Using noncountable nouns correctly is essential when writing essays for college or university. In this article, you’ll learn what noncountable nouns are and how to use them.
Definition: Noncountable nouns
In English language, noncountable nouns are a grammatical category used to describe items that cannot be counted separately or individually. These nouns refer to things that can only be counted or thought of as “wholes”1.
By contrast, countable nouns refer to items that can be counted individually or separately. The difference between both can be seen in the examples below.
|Type of noun||Examples|
|Uncountable Money||we can count currencies, but
not money. We can’t say “one money,
two moneys, etc.
|Uncountable Advice||we can’t say “one advice, two
|Countable Computer||one computer, two computers,
some computers, etc.
|Countable Job||one job, two jobs, three jobs,
any jobs, etc.
Countable nouns vs. Noncountable nouns
In English grammar, some nouns are always countable, others are always noncountable, and others can fall into both categories (countable and noncountable)2.
In the latter category, it can sometimes be difficult to know when a noun is countable and when it’s noncountable. In such cases, the context determines whether a noun is countable or uncountable, as shown in the table below.
|Noun||Type of noun||Examples|
|Experience||Uncountable||when the context refers I have experience in marketing.
to accumulated knowledge
|Experience||Countable||when the context refers to I’ve had happy
individual events or incidents.
|Chicken||Uncountable||when the context refers I like chicken
to chicken in general
|Chicken||Countable||when the context refers
to specific animals.
We raised two chickens.
Are noncountable nouns singular or plural?
Noncountable nouns are almost always singular, since they cannot be counted and therefore their number doesn’t affect their plural form.
To be grammatically correct, you must use the singular verb form to accompany noncountable nouns. This will ensure that the subject-verb agreement is respected.
Articles and noncountable nouns
Noncountable nouns can only be used with two types of articles3:
– The definite article (“the”).
– The zero article, which isn’t an article in itself, but instead refers to situations where no article is required.
The indefinite article (“a” / “an”) is never used with noncountable nouns.
Amounts and numbers
Sometimes, noncountable nouns are broken into countable units. This helps bring clarity and specificity to the sentence.
Some commonly used terms, such “a lot” and “lots of”, can be used with both countable and noncountable nouns.
On the other hand, some terms can only be used with countable or noncountable nouns. These include less vs. fewer, much vs. many, and amount vs. number.
|Noun||Type of noun||Example|
|Cats||Countable||There are fewer cats here today.|
|Information||Noncountable||They gave less information than expected.|
|House||Countable||Many houses are built this way.|
|Traffic||Noncountable||There isn’t much traffic at night.|
|Question||Countable||I have a number of questions.|
|Rain||Noncountable||It’s a large amount of rain.|
Noncountable nouns: “Research” & “data”
The words “research” and “data” are noncountable noun, but their use use can be especially difficult in academic writing. This is due to some confusion in how these nouns are used.
For example, the word “research” is sometimes pluralised as “researches”. Although the term “researches” exists, it doesn’t indicate plural form, but rather it’s the third person singular conjugation of the verb “to research” (he/she/it researches).
Similarly, the word “data” can cause confusion as to whether it’s singular or plural. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to bear mind:
Countable nouns refer to items that can be counted separately, whereas noncountable nouns can’t be counted individually.
No, only the definite or the zero articles are grammatically correct. It’s incorrect to use “a” and “an” with noncountable nouns.
Some nouns can be used in both ways. The context will determine whether a noun can be countable or noncountable.
The singular form, with the exception of the noun “data”, which can also be used with a plural verb form.
1 English First. “Countable and uncountable nouns.” Accessed February 24, 2023. https://www.ef.com/wwen/english-resources/english-grammar/countable-and-uncountable-nouns/.
2 Knowadays. “Proofreading Tips: A Guide to Countable and Uncountable Nouns.” August 4, 2022. https://knowadays.com/blog/proofreading-tips-a-guide-to-countable-and-uncountable-nouns/.
3 English Grammar. “Articles with countable and uncountable nouns.” March 18, 2011. https://www.englishgrammar.org/articles-countable-uncountable-nouns/