Count and Non Count Nouns

Some nouns name a specific item, such as a “chair,” “table” or “desk.” One can say how many desks are in a room, therefore desks can be counted. Other nouns like “furniture” can mean an unspecified amount of chairs tables and desks. Only one chair is described as furniture, and six thousand chairs are also furniture.

Words like Furniture are called mass nouns. Mass nouns are non count nouns. They cannot be expressed as a plural. No matter how many there are they are still expressed without an “s.” Other examples of mass nouns are poultry, cattle, wildlife, electricity and livestock. Even though these words are used to describe a quantity of something one cannot count these non count nouns.

Abstract nouns are also non count nouns. Abstract nouns are nouns that cannot be seen or touched, yet they have meaning. They are the opposite of concrete nouns such as chair, table and lamp. Examples of abstract nouns are love, peace, courage, knowledge, wisdom, education and justice. One cannot take a count of wisdom or peace, nor can we see them so they are both abstract and non count nouns.

Sometimes a non count noun can be used as a count noun, and expressed as a plural. Nouns that can be both count and non count nouns are called exceptions. One exception is in the category of food. Words like food, cheese, wine, water, fruit, meat, and bread are all non count nouns. Yet when speaking of several different types of food, people sometimes say foods, as in, “the frozen foods section of the grocery store.” The same is true of wine, cheese, fruit, meat, and bread.

It is incorrect to use the word “cheeses” to describe a pack of American singles because they are all alike, but one only says cheeses when referring to an array of different kinds of cheese. There are abstract noun exceptions such as using the word justices, when speaking of high level judges. Most of these examples for using abstract nouns as count nouns, involve other definitions for those nouns.