Distinguish between count nouns and noncount nouns

Common nouns in English can be count nouns or noncount nouns. The distinction is important because it determines whether to use the singular or plural form of the word, and which articles (a, an, the) and limiting adjectives (fewer or less, much or many, and so on) to use (see below).

As the term suggests, count nouns refer to distinct individuals or things that can be directly counted. They usually have singular and plural forms: gene, genes. Noncount nouns occur as masses or collections of ideas that can be quantified only in a broad, vague way or with a preceding phrase. They usually have only a singular form: mankind, honesty. To confuse the situation, some nouns have more than one meaning; one meaning may be count, and the other noncount. Water is a count noun when we speak of a liter of water, but a noncount noun when we say that water is a limited resource.

When you learn a common noun in English, learn whether it is count, non-count, or both. Two dictionaries that include this information are the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (Hornby and Wehmeier, 2005) and the Longman Dictionary of American English (Longman, 2004).

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