What is the difference between countable vs uncountable nouns? First things first: what are nouns? Nouns are words for people, places, or things (like dog, magazines, school, sister, cups, computer, and stories).

Countable Nouns

If you can count these (1 dog, 2 dogs, 3 dogs, …), they are countable nouns. You can answer the question “How many?” of them with a number.  For example:

How many strawberries are in each photo?

Countable vs uncountable nouns 3 Strawberries
There are three strawberries.
Countable vs uncountable nouns 6 Strawberries
There are six strawberries.

Fill in the blanks:

Countable vs uncountable nouns 5 tomatoes
There are ___ ________ on the cutting board.
Countable vs uncountable nouns 2 custards plate
There are ___ custards on the plate.

Now, answer these questions:

Countable vs uncountable nouns carrots cutting board
How many carrots are on the cutting board?
Countable vs uncountable nouns water pot stove
How many waters are in the pot?

There are 6 carrots on the cutting board.  What? You can’t count water!

Uncountable Nouns

Some things cannot be counted.

For example, how much oil is in the pan? I don’t know.

Countable vs uncountable nouns oil in Pan stove

There is some oil in the pan.  A lot of oil is in the pan.  There are four oils in the pan.

Other examples of uncountable nouns are air, water, sugar, oil, rice, fruit, work, happiness, furniture, energy, clothes, soup. How do we know how much?

Count the container

Liquids (water, oil, coffee) are uncountable. So, how do you answer the question How much?

How much soup are in these pictures? There is one soup. Well, we can count the container (the pot, the bowl).

IMG_0456
There is one pot of soup on the stove.
IMG_0482
This is one bowl of soup.

How much wine is there?

IMG_0478
One glass of red wine
Units

Liquids fill containers, but sometimes there’s no container. How much cheese is there?

Berlin Mint Zucchini
some grated cheese on the pasta
Parmesan Cheese
a chunk of cheese on the cutting board

Knowing if there are countable vs uncountable nouns is sometimes difficult. For example, you can count spaghetti, but sometimes counting is too tiring. Imagine looking at a recipe that says “boil 138 noodles of spaghetti”. Ok, 1 noodle, 2 noodles, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, ahhhhhhhh!

Pasta in Pot
How much spaghetti is in the pot?
Mint Leaves
How much mint is on the cutting board?

Nobody wants to count pasta or rice! Also, a block of cheese can be big or small. But how small, how big?

How much is one? The word unit means one. Units are amounts that we agree equal one. Some examples of units are pound, gram, liter, day.

To MeasureUnitExample
weightpound, ounce, kilogram, gram1 pound of pasta
volumeliter, milliliter, cup, gallon4 cups of water
lengthinch, foot, centimeter, meter, mile50 feet of cable
temperaturedegrees Celcius, degrees Fahrenheit 68°F
timesecond, minute, day, week, month, year7 hours and 15 days
informationbit, byte, kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte3 terabytes of data

So, now you can answer the questions above more easily:

  • There is a pound of spaghetti in the pot of boiling water.
  • A quarter cup (measurement) of mint is on the cutting board.

Exercises

More Grammar

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