A noun is a word that identifies:
- a person (woman, boy, doctor, neighbor)
- a thing (dog, building, tree, country)
- an idea, quality, or state (truth, danger, birth, happiness).
Countable and uncountable nouns
Nouns can be either countable or uncountable. 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 uncountable nouns (or mass nouns). Examples include: rain, flour, earth, wine, or wood. Uncountable nouns can't be preceded by a or an. Many abstract nouns are typically uncountable (e.g., happiness, truth, darkness, humor).
Some uncountable 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?
uncountable because it's referring to the drink in general
He ordered a coffee.
countable, because it's referring to a cup of coffee
There's no truth in the rumors.
uncountable, because it refers to the quality or state of being true
The fundamental truths about human nature.
countable, because it's referring to facts or beliefs that are true
There are some words that should be used only with countable nouns and some that you should use only with uncountable nouns. Here are the main examples:
|few, fewer||√||X||fewer students; few cars|
|little, less, least||X||√||less food, little time|
|many, several||√||X||many changes; several books|
|much||X||√||much pleasure; much sleep|
You often hear people using less with countable 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 both writing and speaking.