Countable and Non-Countable Nouns: Using How Much and How Many

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Whether to use how much or how many depends on whether the following noun is countable or non-countable. In English, how much is often combined with non-countable qualities known as abstractions. These are common words such as time, water, and fun. Countable nouns are objects that you can count, such as apples, telephones, or cars.

Talking About Money and Cost

Money is an example of a non-countable noun, so when talking about money and cost, you will need to use the phrase "how much."

  • How much does the book cost? 
  • How much do the toys cost?

How much can also be used with the verb to be to ask about a price:

  • How much is it?
  • How much are the apples? 

 However, if the question concerns a specific unit of a currency such as dollars or pesos, both of which are countable, you should use how many:

  • How many dollars does the house cost?
  • How many euros do you need for lunch?
  • How many pesos can you afford?

More Practice With Countable and Non-countable Nouns

Other categories of non-countable nouns include:

  • Activities: housework, music, socializing, etc.
  • Food types: meat, beef, pork, fish, etc.
  • Groups of items: luggage, baggage, furniture, software, etc. 
  • Liquids: juice, water, alcohol, etc.
  • Materials: wood, steel, leather, etc. 

When asking for the quantity of any of these items, make sure to use how much:

  • How much luggage did you take with you on vacation?
  • How much alcohol did you drink?
  • How much pork should I buy?
  • How much homework do you have?
  • How much knowledge do you have about the subject?
  • How much help did he give you last week?
  • How much advice would you like?

How Many is used with countable nouns. These nouns are easy to recognize because they generally end in the plural form with s

  • How many books are there on the shelf?
  • How many days did it take you to finish the project?
  • How many computers do you have?

However, there are a number of important exceptions to this rule including the following countable nouns that have irregular plurals and do not take an s.

man -> menHow many men are in the boat?
woman -> womenHow many women are singing?
child -> childrenHow many children came to class yesterday?
person -> peopleHow many people joined the cause?
tooth -> teethHow many teeth has your child lost?
foot -> feetHow many feet is the football field?
mouse-> miceHow many baby mice are there?

Using Containers and Measurements

If you are looking for an exact measurement when speaking about food types and liquids, it's a good idea to use containers or measurements. In this case, you can use how many to ask a question:

Containers:

  • How many bottles of wine should I buy?
  • How many boxes of rice should I get?
  • How many jars of jam do you have?

Measurements:

  • How many gallons of gas did you use on your trip?
  • How many cups of butter do I need for this recipe?
  • How many pounds of sand should I mix into the cement?

Answering How Much and How Many Questions Exactly

To provide an answer to a "how much" or "how many" question, you can provide exact amounts:

  • How much does the book cost? - It's twenty dollars.
  • How many people came to the party? - There were more than 200 people there!
  • How much pasta should I buy? - I think we need three boxes.

Answering Questions of Quantity Approximately

To provide approximate answers, you can phrases like: a lot of, some, a few, and a little. Note that there are slight differences between countable and non-countable answers.

You can use a lot of with both countable and non-countable nouns which are followed by the noun in the answer:

  • How much rice do we have? - We have a lot of rice.
  • How many friends did you make on vacation? - I made a lot of friends.

You can also use a lot of for both countable and noncount nouns when the answer is not followed by a noun:

  • How much time do you have today? - I have a lot.
  • How many cars have you had in your life? - I've had a lot.

    You can use some with both countable and non-countable nouns:

    • How much money do you have? - I have some money, but not much.
    • How many apples are on the table? - There are some apples on the table.

    You should use a few with countable nouns and a little with non-countable nouns:

    • How much fun did you have? - I had a little fun last night.
    • How many glasses did you drink? - I drank a few glasses of wine.