David Recine

How to Make a Non-Countable Noun Into a Countable Noun

Non-countable nouns cannot be quantified with numbers. They also follow several other grammar rules. In my last two posts, we’ve looked at the nine types of nouns that are usually treated as non-countable. As a general rule, these nouns should be treated as non-countable. However, for each kind of noun, there are some exceptions to the rules.

Below, I list the exceptions to the rules for each of the nine categories of non-countable nouns. Example sentences are included in italics. Enjoy!


Abstract concepts

  • Can be countable when…
    • Different types of a noun are being discussed.
      There are different angers. The anger at being insulted is different from the anger you feel when a loved one dies.
    • The word “design” is used to describe a printed or viewable design
      My notebook is full of designs.
    • The word “misunderstanding” is used to refer to specific events
      There were several misunderstandings between my mother and me as we planned for the wedding.


Academic subjects and professional fields

  • Can be countable when…
    • Actually, there are very few exceptions, if any. These nouns are almost always non-countable


Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.


  • Can be countable when…
    • Different types of the noun are being discussed
      The judge made many different judgments on many different court cases.
      There are two different footballs: North American football and soccer football.
    • Note: Activities ending in –ing sound very strange when they are given a plural “s.” It is better to allow them to remain non-countable.



  • Can be countable when…
    • Different varieties of the same language are being discussed
      Of all the Englishes I hear, Indian and Caribbean English are the most difficult Englishes for me to understand.


Physical/medical conditions or treatments

  • Can be countable when…
    • Different varieties or instances of the same noun are being discussed
      Some cancers are harder to treat than others.
      Her surgeries included removal of her kidney and removal of her gall bladder.



  • Can be countable when…
    • A phenomenon is described as a specific event
      The rains fell on Monday and Thursday.
    • A phenomenon is given a discrete shape or physical limitation
      There are three fires at the camp.
    • Different types of a phenomenon are being discussed
      Smokes from burning hickory wood and cedar wood were used to flavor the meat.


Groups of similar items

  • Can be countable when…
    • Different types of the same noun are being discussed
      Is that organic garbage or chemical garbage? There are different kinds of garbages.


Liquids and gasses

  • Can be countable when…
    • Different types of the same noun are being discussed
      There is freshwater, saltwater, rainwater and toilet water; there are so many waters!
      The world has many airs—thin, cold mountain airs, thick hot airs found in jungles, etc…
    • Gasses or liquids have discrete shapes or boundaries
      The mists hung over the wetland in strands and pieces.
      The Mississippi River and the Indian Ocean are very different waters
    • Liquids are in containers, especially if they’re being purchased or bought.
      I went to a restaurant with my wife and two children. We ordered two juices and two milks.


Solid substances

  • Can be countable when…
    • “Stone” refers to an object instead of a substance
      They threw stones into the river.
    • Different types of the same noun are being discussed
      There are cold weather concretes and concretes for hot climates.


Thanks that are made of small strands or tiny pieces

  • Can be countable when…
    • Two different types of the same noun are being discussed
      There are wild rices and cultivated rices. Which rice will you grow on your farm?
    • Individual thin strands of a noun are being discussed
      I cut two hairs from my head.
      I tied three threads together.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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