Countable nouns (also called count nouns) are nouns that can be counted (e.g. oranges). Uncountable nouns (also known as non-count or mass nouns) are amounts of something which we cannot count (e.g. sand). So how do we know whether or not a noun is countable or uncountable?

The noun is countable:

if we can use the indefinite artice a/an before it.

  • I own a car. / I play with an ostrich.

if we can use the word 'many' (and not 'much') to describe it.

  • She has many friends. (It's wrong to say: She has much friends.)

if we can express its quantity by using a number before it.

  • I have five apples.

if it takes on singular as well as plural forms.

  • an orange / some oranges / fifty oranges

 

The noun is uncountable:

if a/an is not normally used in front of it.

  • He is eating some rice. (NOT: He is eating a rice.) Rice is treated as not countable, so some (which can be used for both countable and uncountable nouns) is used with it.

if the word much can be correctly used with it.

  • How much rice have you eaten? (NOT: How many rice have you eaten?)

if it is not possible for us to count it. However, we can make it countable by having a quantity for it.

  • I have just bought two cartons or litres/liters of milk. (NOT: I have just bought two milk.)

if it takes only a singular form.

  • some ice (NOT: some ices) / some ink (NOT: some inks) / some soup (NOT: some soups)

 

Some nouns can be countable or uncountable. It depends on how they are used.

Examples:

  • I boil an egg. (Countable noun)
  • I like egg. (Uncountable noun, as it refers to egg in general.)

 

Countable and Uncountable Nouns are used with the following:

Countable Noun Uncountable Noun
a, an, a few, several, many, a little, much, some, plenty of,
some, plenty of, a lot of, a lot of, a large amount of,
a large number of a great deal of
 

Refer to List 2 - Uncountable Nouns made Countable for more examples.