Why is it important to know if a noun is countable or uncountable?
The answer is because it affects the grammar of your sentence and the other words that you must use to compliment the noun such as: few, little, much, many, a, some etc.
Countable nouns are those that have a singular and a plural form, e.g. car(s), book(s), computer(s), idea(s), church(es), man (men), tooth (teeth), person (people) * etc.
Uncountable nouns are those that have only one form, e.g. homework, furniture, money, sugar, pasta, water, news * etc
- people is the plural form of person and must be treated as a plural word by comparison to the word ‘gente’ in Spanish which is a singular form.
- news is often used incorrectly by students as a countable noun, who refer to ‘a new’ when talking about a news item. The problem is possibly due to the word having the letter ‘s’ at the end of the recognisably English word ‘new’. News is an uncountable word in English.
Sometimes nouns can be used as countable and uncountable
Uncountable nouns can be used as countable when you are describing:
- a type of something, e.g. a new Spanish cheese, a fresh apple juice
- a quantity of something, e.g. two coffees, a beer, one sugar
Few, (a) Little, Much, Many & a lot (of)
With countable nouns we can use quantifiers such as few, many and a lot (of)
- (affirmative) There were few people at the concert.
- (affirmative) There were a lot of people at the concert.
- (negative) There weren’t many people at the concert.
- (interrogative) Were there many people at the concert?
With uncountable nouns we can use quantifiers such as (a) little, much and a lot (of)
- (affirmative) She had little homework to do.
- (affirmative) She had a lot of homework to do.
- (negative) She didn’t have much homework to do.
- (interrogative) Did she have much homework to do?
So you can see that a lot (of) is quite flexible and in fact can be used with both forms and in all tenses: affirmative, negative and interrogative.