Nouns can be countable or uncountable. When you learn a new noun you should make a note of whether it is countable or uncountable as we use different words with countables and uncountables.
- There is a cat in the garden.
- There are some birds in the trees.
For positive sentences we can use a/an or some (with a plural verb form)
- There isn’t a dog in the garden.
- There aren’t any birds in the tree.
For negatives we can use a/an or any (with a plural verb form).
- Is there an orange on the tree?
- Are there any chairs in the garden?
- How many chairs are there?
In questions we use a/an, any or how many.
- There is some milk on the floor.
Uncountable nouns have no plural. The verb form is singular and we use some.
- Is there any sugar?
- How much wine is there?
In questions we can use any or how much.
Other expressions of quantity
- There are a lot of apples on the trees.
- There is a lot of snow on the road.
A lot of can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.
- Bill Gates has much money.
Notice that we don’t usually use ‘much’ or ‘many’ in positive sentences. We use ‘a lot of’.
- Bill Gates has a lot of money.
- There’s a lot of beer but there isn’t much wine.
- There are a lot of carrots but there aren’t many potatoes.
We use not many with countable nouns and not much with uncountable nouns.
Countable & Uncountable nouns (2)
Some words can be both countable and uncountable depending on how they are used.
- Would you like a chocolate?
- Would you like some chocolate?
In a box of chocolates, the chocolates are countable and you can take one.
When you have a bar of chocolate the chocolate is uncountable and you can take some.
There are several other nouns that can be both countable and uncountable.
- Can I have a glass of water, please?
- There’s some broken glass on the pavement.
‘Glass’ is one. Many foodstuffs can be countable or uncountable. Think about the difference between ‘an ice cream’ and ‘some ice cream’ and ‘a coffee’ and ‘some coffee’
‘few/a few’ and ‘little/a little’
We use few and a few with countable nouns and we use little and a little with uncountable nouns.
- A few friends are coming round for dinner tonight.
- We’ve got a little time before our train leaves. Shall we go to a museum?
A few and a little both mean ‘some’. They have a positive meaning.
- I’ve got very few friends here. I feel really lonely.
- We’ve got very little time – hurry up or we’ll miss the train.
Few and little both mean ‘almost none’. They have a negative meaning.
Commonly confused words
- I’d like an information about train times please
- I’d like some information about train times please.
Although ‘information’ is countable in many languages, it is uncountable in English.
- Have you had any news from Pete?
- I haven’t brought much luggage with me.
- Can you give me some advice please?
As well as information, the following words are all uncountable: news, luggage, advice, furniture, weather, travel.