Countable nouns are items that can be counted like cookies or people. They're usually tangible things we can touch and count. You can have one cookie or 12 cookies. Conversely, non-countable nouns (sometimes called uncountable nouns) are things that can never be quantified, or aren't normally quantified, like air or love. They're usually intangible or abstract ideas that we can't touch and count.
Countable and non-countable nouns also differ when it comes to matters of modifiers. Let's break it all down.
Countable nouns have distinct singular and plural forms. If you have one cookie, it'll come in the singular form. If you have a dozen cookies, it'll come in the plural form.
These nouns can be preceded by a number or the determiners "a" or "an." They can also be paired with modifiers, or quantifiers, like "many" or "fewer." Here are some examples of count nouns, or countable nouns:
He has one donkey.
She adopted three puppies.
Can I borrow these three pens?
How many plates do you have?
I'll have a scone.
Even if you're considering an extraordinarily high number, like all the books in the New York Public Library, "books" is still a countable noun because you could put a number on it.
Non-countable nouns typically only have a singular form. If you have some water in your glass, it'll come in the singular form (even though there are several ounces of it).
These nouns will never be preceded by the determiners "a" or "an." Rather, they're paired with an array of modifiers like "some," "a lot of" or "much." Here are some examples of uncountable nouns, or non-countable nouns:
She has some knowledge of the area.
He's done a lot of research on the subject.
There isn't much air in this room.
She has so much homework to complete for a Sunday night.
He has a lot of love for music.
Since non-countable nouns are always singular, make sure you use a singular verb. So, you wouldn't write, "Knowledge are necessary to live a happy life." Knowledge can't be counted like marbles in a jar, so it's a non-countable noun. Therefore, the verb needs to be singular as in, "Knowledge is necessary to live a happy life."
Can you think of any nouns that could work as countable or uncountable nouns? If you've ever been to Belgium, you might have sampled their delectable chocolate. With that in mind, take a look at these two examples:
Would you like a chocolate? (Countable with the determiner "a," indicating the number one)
In the first sentence, it is implied that the person is offering a single piece of chocolate. In other words, the sentence could be reworded as: "Would you like a piece of chocolate?" The noun "piece," in this case is countable.
You'll find that while some nouns are technically countable, they're not really countable in everyday practice.
The water could be measured by volume and you could technically count the individual grains of rice, but in practice, these are treated as uncountable nouns. The exception would be if you assigned a unit that is measurable in front of it:
If you've ever heard of an abstract noun, you'll know it refers to something intangible like feelings, ideas, or concepts. Examples include:
Someone might say, "She has endless beauty," or "His patience is finite." You might be thinking that sounds awfully similar to an uncountable noun. You can't count her beauty or put a number on his patience. True enough.
Really, the only difference between the two is that non-countable nouns can never be counted. However, abstract nouns can be either countable or uncountable. For example, "time" is an abstract noun. You can't touch time. Let's see it work as a countable noun and then a non-countable noun.
Did you have a nice time? (Countable)
I'm here but take your time coming down. (Non-countable)
Nouns are a staple in the English language. They stand as the subjects of our sentences, our names, our hometowns, and so much more. Given their grammatical prowess, there are many different kinds of nouns beyond countable and uncountable nouns. Enjoy this extensive study on the different types of nouns.