Writers' Grammar: Count and Non-count Nouns, an Introduction

It’s a long time since we last touched the grammar topic. To find more posts on grammar, check the 'Grammar and Style' topic at the sidebar. Here we will look at a confusing area for most writers—count nouns and non-count nouns, which are also popularly known as countable nouns and uncountable (mass) nouns.

Count nouns are those noun forms, which can have plural form. A determiner always comes before the count nouns: determiners such as ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘my’, ‘this’, ‘each’, ‘every’, etc. examples:

Cat, dog, puppet, computer, keyboard, man, woman, book, film, etc.

A cat crossed the room when I was in her house.
She had three dogs and a cat.
She was the only doctor I knew.
I found her house very comfortable.

Non-count nouns are those, which don’t have a plural form. Examples:

Furniture, luggage, baggage, anger, fear, love, attitude, sadness, music, water, air, etc.

Plural Forms

In an earlier article on plural forms, we had seen some examples of non-count and count nouns and their plural forms.

While most of the count nouns are normally pluralized with –s, –es, –ies, etc., non-count nouns are not pluralized at all.

Examples of non-count nouns:

I found her luggage rather heavy. (Don’t say ‘her luggages’)
Her anger was unstoppable. (No ‘her angers’)

Nouns That Can Be Count As Well As Non-count

In some exceptional cases, some non-count nouns are used as count nouns. Examples:

There are some difficulties to making a presence in the Internet.
I found hairs in my coffee.
I was reading a paper when she called.
The talks progressed well with my friend.

All these words can be seen as non-count nouns in these examples:

The difficulty of the task is enormous.
My hair is black in color.
Have you got a piece of paper for me to jot it down?
The talk of the girl was quite arrogant.

Quantifiers and Nouns

Some quantifiers are used with specific types of nouns while others are not. See this:

Non-count: much, little, very little, a little, some, a lot of, some, etc.
Count: each, any, one, every, few, a few, a couple of, fewer, many, both, etc.

Some of these quantifiers, such as ‘some’ may occur with both types of nouns. Examples:

I found a little water in the mug.
I found a few students going to school.

I found some students going to school. (count)
Can you give me some water? (non-count)

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Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

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