Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Grammar Handbook: Mass and Count Nouns
Every noun can also be distinguished as count or mass.
Count nouns are nouns that can be quantified or counted with a number.
A few examples:
- Names of persons, animals, plants, insects, and their parts: a boy, a kitten, a rose, an ear, three boys, seven kittens, twelve roses, two ears
- Objects with a definite shape: a building, a balloon, a house, an octopus, four buildings, six balloons, four houses, two octopi
- Units of measurement and words of classification: a gram, a pound, a piece, a lump, an item, a bit, a family, a state, a language, a phrase, a word
- Some abstract words: a hindrance, a scheme, an idea, a plan, a taboo, a rest
Tests for Count Nouns:
- Count nouns can be quantified by a number.
- They have singular and plural forms.
- They can use a, an, or one as a modifier.
- They can use "many" as a modifier.
Mass nouns are uncountable by a number. Mass nouns are quantified by a word that signifies amount.
A few examples:
- Materials, food, metals, and natural qualities: bread, cotton, wood, lightness, adolescence
- Names of liquids, gases, and substances made of many small particles: cappuccino, oil, smoke, oxygen, rice, sugar, salt, cement, gravel
- Names of languages: English, Spanish, French, Latin, Sanskrit, Chinese
- Most gerunds: looking, listening, swimming, running, anticipating
Remember that a number can not be used to quantify a mass noun. Incorrect: four woods, one rice, three courages.
To measure or classify mass nouns, use "of" after a measurement: a foot of wood, a pound of rice, an ounce of courage, a bar of chocolate, a piece of music, a bag of money
Tests for Mass Nouns:
- Mass nouns are quantified by an amount rather than a number.
- They have only one form (singular).
- They cannot have "a," "an," or "one" before them as modifiers.
- They can use "much" as a modifier.