Count and noncount nouns (2)

There is another good way to decide if a noun is count or noncount.Take a look at the use of the words much and many in the following sentences.

1. He has many children.

2. That man has many interests.

3. That will take too much time.

4. They have many lights on in the house.

5. We have much furniture in our store.

6. I wonder how much wealth is in Silicon Valley.

As you may have noticed, many is used with count nouns, much  is used with noncount nouns.

 If you can use many with a noun (when it is pluralized), it’s a count noun. If you can use much with a noun, it’s a  noncount noun.

And we have still another way to distinguish count from noncount nouns:

7. He has fewer children than Ido.

8. That man has fewer interests than he used to.

9. That will take less time than I thought.

10. They have fewer lights on in the house.

11. We have less furniture in our store.

12. I don’t have less money in my purse than you have.

As you’ve probably figured out from these examples, we use ‘fewer’ with count nouns and ‘less’ with noncount nouns.

 If you can use fewer with a noun (when it is pluralized), it’s a count noun. If you can use less with a noun, it’s a noncount noun.

Many nouns can be used as either count nouns or as noncount nouns, depending on how they are being used in a specific sentence. Let’s look at the following sentence containing the word sugar :

13. The sugar is spilling onto the floor.

In this sentence, is sugar being used as a count or noncount noun? Would you say: The sugars are spilling onto the  floor? or Many  sugars are spilling onto the floor? Probably not. So sugar, in sentence 13, is a noncount noun.

Now take a look at another sentence with sugar:

14. This gourmet shop has sugars I’ve never even heard of.

In this sentence, is sugar being used as a count or noncount noun? First, notice that sugar here is pluralized. Second, notice that you can say ‘This gourmet shop has many sugars I’ve never even heard of’. So sugar, in sentence 14, is a count noun. In terms of meaning, what is important here is that the sentence is talking about different types of  sugars, say, brown sugar, white sugar, confectioners’ sugar, etc.

And one more sentence type with sugar :

15. The sugar that works best in this recipe is brown sugar.

Here, sugar, while not pluralized, could be pluralized and refers, in fact, to a kind of sugar. For example, you could say: ‘The sugars that work best in this recipe are brown sugar and white sugar’. For these reasons, sugar is being used here as a count noun.

Here are some more examples of sentences with nouns which, like sugar, are typically used as noncount nouns but can also be used as count nouns.

16a. I like to drink milk. (milk used as noncount noun)

16b. That store has milks with different kinds of flavoring: chocolate, vanilla, mocha, and strawberry. (milks used as count noun)


Exercise 2

For each underlined noun in the sentences below, indicate if it is being used as a count (C) or noncount (NC) noun in that sentence. Use the plural, much/many, or fewer/less  tests to help you.

Sample: Their new album (C) was a huge hit.

1. Algebra ( ) was one of my worst subjects ( ) in high school ( ).

2. I had no idea that there were various theories ( ), such as Euclidean and fractal.

3. The smoke ( ) rose through the chimney ( ).

4. Bread ( ) is a staple in many societies ( ).

5. She decided to push the issue ( ) further.

6. People ( ) are funny sometimes.

7. The government ( ) of the United States has three branches ( ).

8. Senators ( ) can spend money ( ) unnecessarily.

9. It takes effort ( ) to get a good grade ( ) in Mr.Goodman’s class ( ).

10. The reporters ( ) wrote the story ( ).


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