Posts Tagged ‘uncountable’

More on countable and uncountable nouns

October 9th, 2010 in Improve English

Not all languages treat nouns in the same way. For example, hair is uncountable in English, but is a plural countable noun in many other languages. Similarly, the names of illnesses are usually uncountable in English and are followed by singular verbs.

Measles is highly contagious. (NOT A measles is highly contagious.) (NOT Measles are highly contagious.)

The names of some minor illnesses, however, are countable and can be used with the indefinite article a/an. Examples are: a cold, a sore throat, a headache etc.


In British English, toothache, earache, stomach-ache and backache are usually uncountable. In American English, these words are generally countable.

Many nouns have both countable and uncountable uses.


I need to buy some typing paper. (Paper – uncountable)
He went out to buy a paper. (= newspaper; countable)
Glass can be blown. (Glass – uncountable)
I need a glass of water. (Glass – countable)

Some countable abstract nouns (Example: difference, reason, idea, change, difficulty etc.) can be used uncountably after little, much and other determiners.


What are the main differences between a dog and a fox? (Difference – countable)
There isn’t much difference between ‘allow’ and ‘permit’. (Difference – uncountable)

The indefinite article a/an is used with some uncountable nouns when we want to limit their meaning in some way.

I want my kids to have a good education. (NOT I want my kids to have good education.)
We need a translator with a good knowledge of Italian. (NOT We need a translator with good knowledge of Italian.)