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Grammar and Mechanics: Count and Noncount Nouns

Introduction to Count and Noncount Nouns

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., advice or information).

Errors with count and noncount nouns can result in errors with article usage and with subject–verb agreement.

Please see the SMRTguide: Article Usage Flowchart for more information.

Count Nouns

What is a count noun?

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.

  • one book, two books
  • one pen, two pens
  • one computer, two computers

However, a few countable nouns only have a plural form in English. Here are a few examples:

  • earnings
  • goods
  • odds
  • surroundings
  • proceeds
  • contents
  • valuables

These may be used with some sort of quantifier, or quantity word, to show how they are counted (e.g., a few goods, several goods, some goods).

How are count nouns made plural?

Count nouns are usually made plural by adding –s or –es.

  • one example, two examples
  • one file, two files
  • one class, two classes
  • one bias, two biases

If the noun ends in –y, change the –y to –ies to make it plural if the –y is preceded by a consonant.

  • one company, two companies
  • one residency, two residencies

However, if a vowel proceeds the –y, add an –s to make it plural.

  • 1 day, 2 days
  • one survey, two surveys

Generally, if the noun ends in –o, add –es to make it plural.

  • one veto, two vetoes
  • one embargo, two embargoes

If the noun ends in –f or –fe, change the –f to a –v and add –es.

  • oneself, themselves
  • one half, two halves

Some count nouns have irregular plural forms.

  • one phenomenon, two phenomena
  • one person, two people
  • one criterion, two criteria
  • one datum, the data

When unsure of the plural form, please consult the dictionary. APA follows Merriam-Webster's dictionary for spelling. See APA 7, Section 6.11 for spellings of technology terms. See the APA Dictionary of Psychology for spellings of psychological terms.

Important: Singular count nouns must have a word in the determiner slot, for example, an article, a demonstrative, 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 Nouns

What is a noncount noun?

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.

 

An abstract concept: advice, happiness, health, education, research, knowledge, information, time, intelligence

A mass: work, equipment, homework, money, transportation, software, vocabulary 

A disease: diabetes, measles, polio, influenza, malaria, hypothyroidism, arthritis

A subject of study: economics, physics, astronomy, biology, history, statistics

A languageArabic, Chinese, Spanish, English

An activity (in the -ing form): swimming, dancing, reading, smoking, drinking, studying

A natural substance: air, ice, water, fire, wood, blood, hair, gold, silver

Food: milk, rice, coffee, bread, sugar, meat, water

A game: soccer, tennis, basketball, hockey, football, chess, checkers

 

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.

Double Nouns

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 couple of examples:

  • life
    • Life is a gift. (noncount)
    • She leads a very fulfilling life. (count = This specifies the type of life. It could be a boring life, a dangerous life, and so on.)
  • language
    • The study of language is called linguistics. (noncount)
    • English is often considered an international language. (count)

Quantity Words

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, some can only be used with countable plural nouns, some can only be used with uncountable nouns, and some can be used with both plural countable nouns and with uncountable nouns.

With countable singular nouns (e.g., participant, interview, theory):

  • each
    • each participant
  • every
    • every participant
  • another
    • another participant

With countable plural nouns (e.g., studies, limitations, factors):

  • several
    • several limitations
  • a large/small number of
    • a large number of limitations
    • a small number of limitations
  • (not/too) many
    • not many limitations
    • too many limitations
    • many limitations
  • a few*
    • a few limitations
  • (very) few*
    • very few limitations
    • few limitations
  • fewer
    • fewer limitations

With uncountable nouns (e.g., research, evidence):

  • a great deal of
    • a great deal of research
  • a large/small amount of
    • a large amount of research
    • a small amount of research
  • (not/too) much
    • not much research
    • too much research
    • much research
  • a little*
    • a little research
  • (very) little*
    • very little research
    • little research
  • less
    • less research

With countable plural nouns and with uncountable nouns (e.g., studies, limitations, factors, research, evidence):

  • some
    • some factors
    • some evidence
  • any
    • any factors
    • any evidence
  • a lot of
    • a lot of factors
    • a lot of evidence
  • hardly any
    • hardly any factors
    • hardly any evidence
  • (almost) all
    • (almost) all factors
    • (almost) all evidence
  • no
    • no factors
    • no evidence
  • none of
    • none of the factors
    • none of the evidence
  • not any
    • not any factors
    • not any evidence
  • other
    • other factors
    • other evidence

* 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.

  • There are few solutions. (There are not many solutions.)
  • There are a few solutions. (There are some solutions.)
     
  • He received little education. (He did not receive much education.)
  • He received a little education. (He received some education.)

Writing Tools: Using a Dictionary for Grammatical Accuracy Video