Countability

From Teflpedia

Countability is a grammatical property of nouns, found in English and related languages.

Form[edit | edit source]

Nouns that can be counted are called countable nouns; nouns that can’t be counted are uncountable nouns. This concept is distinct from grammatical number; hence there are countable singulars, countable plurals, uncountable singulars and uncountable plurals.

Uncountable plurals are rare in English, though the most common is "clothes".

In English, countability primarily affects whether a singular noun can take an indefinite article. Contrast "I want a cake" (countable, with an indefinite article) versus "I want cake" (uncountable, with a zero article). Note that the indefinite article can be replaced by other articles or determiners that don’t mark countability - "I want the cake", "I want that cake", "I want my cake", etc may all be either countable or uncountable.

Secondly, countability affects whether a plural noun can take a numerical quantifier; countable plurals can have numerical quantifiers, e.g. I have five shirts, whereas uncountable plurals cannot take numerical quantifiers, e.g. not *I have five clothes).

Nouns that are dual number (e.g. scissors, trousers) typically are also uncountable as they have a fixed grammatical number of two, but can take a pair of, and may be counted by counting the pairs of them, e.g. six pairs of trousers.

Pedgagogy[edit | edit source]

In pedagogic grammar, sometimes countability is used as a rule to determine which forms are appropriate. For example, a rule is often given "Use 'there is' with uncountable nouns but 'there are' with countable nouns"; similar rules are often used for determiners "much/many" and "little/few". This "rule" is however, incorrect, though it may seem to work most of the time. A more accurate rule is that "there is" is used with singular nouns, and "there are" with plural nouns, regardless of countability.

On wikis[edit | edit source]

NB: An uncountable noun may have a subtly different meaning to its countable equivalent. Since all Teflpedia article titles are singular but articleless, it may be unclear to which concept a particular title refers.