Uncountable Nouns


Rule 3.1: Do not use the indefinite article a or an, or plural with an s, with an uncountable noun.


Correct: Children are scared of lightning.
Incorrect: Children are scared of a lightning.
Incorrect: Children are scared of lightnings.

Correct: English isn’t easy.
Incorrect: An English isn’t easy.
Incorrect: Englishes isn’t easy.

uncountable nouns


Exercise 1: Correct or incorrect?


Do not use numbers with uncountable nouns. It is impossible to say:


1 advice, 2 advices, 3 advices

1 hockey, 2 hockeys, 3 hockeys


It is possible to use articles and numbers with uncountable nouns by using measurement words:

a piece of advice, 1 piece of advice, 2 pieces of advice, 3 pieces of advice
a game of hockey, 1 game of hockey, 2 games of hockey, 3 games of hockey


Still Uncountable

“Ah hah,” some students might say, “so it is possible to count uncountable nouns.” Not so fast, let’s look at the above example of hockey. It is not hockey that is being counted, but games. Hence, hockey remains uncountable..

Exercise 2: Complete the sentences using the measurement word in parentheses.
e.g. John drank ___ water. (glass) –> John drank a glass of water.


1st Exception to Rule 3.1: Use the indefinite article a or an when referring to a type or kind of uncountable noun.


Wine, cheese, wood, and fruit are usually uncountable. However,this changes when referring to type. There are many types of wine, cheese, wood, and fruit. Observe:

Merlot is a kind of wine, can be shortened to:
Cheddar is a type of cheese, can be shortened to:
Maple is a kind of wood, can be shortened to:
Corn is not a kind of fruit, can be shortened to:

Merlot is a wine.
Cheddar is a cheese.
Maple is a wood.
Corn is not a fruit.


At the Supermarket

Supermarkets often advertise that they sell meats, cheeses, wines, foods. What they mean is that they have different kinds of meat, cheese, wine, food, etc., available..

Exercise 3: Shorten the sentences below:
e.g. Spaghetti is a kind of food → Spaghetti is a food.


2nd Exception to Rule 3.1: Use a, an, or s with (some) uncountable nouns that refer to specific things or events.


Specific or General?

Many uncountable nouns; not all, can be either uncountable or countable. When using such nouns it is necessary to differentiate between speaking generally and specifically since the former employs uncountable nouns while the latter require countable noun use.

Something is considered general if it always applies to the past, present, and future; and does not refer to something that is concrete. For example: ‘Susan drinks tea’. This applies to the past, it applies to the present, and it will probably apply to the future. Also, the tea that Susan drinks is not concrete, it cannot be pointed at, it is an idea.


Something is considered to be specific if it refers to one particular thing, or things. It can be pointed at, it is concrete. In such cases a, an, or s must be used. For example: ‘Susan ordered a small tea at a coffee shop.’ The tea that Susan ordered is concrete, it is not an idea.


General/Uncountable: Ø

History is a difficult subject.
War is dangerous.
Never touch fire.
Experience is more important than education.

Everybody loves steak.
Frank doesn’t like coffee.
Time is more important than money.

Specific/Countable: a/an/s

Korea has a long history.
Canada has not fought in many wars.
There was a big fire downtown yesterday.
I had many wonderful experiences in your country.
I ate a delicious steak last night.
May I have three large coffees please?
You’re going to have a good time on your vacation.


Exercise 5: General or Specific? Add a, an, s, or Ø.


Watch out!

Great care must be taken with some nouns in English as they have completely different meanings in their countable and uncountable forms.

I like chicken. (meat)
I watch baseball. (sport)
I have pot in my kitchen. (marijuana)
Can you get some pepper from the store? (seasoning)
I need TV. (programming)

I like chickens. (live animal)
I watch baseballs. (ball)
I have a pot in my kitchen. (cooking utensil)
Can you buy some peppers from the store? (vegetable)
I need a TV. (machine)


Exercise 6: Choose the correct answer.