Countable and Uncountable Nouns Explained for ESL

Money
How Much Money?. Adam Gault / Getty Images

Nouns are words that represent things, places, ideas or people. For example: computer, Tom, Seattle, history are all nouns. Nouns are parts of speech which can be both countable and uncountable. A countable noun is something you can count such as apples, books, cars, etc. Here are some sentences using countable nouns:

How many apples are on the table?
She has two cars and two bicycles.
I don't have any books on this shelf.

An uncountable noun is something you can't count such as information, wine, or cheese. Here are some sentences using uncountable nouns:

How much time does it take to go to the station?
Sheila doesn't have a lot of money.
THe boys enjoy eating cake.

Some nouns can be both countable and uncountable such as 'fish' because it can mean the meat of the fish or an individual fish. This is true with 'chicken', and 'turkey' as well.

I bought some fish for dinner the other day. (meat of the fish)
My brother caught two fish last week at the lake. (individual fish)

Uncountable nouns are often liquids or items that are difficult to count such as rice and pasta. Uncountable nouns are also often concepts such as honesty, pride and sadness. 

How much rice do we have at home?
She doesn't have much pride in her country.
We bought some past for lunch.

Check your understanding of common countable and uncountable nouns with this short quiz:

Are the following words countable or uncountable?

  1. car
  2. wine 
  3. happiness 
  4. orange 
  5. sand 
  6. book
  7. sugar 

Answers

  1. countable
  2. uncountable
  3. uncountable
  4. countable
  5. uncountable
  6. countable
  7. uncountable

A, An or Some?

Here are some rules about when to use 'a', 'an' and 'some'. 

Use "a" with objects we can count that begin with a consonant -> a book, a car, a house, etc.


Use "some" with object we can not count -> some milk, some time, some pasta
Use "an" with object we can count that begin with a vowel -> an orange, an ocean, an eternity, etc.

Test your knowledge with this exercise. Do we use a, an or some for these words?

  1. book 
  2. wine
  3. rice 
  4. apple 
  5. music 
  6. tomato 
  7. rain 
  8. CD
  9. egg 
  10. food 

Answers

  1. a
  2. some
  3. some
  4. an
  5. some
  6. a
  7. some
  8. a
  9. an
  10. some

Much and Many

The use of 'much' and 'many' depends on whether a word is countable or uncountable. 'Much' is used with a singular verb for uncountable objects. Use 'much' in questions and negative sentences. Use 'some' or 'a lot of' in positive sentences.

How much time do you have this afternoon?
I don't have much fun at parties. 
Jennifer has a lot of good sense.

'Many' is used with countable objects with a plural verb conjugation. 'Many' is used in questions and negative sentences. 'Many' can be used in positive questions, but is is more common to use 'some' or 'a lot of'.

How many people are coming to the party?
She doesn't have many answers.
Jack has many friends in Chicago.

There are other expressions of quantity such as 'a few', 'several', 'both' which can learn about.

Test your knowledge. Complete the questions and sentences 'some', 'a lot of ','much' or 'many'.

  1. How ____ money do you have?
  2. I don't have ____ friends in Los Angeles.
  3. How  ____ people live in your city?
  4. She wants _____ time off work this month.
  5. How____does that book cost?
  6. They don't have ______ time this afternoon.
  7. How ____ rice is there?
  8. I would like to have _____ wine, please.
  9. How ____ apples are there in the basket?
  10. Peter bought ______ glasses at the store.
  11. How ____ gas do we need?
  12. He doesn't have _____ rice on his plate.
  13. How ____ children are in the class?
  14. Jason has _____ friends in Miami.
  15. How ____ teachers do you have?


Answers

  1. much
  2. many
  3. many
  4. some 
  5. much
  6. much
  7. some
  8. many
  9. some, a lot of
  10. much
  11. much
  12. many
  13. many, some, a lot of
  14. many

Here are some final tips to help you understand how to use 'how much' and 'how many'.

  • Use 'how many' for questions using countable or plural objects -> How many books do you have?
  • Use 'how much' for questions using a non-countable or singular object -> How much juice is left?
  • Use 'how much' for questions asking about ONE object -> How much does the book cost?
  • Most plurals are formed by adding "-s" to the noun or object -> book -s = books. Some of the more important exceptions include: man - men, child - children, person - people, woman - women

Test your knowledge of what you have learned on this page. Take the "Much or Many?" quiz! 

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Countable and Uncountable Nouns Explained for ESL." ThoughtCo, Sep. 12, 2016, thoughtco.com/countable-and-uncountable-nouns-explained-4086412. Beare, Kenneth. (2016, September 12). Countable and Uncountable Nouns Explained for ESL. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/countable-and-uncountable-nouns-explained-4086412 Beare, Kenneth. "Countable and Uncountable Nouns Explained for ESL." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/countable-and-uncountable-nouns-explained-4086412 (accessed November 22, 2017).