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Countable and UNCountable noun article

English isn't easy! We count the grains in bread but not the bread itself. We count loaves of bread and slices of bread, but we don't count bread! Why not? How can you tell? How can you keep all these countables and uncountables straight!? No need to fret, just keep reading and I'll explain it bit by bit (by the way, you can count bits of bread and even crumbs, but not the bread itself!).

So, the main difference between these two types of nouns is that countables you can count, and uncountables, you can't.  It's not quite as simple as all that but let's think.  You have some water.  Can you count it? No!  You can count bottles of water or glasses of water but the water itself can’t be counted.  One of the most common uncountable nouns is liquids.  Water, milk, soda and juice are all uncountable.  Likewise, solids with small parts or that can be melted into a liquid are also uncountable.  For example, rice, pasta and ice cream are all uncountable.  You might argue that you could count each grain of rice or each piece of spaghetti but who really wants to do that! Butter, wax, grass, popcorn and cheese also fall into this category.  Remember though, we do find ways to count these items such as scoops (of ice cream), pieces (of cheese), kernels (of popcorn), blades (of grass) and more.

In addition to food and drink, concepts are usually uncountable.  It’s logical! How can you count music or psychology or art?  Most things that are abstract are uncountable and all uncountable nouns are treated in the singular.  For example, “this music is horrendous” or “love always triumphs.”  Likewise, whenever we modify an uncountable noun, we must use an appropriate modifier.  “Some, any, a little and much” all modify these nouns (many and a few do NOT).  The last rule is that we don’t use the indefinite article (a or an) with uncountable nouns but the definite article (the) is ok.  So, let’s look at some examples that put these rules into practice:

I’ve got some rice.
Do you have any milk?
Music is my passion.
Their lawn doesn’t have much grass.

BUT!

I’ve got so many grains of rice.
Do you have many glasses of milk?
The music that she plays is lovely.
There are a few blades of grass on their lawn.

In conclusion, liquids, solids that melt, and small part solids are uncountable.  Abstract concepts like love and happiness, news and information, money, power and electricity are also uncountable. We use uncountable modifiers, no indefinite article and they are treated in the singular.  However, most uncountables can be counted by specifying how we will count them.  Try some exercises yourself!

I’ve got so (much/
many) water.
He thinks that (a/ø) money is the root of all evil.
The news (is/are) very depressing.
They have (many/a little) popcorn.
Do you have (any/many) butter?




Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.

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