Countable and uncountable nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns

Instructions: 

As you watch the video, look at the examples of countable and uncountable nouns. They are in red in the subtitles. Then read the conversation below to learn more. Finally, do the grammar exercises to check you understand, and can use, countable and uncountable nouns correctly.

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It’s the day of Oliver and Alfie’s cooking competition. Daisy is filming the chefs in action, and Mum is on her way home.

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!

 

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Discussion

The expression a piece of cake means something is really easy. Is speaking English a piece of cake for you?

Comments

Srilal's picture
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Dear Sir
Regarding my last question eg pencil and baggage ... Is it alright to say 'a piece of baggage on the table'
Best regards
Srilal

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1 user has voted.
Jo - Coordinator's picture
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Hi Srilal,
Yes, exactly. If you really needed to specify that it was only one item, you could say 'a piece of baggage'.  If not, we would probably just say, 'my baggage is on the table', or something like that. You can use 'some' for uncountable nouns and it doesn't necessarily mean more than one:
eg. I've got some good news for you! (= one piece of information)
Best wishes, Joanna (LearnEnglish Teens team)

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1 user has voted.
Srilal's picture
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Dear Sir
Please help me to make this clear. Eg. There is a pencil on the table. If I want to say 'baggage' instead of 'a pencil' how can I say it? If I say some baggage that means more than one but I want to say only one but I can't use one or a before baggage.
Please help.
Thank you.
Best regards
Srilal

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clp920's picture
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Hello! Can you explain me why we use "some" in questions not "any", for example, in sentences like "Do you want some cake?", "Would you like some coffe?" or "Can I borrow some money?". Whereas by rule we might use ‘any’ for questions. Thanks in advance!

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45 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Hi clp920. It depends on the function of the question. If it is to offer something or request something, use some. This is the case in your examples. Using some encourages the person to say 'yes' in reply.

  • Do you want some cake? (offer)
  • Would you like some coffee? (offer)
  • Can I borrow some money? (request)

Using any in the same question is possible too, but it seems like you expect the person to reply 'no'.

  • Do you want any cake? (No, thanks.)

If the question is just to ask about some other thing, not to offer or request it, use any.

  • Are there any tickets left for the show?
  • Do you have any games on your phone?

I hope that helps to understand these tricky words!

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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princess2001's picture
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The expression A PIECE OF CAKE means something really easy. I think speaking English is not a piece of cake. We have been studying English in schools since early childhood and I myself doing my best to get fluency in speaking English but still couldn't get success. Keeping all these facts in mind, I can't say that English language is a piece of cake.

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77 users have voted.
Tina - Coordinator's picture
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Dear aracas,
I'm not sure why you can't see the video, I've just tested it and it's working fine for me.
(1) Are you using Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari or another browser? Try using a different browser and see it that works.
(2) Can you see the other videos in Video Zone, Video UK and Film UK, or are they not working either?
(3) The videos in Video Zone come from YouTube. Do you know if YouTube is blocked in your country?
Best wishes, Tina (LearnEnglish Teen Team)

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84 users have voted.
alam98's picture
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yes speaking English can become just like a piece of cake.... but it only happens when we will take it like a piece of cake .....

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95 users have voted.
JoEditor's picture
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Hi alam98,
Welcome to LearnEnglish Teens. We have a lot of great students using our website and I'm sure they will help you with any problems you may have. We are also here to help you, so if you have any doubts or questions, just ask. 
Best wishes, Jo (LearnEnglish Teens Team) 

 

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92 users have voted.

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