Count and noncount nouns

Nouns can be either count or noncount. Count nouns (or countable nouns) are those that refer to something that can be counted. They have both singular and plural forms (e.g. cat/cats; woman/women; country/countries). In the singular, they can be preceded by a or an. Most nouns come into this category.

A smaller number of nouns do not typically refer to things that can be counted and so they do not regularly have a plural form: these are known as noncount nouns (or mass nouns). Examples include: rain, flour, earth, wine, or wood. Noncount nouns can't be preceded by a or an. Many abstract nouns are typically noncount, e.g. happiness, truth, darkness, humor.

Some noncount nouns can be used in the plural as well, depending on the meaning or context of the word. Take a look at these sentences:

Would you like some coffee?noncount because it's referring to the drink in general
He ordered a coffee.count, because it's referring to a cup of coffee
There's no truth in the rumors.noncount, because it refers to the quality or state of being true
The fundamental truths about human nature.count, because it's referring to facts or beliefs that are true


There are some words that should only be used with count nouns and some that you should only use with noncount nouns. Here are the main examples:

wordwith count noun?with noncount noun?examples
few, fewerfewer students; few cars
little, less, leastless food; little time
many, severalseveral books; many changes
muchmuch pleasure; much sleep


You often hear people using less with count nouns (e.g. “there are less cars outside the school gates”). Although it's a common mistake, it is still a mistake and you should try to avoid making it in formal writing or speaking.


Back to nouns.


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Grammar and usage