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Uncountable Nouns

Unlike countable nouns, uncountable nouns are substances, concepts etc that we cannot divide into separate elements. We cannot "count" them. For example, we cannot count "milk". We can count "bottles of milk" or "litres of milk", but we cannot count "milk" itself. Here are some more uncountable nouns:

  • music, art, love, happiness
  • advice, information, news
  • furniture, luggage
  • rice, sugar, butter, water
  • electricity, gas, power
  • money, currency

We usually treat uncountable nouns as singular. We use a singular verb. For example:

  • This news is very important.
  • Your luggage looks heavy.

We do not usually use the indefinite article a/an with uncountable nouns. We cannot say "an information" or "a music". But we can say a "something" of:

  • a piece of news
  • a bottle of water
  • a grain of rice

We can use some and any with uncountable nouns:

  • I've got some money.
  • Have you got any rice?

We can use a little and much with uncountable nouns:

  • I've got a little money.
  • I haven't got much rice.
Uncountable nouns are also called "mass nouns".

Here are some more examples of countable and uncountable nouns:

Countable Uncountable
dollar money
song music
suitcase luggage
table furniture
battery electricity
bottle wine
report information
tip advice
journey travel
job work
view scenery

When you learn a new word, it's a good idea to learn whether it's countable or uncountable.

Partitive Structure with Uncountable Nouns

To count or quantify an uncountable noun we use a unit of measurement - a measure word. For example, we cannot usually say “two breads” because “bread” is uncountable. So, if we want to specify a quantity of bread we use a measure word such as “loaf” or “slice” in a structure like “two loaves of bread” or “two slices of bread”. We call this structure a partitive structure.

partitive structure: quantity measure word of uncountable noun
examples: two cups of coffee
several games of tennis
a drop of water

We can use the same uncountable noun in different partitive expressions with different meanings. For example, a loaf of bread and a slice of bread are partitive expressions with different meanings. A loaf of bread is what we call a whole unit of bread that we buy from a baker. A slice of bread is what we call a smaller unit of bread after it has been cut from a loaf. 

Here are some more examples:

  • Don't forget to buy a bag of rice when you go shopping.
  • Can I have one cup of coffee and two cups of tea.
  • The police found some items of clothing scattered around the floor.
  • I need a truck that will take at least three pieces of furniture.
  • You'd think a tablespoon of honey would be more than enough.
The word "partitive" indicates that only "part" of a whole is being referred to. The partitive structure using a measure word is common with uncountable nouns, but it can also be used with countable nouns, for example: a series of accidents, two boxes of matches, a can of worms.
Test yourself with these fun measure words quizzes

Nouns that can be Countable and Uncountable

Sometimes, the same noun can be countable and uncountable, often with a change of meaning.

Countable Uncountable
There are two hairs in my coffee! hair I don't have much hair.
There are two lights in our bedroom. light Close the curtain. There's too much light!
Shhhhh! I thought I heard a noise.
There are so many different noises in the city.
noise It's difficult to work when there is so much noise.
Have you got a paper to read? (newspaper)
Hand me those student papers.
paper I want to draw a picture. Have you got some paper?
Our house has seven rooms. room Is there room for me to sit here?
We had a great time at the party.
How many times have I told you no?
time Have you got time for a cup of coffee?
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's greatest works. work I have no money. I need work!
Drinks (coffee, water, orange juice) are usually uncountable. But if we are thinking of a cup or a glass, we can say (in a restaurant, for example):
Two teas and one coffee please.

See also this list of nouns that are count and noncount, with example sentences, notes and quizzes