Count and noncount nouns vary from language to language. In some languages, there are no count nouns (e.g., Japanese). In addition, some nouns that are noncount in English may be countable in other languages (e.g., hair or information).
Count nouns can be separated into individual units and counted. They usually have both a singular and a plural form. Most English nouns are count nouns.
However, a few countable nouns only have a plural form in English. Here are a few examples:
These are often used with some sort of quantifier, or quantity word, to show how they are counted (e.g., a pair of pants, two pairs of pants, some pants).
Count nouns are usually made plural by adding an –s or an –es.
If the noun ends in –y, change the –y to –ies to make it plural.
However, if a vowel proceeds the –y, add an –s to make it plural.
If the noun ends in –o, add –es to make it plural.
If the noun ends in –f or –fe, change the –f to a –v and add –es.
Some count nouns have irregular plural forms. Many of these forms come from earlier forms of English.
When unsure of the plural form, please consult the dictionary. An English Learner’s Dictionary (such as Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, Oxford, or Longman) may be the most useful.
Important: Singular count nouns must have a word in the determiner slot. This could be an article, a pronoun, or a possessive noun (i.e., a/an, the, this, or a possessive noun). Please see our page on article usage for more information.
Noncount (or uncountable) nouns exist as masses or abstract quantities that cannot be counted. They have no plural form. Although most English nouns are count nouns, noncount nouns frequently occur in academic writing.
Here are some common categories of noncount nouns. Like all things in English (and language in general), there may be exceptions.
A mass: work, equipment, homework, money, transportation, clothing, luggage, jewelry, traffic
A natural substance: air, ice, water, fire, wood, blood, hair, gold, silver
Food: milk, rice, coffee, bread, sugar, meat, water
An abstract concept: advice, happiness, health, education, research, knowledge, information, time
A game: soccer, tennis, basketball, hockey, football, chess, checkers
A disease: diabetes, measles, polio, influenza, malaria, hypothyroidism, arthritis
A subject of study: economics, physics, astronomy, biology, history, statistics
A language: Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, English
An activity (in the –ing form): swimming, dancing, reading, smoking, drinking, studying
Important: Noncount nouns do not use the indefinite articles a/an. They can, however, use the definite article the if what is being referred to is specific. They can also use no article if what is being referred to is general (generic) or nonspecific. Please see our page on article usage for more information.
Some nouns can be both count and noncount. When they change from a count to a noncount noun, the meaning changes slightly. In the noncount form, the noun refers to the whole idea or quantity. In the count form, the noun refers to a specific example or type. When the noun is countable, it can be used with the indefinite article a/an or it can be made plural.
Check the published literature in your field of study to determine whether specific nouns are used in a countable or an uncountable way. Sometimes, a noun that is generally countable becomes uncountable when used in a technical way.
Here are a few examples:
Quantity words are used to add information about the number or amount of the noun. Some quantity words can only be used with countable singular nouns (e.g., computer, pen, and crayon), some can only be used with countable plural nouns (e.g., printers, flashdrives, and keyboards), some can only be used with uncountable nouns (i.e., paper, ink), and some can be used with both plural countable nouns and with uncountable nouns.
With countable singular nouns (e.g., computer, pen, crayon):
With countable plural nouns (e.g., printers, flashdrives, and keyboards):
With uncountable nouns (e.g., paper or ink):
With countable plural nouns and with uncountable nouns (e.g., printers, flashdrives, keyboards; paper, or ink):
*Note the difference between few/little (almost none) and a few/a little (some, but not many/much). Few/little tend to have a negative connotation. A few/a little tend to be more positive.