Have you ever tried to pay a compliment to your female English-speaking friend, saying something like: “Your hairs are so beautiful!” and seeing her really surprised and puzzled?
If so, it is important to sort out how to use countable and uncountable nouns correctly.
The main thing to understand is that countable nouns have both a singular and a plural form. We can use indefinite articles with the singular form and an -s ending with the plural form:
a book – books
Uncountable nouns are only singular, they are usually abstract nouns:
beauty, information, intelligence, hunger, love, etc.
names of substances:
flour, leather, metal, coffee, butter, bread, etc.
luggage, equipment, accommodation, furniture, etc.
activities and sports, especially those expressed by gerunds:
gardening, running, badminton, shopping, swimming, etc.
names of subjects:
art, history, music, physics, mathematics, etc.
Russian, Greek, German, English, etc.
However, we can express quantities of such nouns with quantifiers as a lot of, much, a bit of, a great deal of or use partitives to describe exact measurements:
a loaf of bread
an hour of work
a kilo of rice
a piece of furniture
Please note! We need to remember that some nouns which are countable in other languages are uncountable in English: advice, traffic, news, etc.:
There is some advice for you to listen to.
The news of his death is shocking.
There isn’t much traffic in the city today.
Let’s also talk about the differences between nouns when they are used as countables or as uncountables. Some of such nouns change their meaning:
I’d like to have a glass of orange juice. (countable)
Where have I put my glasses, I can’t see a thing without them. (always plural)
Glass is made of raw materials such as sand, soda ash and limestone. (uncountable)
Other nouns are uncountable when we talk about a material, a substance, or a concept, but countable when we have in mind one specific item:
Look at her glossy brown hair!
Oh, my god! There is a hair in my soup!
Some nouns can be countable when we are describing their kinds:
I don’t usually drink wine for breakfast.
South Africa has impressed us with its excellent-tasting red wines.
In informal English, when we want to talk about some food or drinks as portions:
We’d like a milkshake for the girl and two beers.
Well, now you are well-aware of the way countable and uncountable nouns are used in the English language and will never see your friend’s face go red after your compliments.