The word noun on a typewriter
CommonMistakes
Common mistakes: nouns that can be countable or uncountable

Take a look at the two examples below – what’s the difference in meaning and usage of the word experience? Previous retail (the activity of selling goods to the public, usually in shops) experience is essential for this job. I visited the US as a child and again recently for work. Both experiences were interesting, but very different. Countable and uncountable nouns: We all know that some nouns in English are countable - car/cars, person/people, book/books - and some nouns are uncountable – water, information, happiness – and that countable and uncountable nouns behave in different ways. Just a quick recap: (Click image to enlarge) (Click image to enlarge) Nouns that can be countable AND uncountable: Going back to our first examples though, we can see that in the first sentence, experience is being used as an uncountable noun to talk generally about all the experience a person has working in retail considered together: (Click image to enlarge) Look at some more examples of experience as an uncountable noun. Notice the common collocations. Which other words in the sentences are affected by the form of the noun experience? Students gain work experience through internships. Her extensive experience in software design has been really useful. They have limited knowledge and experience of working in China. In the second sentence, experience is a countable noun which refers to particular events which the person has experienced, i.e. two separate visits to the US: (Click image to enlarge) Here are some more examples of experience as a countable noun. Which other words are affected by the form of the noun experience here? I had a bad experience on a flight once and it put me off flying. It was an amazing trip and I had some wonderful experiences. his whole experience has changed the way I see education. Some other common nouns which are used as both countable and uncountable nouns in different contexts include: Uncountable: Hurry up, we don’t have much time before our train. Countable: I’ve called her several times, but I just get her voicemail (time = occasion) Uncountable: We went out for a long walk in the country (country = countryside) Countable: The graph shows average working hours in four countries; the UK, the US, Japan and France. Uncountable: For my graduation, my parents wore traditional Nigerian dress (dress = clothes in general for men and women) Countable: Ana was wearing a lovely yellow dress (dress = an item of women’s clothing) Reminder: (Click image to enlarge) I hope you found this blog post useful.  

Julie Moore

1 September, 2021

Common mistakes: nouns that can be countable or uncountable

The word noun on a typewriter

Take a look at the two examples below – what’s the difference in meaning and usage of the word experience?

  1. Previous retail (the activity of selling goods to the public, usually in shops) experience is essential for this job.
  2. I visited the US as a child and again recently for work. Both experiences were interesting, but very different.

Countable and uncountable nouns:

We all know that some nouns in English are countable - car/cars, person/people, book/books - and some nouns are uncountable – water, information, happiness – and that countable and uncountable nouns behave in different ways. Just a quick recap:

Examples of countable nouns

(Click image to enlarge)

Examples of uncountable nouns

(Click image to enlarge)

Nouns that can be countable AND uncountable:

Going back to our first examples though, we can see that in the first sentence, experience is being used as an uncountable noun to talk generally about all the experience a person has working in retail considered together:

(No article) Previous retail experience (no plural form) is (singular verb form) essential for this job

(Click image to enlarge)

Look at some more examples of experience as an uncountable noun. Notice the common collocations. Which other words in the sentences are affected by the form of the noun experience?

  • Students gain work experience through internships.
  • Her extensive experience in software design has been really useful.
  • They have limited knowledge and experience of working in China.

In the second sentence, experience is a countable noun which refers to particular events which the person has experienced, i.e. two separate visits to the US:

(Quantifier) Both experiences (plural noun form) were (plural verb form) interesting, but very different.

(Click image to enlarge)

Here are some more examples of experience as a countable noun. Which other words are affected by the form of the noun experience here?

  • I had a bad experience on a flight once and it put me off flying.
  • It was an amazing trip and I had some wonderful experiences.
  • his whole experience has changed the way I see education.

Some other common nouns which are used as both countable and uncountable nouns in different contexts include:

  • Uncountable: Hurry up, we don’t have much time before our train.
  • Countable: I’ve called her several times, but I just get her voicemail (time = occasion)
  • Uncountable: We went out for a long walk in the country (country = countryside)
  • Countable: The graph shows average working hours in four countries; the UK, the US, Japan and France.
  • Uncountable: For my graduation, my parents wore traditional Nigerian dress (dress = clothes in general for men and women)
  • Countable: Ana was wearing a lovely yellow dress (dress = an item of women’s clothing)

Reminder:

Reminder to think carefully about context when using nouns in your writing

(Click image to enlarge)

I hope you found this blog post useful.

 

Julie Moore

Julie is a teacher and language researcher who uses data from IELTS test takers to better understand how we can help them improve.

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