Countable nouns are usually concrete nouns and they can be counted, e.g. a table, three tables.

Uncountable nouns cannot be counted.

We normally do not add ‘a/an’ to them and do not make them plural.

They denote

1) substances

– materials

wood, wool, paper

– liquids

water, tea

– some food items

butter, meat

– chemicals, gases

calcium, oxygen

2) abstract nouns:

love, peace , generosity, time

3) activities, sports:

jogging, studying, football

4) collective nouns:

furniture, luggage, equipment, accommodation (countable in US English),traffic

5) names of subjects:

Mathematics, Geography

6) languages

French, Russian

7) other

advice, behaviour, chaos, damage, evidence, hair, information, money, news, luggage, luck, work, progress, pollution, research, scenery, traffic, weather

Countable and uncountable meanings

Some nouns can be countable or uncountable with a difference in meaning,

e.g. chicken/a chicken, light/a light, hope/a hope, paper/a paper, hair/a hair, wood/a wood etc.


Uncountable meaning

Countable meaning

coffee, tea, beer, lemonade


Do you drink tea

‘a cup of tea’, informal

I’d like a tea, please.

chicken, duck, fish

(! not a beef, a pork)

a part, the dish

I’ll have some fried chicken

the whole bird

I’ve bought a chicken. Shall we roast it?

drawing, painting, sculpture

I’m not very good at drawing. (the activity)

What a beautiful drawing! (the picture)

stone, paper, rock, wood

(but not: a wool, a cotton)

The stairs are made of stone and marble. (the material)

A stone feel off the rock. (separate items)


The standards of education are very high in this institution. (abstract)

Did he get a good education? (particular)


She has a lot of experience in this sphere.(the knowledge and skill that you have gained through doing something for a period of time’)

It was a unique/positive/wonderful experience. (‘an event or activity that affects you in some way)

+ plural (!)

The play is based loosely on his own life experiences.



Bandages are made from strips of cloth.

a piece of cloth’

He gently cleaned her face with a wet cloth.



a) There may be a big change in meaning:


uncountable – ‘material’

The wall is made of glass.

Countable – ‘an item that we drink from which is made of glass’

I’ll have a glass of water.

b) To refer to a specific example of an uncountable noun we can use a bit/a piece , an item , a slice, a lump of:

A bit/a piece of advice, gossip etc.:

An item of news, furniture, clothing

A slice of bread, meat, butter

A lump of sugar

c) In some cases we can make an uncountable noun countable when we want to express ‘different types’ of the noun:

The wines of Provence are incomparable!

d) We can make uncountable abstract nouns countable if we refer to a specific type of the noun:

Distrust -> a deep distrust

This is common with nouns connected with emotions, only in sg form:

Gratitude is a noble feeling.

I felt a deep gratitude to her.


Some uncountable nouns end in –s but take a singular verb, such as

– illnesses (measles, mumps),

– kinds of sport (aerobics, gymnastics)

– academic subjects (mathematics, physics):

– other (news, gallows, summons, optics, ethics, politics )

E.g. Mumps is a disease, especially of children, that causes painful swellings at the sides of the face and under the ears.

Mathematics is my favourite subject.

Collective nouns + singular/plural verb

We can use either a singular or a plural verb with most collective nouns, i.e. nouns referring to a group of people, animals or things.

Collective nouns:

Army, association, audience, band, board, class, clergy, club, college, commission, committee, community, company, (the) Congress, crew, crowd, delegation, department, electorate, the elite, enemy, family, federation, generation, government, group, institute, jury, opposition, orchestra, Parliament, population, press, public, staff, team, university etc.

+ organizations, companies, e.g. the United Nations, IBM

A singular verb presents the collective noun as a ‘whole’ entity:

The audience was huge.

A plural verb presents the noun as a group of individuals:

The audience were applauding with admiration.


a) Nouns cattle, police always take a plural verb!

b) In formal contexts, academic writing it is common to use a singular verb.

c) US English prefers a singular verb in these cases.

d) It is preferable to use a singular verb after a collective noun if we use a/an rather than the:

A group of teenagers is dancing in the street.

Resources used:

– Mark Foley & Diane Hall Longman Advanced Learner’s Grammar;
– Крылова И.П., Гордон Е.М. Грамматика современного английского языка.

More nouns with a change in meaning (count vs uncount)

Countable phrases for uncountable nouns