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Count and Noncount Nouns: Basic Rules

Summary:

This handout discusses the differences between count nouns and noncount nouns. Count nouns can be pluralized; noncount nouns cannot.

Adjectives with Countable and Uncountable Nouns

The Basic Rules: Count and Noncount Nouns

A count noun is one that can be expressed in plural form, usually with an "s." For example, "cat—cats," "season—seasons," "student—students."

A noncount noun is one that usually cannot be expressed in a plural form. For example, "milk," "water," "air," "money," "food." Usually, you cannot say, "He had many moneys."

Count and Noncount Nouns with Adjectives

Most of the time, this does not matter with adjectives. For example, you can say, "The cat was gray" or "The air was gray." However, the difference between a countable and uncountable noun does matter with certain adjectives, such as "some/any," "much/many," and "little/few."

Some/Any: Some and any countable and uncountable nouns.

  • "There is some water on the floor."
  • "There are some students here."
  • "Do you have any food?"
  • "Do you have any apples?"

Much/Many: Much modifies only uncountable nouns. Many modifies only countable nouns.

  • "We don't have much time to get this done."
  • "Many Americans travel to Europe."

Little/Few: Little modifies only uncountable nouns.

  • "He had little food in the house."
  • "The doctor had little time to think in the emergency room."

Few modifies only countable nouns.

  • "There are few doctors in town."
  • "Few students like exams."

Other basic rules

A lot of/lots of: A lot of/lots of are informal substitutes for much and many. They are used with uncountable nouns when they mean much and with countable nouns when they mean many.

  • "They have lots of (much) money in the bank."
  • "A lot of (many) Americans travel to Europe."
  • "We got lots of (many) mosquitoes last summer."
  • "We got lots of (much) rain last summer."

A little bit of: A little bit of is informal and always precedes an uncountable noun.

  • "There is a little bit of pepper in the soup."
  • "There is a little bit of snow on the ground."

Enough: Enough modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

  • "There is enough money to buy a car."
  • "I have enough books to read."

Plenty of: Plenty of modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

  • "They have plenty of money in the bank."
  • "There are plenty of millionaires in Switzerland."

No: No modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

  • "There is no time to finish now."
  • "There are no squirrels in the park."
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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.