What Are Countable Nouns? (with Examples)
Countable and Non-Countable NounsA countable noun is a noun with both a singular and a plural form (e.g., dog/dogs, pie/pies). A non-countable noun is a noun without a plural form (e.g., oxygen, patience).
Examples of Countable NounsHere are some examples of countable nouns:
|Singular Form||Plural Form|
Examples of Non-countable NounsNon-countable nouns don't have a plural form. They usually fall into one of the following categories:
|Concept||bravery, honesty, intelligence|
|Activity||homework, playing, reading|
|Food||bread, butter, milk|
|Gas||air, helium, smoke|
|Liquid||petrol, water, wine|
|Material||chalk, cloth, concrete|
|Item||clothing, furniture, luggage|
|Natural Phenomenon||gravity, humidity, sunshine|
|Particles||dust, flour, salt|
More about Countable and Non-countable NounsOnly a countable noun can be preceded by a number or a/an.
- There are three faithful friends: an old wife, an old dog, and ready money. (Founding Father Benjamin Franklin) (Friends, wife, and dog must all be countable because they are preceded by a number or "an." You can't say "two monies" or "a money," so money must be a non-countable noun. Clearly, money can be counted. Remember that we're talking about the grammatical qualities of the noun money, not physical notes and coins.)
- You can learn many things from children – how much patience you have, for instance. (Writer Franklin Jones) (Things is countable. Patience is non-countable.)
Some Nouns Can Be Countable and Non-CountableBe aware that some nouns can be non-countable in one context but countable in another. This happens most commonly with nouns that fall into the food and liquid categories of non-countable nouns.
- Do we have much coffee left? I need a coffee in the morning. (Here, the first coffee is a non-countable noun (note it is preceded with much), but the second is a countable noun (note it is preceded by a).)
- Apparently, Israel is famous for its baby cheeses.
- Most works of art, like most wines, ought to be consumed in the district of their fabrication. (French philosopher Simone Weil)
Some Interesting Countable NounsHere are some interesting countable nouns:
|Singular Form||Plural Form|
|octopus||octopuses (not octopi)
(The plural of mongoose is mongooses, and the plural of moose is the same, moose.)
(With such compound nouns, the principal word is pluralized.)
|low life||low lifes|
(It's not low lives. It just isn't.)
|ninja|| ninjas or shinobi|
(Ninjas is the best option, but you could use shinobi if you wanted to impress someone who understands the "on" and "kun" readings of Japanese characters. Ninja is a back-formed singular noun from the plural shinobi. They sound completely different because ninja is read using "on" while shinobi is read using "kun.")
Why Should I Care about Countable and Non-countable Nouns?There are three noteworthy issues related to countable and non-countable nouns.
(Issue 1) Use fewer with plurals and less with non-countable nouns.Use fewer when referring to people or things in the plural (e.g., soldiers, lawyers, dogs, pies, clouds).
- A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls. (Politician Dan Quayle)
- One merit of poetry few will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose. (French writer Voltaire)
- Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet. (French novelist Sidonie Gabrielle Colette) (Here, feet is the plural of a foot with toes. If it referred to the distance, then less than should have been used. There's more on this below.)
- Unemployed? You can get a great job in less than three months. How? Learn to program. (Author Tucker Max)
- Butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees.
- All of this talk of recession offends me. I am delighted that bankers have less money. (Actor Chris O'Dowd)
- It takes less time to do a thing right than to explain why you did it wrong. (US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
(Issue 2) Be careful with "number of," "amount of," and "quantity of."Writers are sometimes unsure whether to use "number of," "amount of," or "quantity of." Let's start with the easy one, "number of."
Number Of. "Number of" is used with plural (and therefore countable) nouns.
- The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypotheses or axioms. (Albert Einstein) (The words facts, hypotheses, and axioms are all plural nouns.)
- The first [US] census in 1790 asked just six questions: the name of the head of the household, the number of free white males older than 16, the number of free white males younger than 16, the number of free white females, the number of other free persons, and the number of slaves. (Author Tom Palmer) (The words males, females, persons, and slaves are all plural nouns.)
Amount Of. "Amount of" is used with non-countable nouns. It is particularly well suited to concepts that are not easily measured.
- He holds a certain amount of disdain towards her. (Disdain is a non-countable noun, and it's not easily measured.)
- The one thing I regret is that my work required an enormous amount of travel. (Astronaut Neil Armstrong) (Travel is a non-countable noun, and it's not easily measured.)
- No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong. (Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein) (Experimentation is a non-countable noun, and it's not easily measured.)
- The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean linen in public. (Playwright Oscar Wilde) (Women is plural. It's a countable noun. This should be The number of women.)
- Greatness is an unusual quantity of a usual quality grafted upon a common man. (US politician William Allen White) (Quality is a countable noun. A quality is measurable and it's inanimate.)
- When women and men can shed an equal quantity of tears in public, that's when we'll have equal power. (US ambassador Madeleine Kunin) (Tears is a countable noun. Even though tears are difficult to count or measure, quantity of works well here because of the connotation of accuracy.)
- The strength and power of a country depends absolutely on the quantity of good men and women in it. (Victorian art critic John Ruskin) (Quantity of works well here because of the connotation of accuracy. Somewhat ironically, quantity of puts more focus on the number than number of.)
- Those who succeed seem to need a stupefying amount of sleep. (Actor Quentin Crisp)
- Lifestyle factors such as work schedules and stress affect the quantity of your sleep. (This line is from the National Sleep Foundation, which talks a lot about hours of sleep.)
|Question||Method 1 for forcing a plural:|
Precede your word with
"[a countable noun] + of"
|Method 1 for forcing a plural:|
Use your word as
an adjective to a countable noun.
|a large amount of bread|
a large quantity of bread
|a large number of loaves of bread||a large number of bread loaves|
|a small amount of sugar|
a small quantity of sugar
|a few cubes of sugar||a few sugar cubes|
(Issue 3) If you precede your noun with a term like "a lot of" or "a pound of," check you've aligned your verb.Expressing quantity with a non-countable noun is typically done by preceding it with an inexact expression (e.g., some, a lot of, much, a bit of) or an exact measurement (e.g., a spoonful of, two kilograms of, an hour of, three pinches of). When using an expression with "of" in (e.g., a bit of, an hour of), the word before "of" becomes the head word, not the non-countable noun.
- Two bags of cheese has been left outside. (This is wrong. Bags is the head word. It should be have not has.)
- A box of the cheeses have been left outside. (This is wrong. It should be has because box is singular.)
I say "ordinarily" because there are some quirky ones. When using the expression "a lot of B," "half of B," "the majority of B," or "a percentage of B," the expression is singular if B is singular but plural if B is plural.
- A lot of cheese has been left outside.
- A lot of cheeses have been left outside.