It might seen obvious, but is quite easy to spot countable nouns – they are things that can be counted! Cats, for example, are a countable noun. I have one cat. My friend Rachel? She has three cats. My mum’s friend Megan has twenty cats. Yes, you know the type! As we can see from these examples, countable nouns can be both singular and plural. Singular nouns use articles or pronouns before the noun to modify them. For this we use articles like a, the, or one.
Uncountable nouns are nouns that we cannot count or divide into units. Air is a good example of this. You can also think of them as mass nouns. Generally, we use the singular form when talking about uncountable nouns. Feeling stuffy? Open the window and let in some fresh air. Would you like any water? I’d love some water, thank you. We never add –s to the plural form of uncountable nouns. Instead we can use other words to help us. These are called quantifiers, and help to give us information about the number or amount of something.
We can use the indefinite article a/an when talking about countable nouns. These articles are used with singular countable nouns. We use a before consonant sounds, and an before vowel sounds.
Would you like a banana with your breakfast? A banana would be lovely thank you. How about an apple? Don’t mind if I do!
A and an are not used when we are talking about uncountable nouns. Let’s have a look at what quantifiers we can use with those!
The quantifier some can be used with both plural countable and uncountable nouns. We can use it when talking about a limited amount of something. Have you got some? Some is vague and indefinite – it you want to talk about an amount bigger than one, and not too much, use some. In questions where we are asking for or offering things, we can also use some.
Any is similar to some – we use it to talk about an indefinite number or amount. Any can be used in questions with uncountable nouns, and countable nouns in the plural form. Do you have any vegetarian options? Why, yes, we do! If it doesn’t matter which one you want, you can use any. What vegetarian food do you want? Oh, it doesn’t matter. Any vegetarian dish will do! Any can also mean none. Sorry, we don’t have any vegetarian options.
The quantifier many can be used to talk about a large quantity of something. As such, it is used when we talk about countable nouns. Using many in some situations can sound overly formal, and a little odd in spoken English. In order to sound a little more natural and casual, try using a lot of instead.
A lot of
The quantifier a lot of can be used in an affirmative sentence to talk about a large quantity of an uncountable noun. I have a lot of homework to do this weekend. Well, looks like you won’t be getting to that party – better get home and do it! A lot of can also be used with the pluralized form of countable nouns. You really did cook a lot of popcorn. Perhaps you should invite some friends over for a movie night to help you finish it all. We can use loads of in the same way, although it signifies a vast quantity of something and is used in an informal way. You might call your friend, and say: Do you want to come over later for a movie? I made loads of popcorn. Please help me eat it all!
One place we might not want to use loads of is at the hairdressers. Take loads of it off the top please. Hmm, that sounds like something you might regret! In this case you might be better to ask for a bit of it off. We can use bit of in the same informal way as loads of, but we use it when talking about a smaller quantity of things. There’s only a bit of popcorn left.