A count noun (also countable noun) is a noun that can be modified by a numeral (three chairs) and that occurs in both singular and plural forms (chair, chairs). The can also be preceded by words such as a, an, or the (a chair). Quite literally, count nouns are nouns which can be counted.
A non-count noun (also mass noun), on the other hand, has none of these properties. It can’t be modified by a numeral (three furniture is incorrect), occur in singular/plural (furnitures is not a word), or co-occur with a, an, or the (a furniture is incorrect). Again, quite literally, non-count nouns are nouns which cannot be counted.
Example: Chair vs. Furniture
The sentence pairs below compare the count noun chair and the non-count noun furniture.
There are chairs in the room. (correct)
There are furnitures in the room. (incorrect)
There is a chair in the room. (correct)
There is a furniture in the room. (incorrect)
There is chair in the room. (incorrect)
There is furniture in the room. (correct)
Every chair is man made. (correct)
Every furniture is man made. (incorrect)
All chair is man made. (incorrect)
All furniture is man made. (correct)
There are several chairs in the room. (correct)
There are several furnitures in the room. (incorrect)
Determining the Type of Noun
In general, a count noun is going to be something you can easily count—like rock or dollar bill. Non-count nouns, on the other hand, would be more difficult to count—like sand or money. If you ever want to identify a singular non-count noun, you need a phrase beforehand—like a grain of sand or a sum of money.
Select the correct word to complete each sentence. Determine whether the correct word is a count or a non-count noun.
- The internet is contains a lot of (information / fact).
- The internet contains a lot of (informations / facts).
- We each have a (work / job) to do.
- We each have (work / job) to do.
- The internet is full of information. Information is a non-count noun.
- The internet contains many facts. Facts is a count noun. The word “informations” is incorrect because information is non-count and doesn’t have a plural form.
- We each have a job to do. Job is a count noun, so it needs an article (a).
- We each have work to do. Work is a non-count noun.
Less, Fewer, Many, and Much
The adjectives less and fewer are both used to indicate a smaller amount of the noun they modify. Many and much are used to indicate a large amount of something. People often will use these pairs words interchangeably; however, the words fewer and many are used with count nouns, while less and much are used with non-count nouns:
- The pet day care has fewer dogs than cats this week.
- Next time you make these cookies, you should use less sugar.
- Many poets struggle when they try to determine if a poem is complete or not.
- There’s too much goodness in her heart for her own good.
You may have noticed that much has followed the adverb too in this example (too much). This is because you rarely find much by itself. You don’t really hear people say things like “Now please leave me alone; I have much research to do.” The phrase “a lot of” has taken its place in current English: “I have a lot of research to do.” A lot of can be used in the place of either many or much:
- A lot of poets struggle when they try to determine if a poem is complete or not.
- There’s a lot of goodness in her heart for her own good.
Read the following sentences. Decide if the bolded words have been treated correctly as count or non-count nouns.
- Satya has a lot of clothings. Her mother has told her that before she can buy any more, she must get rid of five shirts and two pants.
- There were much types of food at the event, including different soups, salads, and desserts.
- Miguel loved studying outer space—especially the different galaxy.
- No. All three nouns (clothings, shirts, and pants) have been treated as count nouns. However, only shirts is a count noun. The correct sentence would be “Satya has a lot of clothing. Her mother has told her that before she can buy any more, she must get rid of five shirts and two pairs of pants.”
- Please not that even though the word pants ends in an s, it is not actually plural (or singular; it’s non-count!). The correct way to create a plural is pairs of pants.
- No. Food is a non-count noun, so it takes many not much. However, soups, salads, and desserts are all plural count nouns and have been treated correctly. The correct sentence would be “There were many types of food at the event, including different soups, salads, and desserts.
- No. Outer space is non-count, and has been treated as such, but galaxy is a count noun, and has been treated as a non-count. The correct sentence would be “Miguel loved studying outer space—especially the different galaxies.”
Choose the correct word to fill in the blanks in the following sentences:
- You can only be in this line if you have fifteen items or _____.
- Evelyn was disappointed in the weather forecast; there was _____ rain predicted. She preferred dry weather.
- I had a lengthy list of my _____ ideas for the project.
- You can only be in this line if you have fifteen items or fewer.
- Because items is a count noun, fewer is required here. This may surprise you, since many stores have a “fifteen items or less” line, but, using less is grammatically incorrect. However, the prevalence of this phrase has made it so stores sound uppity if they use fewer instead of less. Some stores are avoiding this entire issue by saying “around fifteen items” instead.
- Evelyn was disappointed in the weather forecast; there was a lot of rain predicted. She preferred dry weather.
- While much would also fit in this blank, the phrase a lot of is much more common and more likely to be used.
- I had a lengthy list of my many ideas for the project.
- The adjective is modifying the count-noun ideas, so many is needed in this instance.