Countable and uncountable nouns
Some nouns in English are countable - we can use them in singular and plural forms. Some are uncountable - they only have one form.
We often use a/an with singular countable nouns and some with plurals. We can also use some with uncountable nouns.
What are examples of countable nouns?
Here are a few:
I've got a steak, some red chilli peppers, some potatoes…
OK, well, I've got a lemon, an apple … and some chicken breasts.
I'd like a blue pen, please.
OK, so for things you can count, like one pen, two pens … Why did you say a pen, not one pen?
We often use a/an before singular countable nouns. Before words that start with a vowel sound, we use an, and before words that start with a consonant sound, we use a.
So is one wrong? As in Would you like one drink?
It sounds as if you're saying one (not two). If you're offering someone a drink, you'd say Would you like a drink?
But someone who works in a café might say, So that's one coffee and two lemonades.
So it's usually a or an for singular countable nouns and a number or some for plurals. How many is some?
It can be any number more than one.
I got some new jeans at the weekend. (a pair of new jeans)
Some teachers left at the end of the year. (we don't know how many)
Is some or a number always used with plurals?
No, have a look at these examples
I'm frightened of dogs. (dogs in general)
Strawberries have a lot of vitamin C. (strawberries in general)
What about uncountable nouns?
These are nouns that don't have a plural form.
I've got some garlic and some butter.
I'm looking for information about early rock and roll.
I haven't got enough paper.
You have to get permission from the head teacher.
Do you want some cake?
So, I can use some with uncountables too?
Yes, we use some with both countables and uncountables.
How do I know whether a noun is countable or uncountable?
A dictionary will tell you. Usually dictionaries use symbols [C] for countable and [U] for uncountable.
Just a minute. You said cake was uncountable. What about I made a cake this morning?
Yes that's correct, but there's a difference in meaning.
I made a cake this morning. (a whole cake – countable)
Do you want some cake? (a piece of cake – uncountable)
A box of chocolates. (individual chocolates – countable)
I'd like some chocolate too. (a piece or pieces of chocolate from a bar of chocolate – uncountable)
I thought coffee and lemonade were uncountable too.
Yes, they are usually.
I love coffee with hot milk. (uncountable)
Can you get some coffee? (uncountable)
I'll have a coffee, please. (a cup of coffee, countable)
Wow, so it's more complicated than I thought.
No, they're not really very difficult.
OK, they're easy. It's a piece of cake!
Yes, simple! A piece of cake!