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Adjectives with Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Summary:

This resource provides basic guidelines of adjective and adverb use.

The Basic Rules: Adjectives

A countable noun is usually something you can count quantitatively. Countable nouns can be expressed in plural form, usually by adding an “s” to the singular form. For example, "cat--cats," "season--seasons," "student--students."

Usually, you can add a numerical quantity to such nouns, like “two cats” or “two students”. If you aren’t sure whether a noun is countable or not countable, try attaching a number to it. He had “two respects” wouldn’t work, so “respect” is an uncountable noun .

An uncountable noun is a noun that usually cannot be expressed in a plural form. It is not something you can quantify. For example, "milk," "water," "air," "money," "food" are uncountable nouns. Usually, you can't say, "He had many moneys." or “The airs smelled good this morning.”

Milk and water are uncountable nouns . However, you may hear someone say, “Can I have two milks?” or “You should get two waters.” In these particular cases, the person has simply dropped off the countable part of the phrase: “Can I have two [ cartons of] milk?” or “You should get two [ bottles of] water.” In these cases, adding an “s” to milk and water is accepted in verbal speech, but you wouldn’t normally do so in a writing class.

Most adjectives can modify both countable and uncountable nouns . 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 the following:

  • much/many
  • a lot of/lots of
  • little/few
  • a little bit of
  • some/any
  • plenty of
  • enough
  • no

Much/Many

"Much" modifies only uncountable nouns.

  • "They have so much money in the bank."
  • "The horse drinks so much water ."

"Many" modifies only countable nouns.

  • "Many Americans travel to Europe."
  • "I collected many sources for my paper."

Much or Many?

Incorrect Examples:

  • “She wears so much rings ” should be written as, “She wears so many rings .”
  • “You deserve some many needed rest ” should be, “You deserve some much needed rest .”
  • “Much trees line the street.” should be written as, “Many trees line the street.”
  • “I have done many research in that field” should be, “I have done much research in that field.”

A lot of/lots of

"A lot of" and "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 a lot of (much) rain last summer."

Little/Few

"Little" modifies only uncountable nouns.

  • "He had little food in the house."
  • "When I was in college, there was little money to spare."

"Few" modifies only countable nouns.

  • "There are a few doctors in town."
  • "He had few reasons for his opinion."

Little or Few?

Incorrect Examples:

  • “Yesterday, I had few reason to complain” should be, “Yesterday, I had little reason to complain.”
  • “The teacher gave me few feedbacks on my paper” should be, “The teacher gave me little feedback on my paper.”
  • “I had a few bread for dinner” should be written as, “I had a few slices of bread.”
  • “She had little bathrooms in her house” means that the bathrooms themselves are small, not that she had a small number of bathrooms.
  • The sentence, “She had few bathrooms .” means that there are a small number of bathrooms.

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."
  • However, the example, “There is a little bit of cards on the table” doesn’t work because card is a countable noun. The correct phrasing would be, “There are a few cards on the table.”

Some/Any

Both "some" and "any" can modify countable and uncountable nouns.

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

Even though “some” and “any” can modify both countable and uncountable nouns, both should be used with the plural form if there is one.

  • For example, you wouldn’t say, “I have some cat at home.”
  • The correct sentence is, “I have some cats at home.”
  • You also wouldn’t say, “Are there any apple on the table?”
  • The correct sentence is, “Are there any apples on the table?” Note that the verb and noun are both plural.

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."

Enough

Enough modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

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

No

No modifies both countable and uncountable nouns.

  • "There is no time to finish now."
  • "There are no squirrels in the park."

Here is a chart that summarizes which adjectives modify countable or uncountable nouns.

Countable Nouns Uncountable Nouns Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Many

Few

Little

Much

A little bit of

Some/Any

Plenty of

Enough

No

A lot of/Lots of

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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.