Countability – the basics

All nouns in English are either countable or uncountable.

Uncountable nouns are sometimes called mass nouns.

Singular countable nouns can have the articles a or an in front of them. They can be made into plural nouns, usually by adding -s. Here are some examples:

  • house, car, room, teacher

Uncountable nouns can’t have a or an in front of them and you can’t make them plural. Here are some examples:

  • air, amazement, water, plastic

Many dictionaries for English learners use the symbols [C] and [U] to show which nouns are countable and which are uncountable. You need to know this in order to use articles (a, an, the) and common words such as some, any, much and many correctly.

Lots of words can be countable or uncountable, depending on the context or the meaning. For example, look at the following:

  • I had chicken for dinner. (uncountable)
  • There was a chicken in the yard. (countable)

It is important to remember that some things that are countable in other languages are uncountable in English. English learners often make mistakes with words such as advice, information and homework, which are all uncountable in English.