All you need to know about countable and uncountable nouns to improve Business English
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Nouns may seem quite straightforward to the layman English learner, but they are, in fact, intertwined with many obscure rules and exceptions. If you are looking to speak English like a natural, read on about the difference between countable and uncountable nouns here.
Countable nouns are the easiest type of noun to identify because it’s quite easy to decide if the noun is one which can be counted or not. For example, dogs are a countable noun.
He has one dog. My upstairs neighbour, however, has four dogs. There are eight dogs running through the streets.
These examples illustrate that these types of nouns can be singular or plural depending on the number. Singular nouns are modified by an article or pronoun before the noun. The articles we would likely use are the, one, or a.
Uncountable nouns are nouns that cannot be counted past more than one unit. A great example is water. You may hear someone ask you, “Would you like some water?” but to a group of people, we do not ask “Would you like some waters.” That is because water is a noun that we cannot split into units. You should never make water plural with -s as in the example above. Instead we would use quantifiers to split the water in a grammatically appropriate way.
When using countable nouns, we can use the indefinite article a/an. We use these articles before singular countable nouns. The difference between which article should be used is whether the noun starts with a consonant or vowel. For consonant sounds we use a and for vowel sounds we use an.
Would you like an apple for breakfast? No thank you, but I would love a banana. Alright, here is a banana for you. Thank you.
Advanced English speakers will not use a and an when talking about uncountable nouns. Not sure which quantifiers to use? We have some ideas for you, if you read on!
Some is a special quantifier because it can be used with both uncountable and countable nouns. If there is a limited supply of something, we can use some when talking about that noun. Some is both vague and undefined; if you want to talk about a quantity bigger than one, but also not too large, use some. When offering things to others, you can use some.
Have you got some apples? No, but how about some pears? That would be great, thanks.
Any is similar to some in that we can use it to talk about an indefinite amount of a noun. Any can be used when asking questions with uncountable nouns, and when writing or talking about countable nouns in the plural form.
Do you have any vegetarian options? Yes, in fact, we do!
If what you want does not matter, you can use any. An interesting note about any is that is can also mean none.
Which vegetarian item would you like? Oh, any will be fine – it doesn’t matter. I apologize, I checked with our chef, and it seems we do not have any at this moment.
Another excellent quantifier to keep in mind when discussing a large quantity of some noun is many. In standard English, this quantifier can seem a bit stuffy and formal, so it’s best to try and use a lot of instead.
There are many geese at the park today. Yes, there are a lot of geese today.
You may notice that the first sentence is a bit formal, whereas the second is more relaxed, natural, and causal.
A lot of
The quantifier a lot of is a versatile phrase that can be used in affirmative sentences with an uncountable noun.
I have a lot of work to take home to prepare for my case on Monday.
A lot of can also be used with plural countable nouns. Loads of or lots of can be used in the same way.
You really did cook a lot of rice. Maybe you should make a stir-fry and invite some friends over to finish it off.
Loads of or lots of can be used in the same way.
Do you want to come over for dinner tonight? I made lots of stir-fry and rice; I can’t finish it all on my own!
Since loads of or lots of indicates a great amount of something, a quantifier that indicates something a bit smaller might be useful at the salon or barbershop. An informal way of asking for a small amount cut at the salon would be: take just a bit off, please. We can use a bit of in the same way we use the informal a lot of, but only when talking about small quantities of things.
We only have a bit of popcorn left now that my friends ate most of it.
Still unsure? We can help!
There are a lot of different rules when it comes to uncountable and countable nouns, and their quantifiers. If you want to increase your confidence and sound more relaxed and natural LoroTalk can help! Try some lessons with us to start! Check out our website here.