or TOEFL test.
Common Nouns ESL Students Fail to Recognize as Countable or Uncountable
The English article system is an important aspect of a noun’s countability. “The”, “a”, and “an” are the English language articles. Many English students have trouble using these words correctly. This difficulty directly translates to the trouble they have with recognizing whether you have a countable or uncountable noun.
Coffee, tea, water, cheese, time, homework, danger, language, paper, hope, travel, people, information, sand—these words are just a few of the nouns that commonly confuse English students.
Uncountable nouns are nouns that are impossible to count. Uncountable nouns are always in the singular form, never plural. You don’t use the English language articles “a” or “an” with uncountable nouns because to say there’s one would imply that there could be more. Things like—air, food, water, and money or abstract ideas like—happiness, courage, and intelligence are uncountable. You may have much courage or a little bit of food but you don’t have three airs or two intelligences.
Countable nouns are pretty obvious usually—dog, cat, book, chair, pen, are all nouns that can be made plural (usually by adding an “s” or “es” to the end of the word). Countable nouns can be “a”, “many”, “few”, or “a few of”, but NOT “much”, “little”, or “a little bit of”. There can be 10 chairs at the table, 4 cats in the yard, or 3 books assigned for English Lit. But not—much pens with black ink, or a little bit of dogs barking.
Some nouns are BOTH countable and uncountable based upon how they are being used, and the context they are used within. For instance, time—the word time is both an uncountable noun and a countable noun.
How much time is there to finish the project?
There isn’t enough time left to complete the project perfectly.
I called you 5 times yesterday!
How many times do I have to tell you I have class on Tuesdays?
Knowing the difference between countable and uncountable nouns is especially important for the writing and speaking sections of the TOEFL or IELTS test. Writing or saying something like “many informations”, or “much books” will cost you points.
It can be confusing, but careful reading should help you discover whether a noun is countable or uncountable, but if there’s a doubt Rebecca from EngVid has the great tip to use a modifier that can work in either case— “the”, “some”, “any”, “no”, “a lot of”, “enough”, and “plenty of” all work with BOTH countable and uncountable nouns