3.2 Distinguishing between countable and uncountable nouns
If you know that a word is uncountable, you will be able to use correctly. The following activity gives you an opportunity to practise this skill.
You will now look at two sets of words. The first set includes common everyday words, while the second set contains academic words.
Which of the following everyday words are countable and which are uncountable nouns?
If you are unsure, try to place the word ‘many’, ‘a’ or ‘an’ before it. If this seems correct, that word is countable; if it doesn’t, it is uncountable. Some words can be both countable and uncountable. If you are unsure, look them up in the dictionary.
Countable: pen, car, computer, pound.
Uncountable: luggage, information, traffic, sadness, butter.
Countable and uncountable: light, time, skill.
Did you classify all the words correctly? Words that are both countable and uncountable have more than one meaning. They are therefore difficult to classify and it is necessary to look them up.
Unlike familiar vocabulary, specialised and academic vocabulary can be difficult to classify and therefore to use. Which of the following are countable, which are uncountable and which can be both? If you are in doubt, consult a dictionary.
Countable: consumer, location, cycle, function, expert.
Uncountable: clarity, expertise, knowledge, progress, evidence, research.
Countable and uncountable: experience, culture.
If a word is unfamiliar to you, or you rarely use or hear it, you may not know how to use it. This leads to errors such as ‘many researches’ or ‘an information’. These errors can be avoided by using a dictionary.