What is a Count Noun?

Definition and Examples

fruit stand and count nouns
The words apple, banana, cucumber, grape, lemon, orange, pear, and tomato are all count nouns in English. (Ivan Abrams /Getty Images)

A count noun is a noun that refers to an object or idea that can form a plural or occur in a noun phrase with an indefinite article or with numerals. Contrast with mass noun (or noncount noun).

Most common nouns in English are countable--that is, they have both singular and plural forms.

Many nouns have both countable and non-countable uses, such as the countable "dozen eggs" and the non-countable "egg on his face."

Examples and Observations

  • "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back."
    (English proverb
  • "Count nouns are those that denote enumerable things and that are capable of forming plurals (e.g., cranes, parties, minivans, oxen); mass (noncount) nouns are often abstract nouns--they cannot be enumerated (e.g., insurance, courage, mud). Many nouns can be both count <he gave several talks> and mass <talk is cheap>, depending on the sense. These are few, however, in comparison to the nouns that are exclusively either count or mass."
    (Bryan A. Garner, "Count Nouns and Mass Nouns." Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2003
  • "The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn."
    (Ralph Waldo Emerson, "History"
  • "Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead."
    (Oscar Wilde, quoted in The Epigrams of Oscar Wilde, 1952
  • "Some people are born to lift heavy weights; some are born to juggle golden balls."
    (Max Beerbohm)

    Count Nouns in Context

    • "Common nouns can be divided into two types. Count nouns refer to individual, countable entities, such as books, eggs, and horses. Noncount nouns refer to an undifferentiated mass or notion, such as butter, music, and advice. Noncount nouns are also known as mass nouns. . . .

      "Some nouns can be either count or noncount, depending on their meaning. Cake, for example, is a count noun in this sentence:
      Would you like a cake?
      but a noncount noun in this one:
      Do you like cake?"
      (David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 2003)

      Modifiers With Count Nouns

      • "Count and non-count nouns accept different modifying words:
        count nouns
        fewer animals (not less animals)
        three fewer pumps (not less pumps)
        fewer gallons of gasoline (not less gallons)

        non-count nouns
        greater warmth (not seven warmths)
        less gasoline (not fewer gasolines)
        more hospitality (not three hospitalities)
        Native speakers of English usually choose the proper modifying words unconsciously."
        (Stephen R. Covey, Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication, 5th ed. FranklinCovey, 2012)

      Dialectal Differences

      • "What is a count noun in one language may be a mass noun in another and vice versa. There can be significant differences between English dialects too. For example, in Australian English, lettuce is both a count and mass noun (e.g. I'd like two lettuces, please versus I like lettuce). For some speakers of American and British English, lettuce is only a mass noun (e.g. I'd like two heads of lettuce, please versus I like lettuce)."
        (Kersti Börjars and Kate Burridge, Introducing English Grammar, 2nd ed. Hodder, 2010)