In my last post on non-countable nouns, I explained to you that a non-countable noun is a noun that either can’t be measured, or can only be measured in terms of volume—the number of ounces, meters, etc. that the noun has. All in all we looked at five rules for using con-countable nouns.
Now that I’ve shown you how to use non-countable nouns, I’m going to show you how to recognize which nouns are countable and which are not. The simplest way to quickly identify non-countable nouns is to understand the types of non-countable nouns. In this post, we’ll focus on the types of non-countable nouns that can be measured in terms of volume— in terms of properties such as weight, size, length, and so on.
Groups of similar items
Sometimes several different-but-similar kinds of things can be put together and re-labeled as one thing—one noun. For example, banana peels, used drinking straws, and the dust you sweep up from your floor can be put together in a garbage can and relabeled with the noun garbage. “Garbage” is non-countable. The same goes for any other noun that describes a grouping of similar things.
Examples: jewelry, garbage, equipment, data, information, news, populace
Things that are liquid or gas
It makes sense that liquid and gas should be labeled with a non-countable noun. After all, these things can really only be measured in volume. You wouldn’t look at a jug of milk and say that there were a lot of milks in the jug. And when you breathe, you’re not breathing in one air, or two airs, or hundreds of airs—you’re just breathing in air.
Examples: water, orange juice, beer, sewage, wine, gasoline, liquid nitrogen, rain, carbon dioxide, helium, air, mist
Solid objects such as cups, apples, cars, etc… can be counted. But solid substances really are measured by volume. Think about it: a fire is made by burning wood, not by burning woods. And sandwiches are made with bread, not breads.
Examples: stone, concrete, iron, ice, uranium, chocolate, clay
Things that are made up of small strands or tiny pieces
This group may seem a little strange at first. You would think that things made up of separate pieces could be counted, right? But weird as it seems, you can count big rocks in a pile, but you can’t count the pieces in a pile of sand. Sand is non-countable, simply because its pieces are very small.
It does make sense when you stop to think about it though— it really is impossible to pick through some sand and count every piece. Only bigger pieces of things can easily be seen, picked out and counted.
Examples: rice, sand, hair, thread, spaghetti, sugar, dust
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are also types of non-countable nouns that really can’t be measured. We’ll look at those categories of nouns in my next post on this subject.