A countable noun is a noun that can be counted and pluralized. Think of them as simple, regular, person/place/thing nouns. They can go with numbers, the articles “a,” “an,” or “the,” or the quantifiers “a few,” “some,” “several” or “many.”
- Examples are:
- I have three cats.
- A storm is coming.
- We need five spoons for dinner.
- I bought a few flowers at the farmer’s market.
- All countries should cooperate about global warming.
- I saw several mice in the attic.
- My mother speaks two languages.
An uncountable noun is a noun that can’t be counted. English speakers often picture these nouns not as a simple “person/place/thing” noun, but either as a concept, an emotion, a mass, or a substance. They can go without an article, with the article “the,” or with the quantifiers “some,” “much” or “little.”
Some quantifiers that can go with either countable or uncountable nouns are: a lot of, lots of, no, some, and any.
Some examples of uncountable nouns:
Liquids and Gases
Foods and Spices
- Ice Cream
- Peanut Butter
Groups of things
Energy, Forces, and Natural Phenomena
Abstractions and Invisible Things
Feelings and Personal Traits
Fields and Subjects
- Computer Technology
Sports and Games
Names of Diseases
- Lyme Disease
- Celiac Disease
Generally, these nouns are not pluralized, although some of them, particularly food nouns, can be pluralized in some cases. When they are pluralized, they refer to different “types” of the noun. For instance, you wouldn’t say “I brought my sister two milks,” but you could say, “I don’t like any animal milks, but I drink soy milk sometimes.”
Many of these uncountable nouns have countable forms. For example, “paper” is an uncountable noun, a substance. But “a paper” is another word for an essay.
- I need to buy more paper for my printer.
- I have a paper about Shakespeare due at the end of the week.
- Crime has always been a problem in urban areas.
- She called the police because she witnessed a crime in progress.
For animal words that are also food, you treat the word as countable if you are talking about the living animal (one chicken, three chickens) and as an uncountable noun if you are talking about the meat (I ate chicken for dinner).
For more information about using articles (a, an, the) with countable and uncountable nouns, see the Articles Page.