Saturday – September 23, 2017

OWL Writing Tips - Count and Noncount Nouns

Count nouns

A count noun names something that can be counted because it can be divided into separate and distinct units. Count nouns have plurals and usually refer to things that can be seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelled.

A noncount noun names something that cannot be counted because it is an abstraction (a substance that is thought of as a whole) or something that cannot be cut into parts. Noncount nouns do not have plurals and may be a collective meaning.

Count nouns

  • apple (one apple, two apples)
  • chair (a chair, several chairs)
  • child (the child, six children)

Noncount nouns

  • air
  • humor
  • oil
  • furniture
  • milk
  • weather
  • The names of many foods are noncount nouns:
    • bread
    • corn
    • spinach
    • coffee
    • spaghetti
    • tofu

To indicate the amount for a noncount noun, use a count noun first:

  • a pound of coffee
  • a loaf of bread
  • an ear of corn
  • a gallon of oil

Nouns that can be both count and noncount nouns

Some nouns in the English language have both a count and a noncount meaning, depending on the context in which the noun is used. The count meaning is specific, and the noncount meaning is abstract.

Count: There were bright lights in the sky.
Noncount: Those plants need more light.

Count: She ate five chocolates from the box.
Noncount: Chocolate is fattening.

Knowing whether a noun is a count or a noncount noun is important in determining whether or not to use a, an, or the.

  • Singular count nouns need an article:
    • She returned the book.
  • Noncount nouns usually do not need an article:
    • Plants enjoy water.

Source: Prentice Hall Reference Guide to Grammar and Usage