Grammar: Countable vs uncountable nouns

Example errors

Look at the example errors below. Can you fix them?

Incorrect
– More informations are needed.
– The scientists presented a large number of evidences.
– She gave him some advices.

What are the grammar rules?

1. Countable nouns refer to things that can be counted such as objects, people, animals and processes.

Here are some examples:

participant, experiment, rat, questionnaire

If a noun is countable, it means:

  • we can count it (e.g. one participant, two participants);
  • we can use numbers and the article a/an in front of it (e.g. 15 participants, a participant);
  • it has a plural form (e.g. participants).

2. Uncountable nouns refer to things that cannot be counted such as materials, liquids and abstract concepts.

Here are some examples:

information, alcohol, funding, evidence

If a noun is uncountable, it means:

  • we cannot count it (e.g. one information, two informations);
  • it is not possible to use numbers or the article a/an in front of it (e.g. 15 informations, an information);
  • it generally doesn’t have a plural form (e.g. informations);
  • it takes a singular verb (e.g. more information is needed).

3. It is often possible to guess whether a noun is countable or uncountable, but it is not always clear or logical. For example, fruit and vegetables are similar foods, but the noun fruit is usually uncountable, whereas the noun vegetable is countable.

To really be sure whether a noun is countable or uncountable, you need to consult a good learner’s dictionary.

4. Many nouns have a countable form as well as an uncountable form.

There is often a significant difference in meaning between the forms. In the example below, the uncountable form of time refers to time that can be measured in minutes, hours, etc. The countable form, on the other hand, refers to an occasion or event.

– This is a complete waste of time [U].
– How many times [C] have you been to Spain?

5. In other cases, the difference is more subtle.

In the example below, the uncountable form of use refers to the act of using something, whereas the countable form refers to the purpose for which something can be used.

– The use [U] of antibiotics has increased significantly.
– This machine has many uses [C].

Again, to really understand subtle differences in meaning, you need to consult a good learner’s dictionary.

6. If singularity is important when referring to an uncountable noun, you may need to use a phrase such as a piece of or an item of.

Here’s an example:

– This is an interesting piece of evidence.

7. It is important that you know whether a noun you are using in your writing is countable or uncountable because it has an impact on the words you use with it.

Some words can only be used with countable nouns: many, few, fewer, number, etc.

IncorrectCorrect
– Participants in the second group answered less questions.– Participants in the second group answered fewer questions.

Others can only be used with uncountable nouns: much, little, less, amount, etc.

IncorrectCorrect
Few attention was given to the results.Little attention was given to the results.

Corrected errors

Here are the corrected errors from the start of the lesson.

IncorrectCorrect
– More informations are needed.– More information is needed.
– The scientists presented a large number of evidences.– The scientists presented a large amount of evidence.
– She gave him some advices.– She gave him some advice.

Quiz

Click on the FIVE uncountable nouns in this paragraph that have been used incorrectly.
__________

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