Countable and Uncountable nouns in English

by Mark October 16, 2020

In this blog post we will look at how we use countable and uncountable nouns in the general sense in English.

We will also discuss when we do and when do not need to use articles. The articles in English are the words a, an and the

The way we use articles is not the same in every language. So, unfortunately, you can’t always use articles in English in the same way as you would use them in your own language.

Some languages like Russian, Chinese and Polish don’t even have articles! If your native language doesn’t use articles it can be very difficult to learn how to use them in another language. This blog post is here to help!

When we are talking about things or people in the general sense in English, we actually don’t need to use articles. By the general sense we mean we are talking about something generally, not specifically. For example:

General: Birds can fly.
Specific: The birds in my garden are beautiful.

When we say birds can fly we mean all birds. We are talking generally. When we say the birds in my garden we are talking specifically about the birds in my garden, not about all birds. You can see in this example that we use the article the when we talk about things specifically but we don’t use the when we talk about things in the general sense.

Nouns in English are either countable or uncountable. Let’s take a look at the difference.

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns are nouns that we can count – things which you can generally point at and count. They have a plural form.

For example:
1 car, 2 cars
1 child, 5 children
1 city, 3 cities

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns are nouns that we cannot count – these are often things which are not physical, or are abstract concepts or ideas. Uncountable nouns do not have a plural form.

For example:

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Countable Nouns in the General Sense

When we want to speak about countable nouns in the general sense, we put them in the plural form, and we do not use an article.

For example, there are many types of telephone. There are payphones, landlines, mobile phones, and smartphones.

If we speak about phones in general, we can say phones are expensive. In this sentence we are speaking about phones in a general sense. Not all phones are expensive, but generally speaking we can say that phones are expensive.

In speaking about cities in a general sense, we could say that cities are crowded.

Not all cities in the world are too crowded, but generally speaking, we can say that cities are crowded places.

Uncountable Nouns in the General Sense

When we want to speak about uncountable nouns in the general sense, we simply use the noun on its own, without an article.

For example, if we think about furniture, we might think about beds, sofas or armchairs*.  In general, we can say: Furniture is comfortable.

Not all furniture is comfortable. Some furniture is uncomfortable. However, when we are speaking about furniture in the general sense, we can say that it is comfortable. Because we were speaking in a general sense, we used the noun in the singular (remember, uncountable nouns don’t have a plural form), without an article.

*The nouns beds, sofas, or armchairs are countable nouns but when we consider them together we use the uncountable noun furniture. This is similar to how the words euro and cent are countable, but the noun money is uncountable.

Another example of an uncountable noun in the general sense could be art. When we think about art, we might think about the different types of art, like painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture or pottery. In a general sense we could say: Art is interesting.

Not all art is interesting. However, because we are speaking about art in the general sense, and art is an uncountable noun, we leave this noun in the singular form and make a sentence without using an article.

Nouns in the General Sense

Use a Plural Countable or Uncountable on its own, without an article.

I really enjoy watching movies in independent cinemas.

I like to eat pasta and cheese for my dinner.

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Thank you for reading our post. This lesson was brought to you by the Central School of English, an English school in Dublin.

You’ll find more English grammar tips elsewhere on our site and if you’d like information on our online English courses, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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