Count and Non-count Nouns

Some things can be counted.

We do not try to count some things because we deal with them in volume. (In theory, I suppose you could count the individual cornflakes or the individual flakes of snow, but nobody ever does that.)

Other nouns do not get counted because they are concepts or they are collective nouns.

Non-count nouns cannot be plural and cannot be broken into parts.

Modifiers that go with count and non-count nouns

If we can count something, we use words like "many" or "six" or "a few" and we get:

If we cannot count something, we use volume words such as "a great amount" or "much" or "a little bit of" (and the informal "a lot of") and we get:

(Some modifiers can go both ways—enough, plenty of, and no for example.)

A word about idiomatic expressions

An idiom is "just the way we say it." Some of them are logical and some are traditional. These examples are not idiomatic because they do not follow the count/non-count rules. People who speak or write this way have marked themselves as foreigners to our language.

Now we get to people…

For some reason, many of my writers like to use volume words for people, so they write about "a great amount of students."

OK—I suppose you can measure people by volume. If 15 students show up with an average weight of 150 pounds, we get 2250 pounds or 1⅛ tons of student. That works out to about 269 gallons or approximately 36 cubic feet of student. But who would talk this way?
If the Dean were to ask me about attendance, I would use a number (15) or a count word (a few were absent today). He would call me crazy if I announced that 269 gallons of student showed up. Or 36 cubic feet of student.

Use count words, not volume words for people.

…and that odd hybrid.

I keep reading papers that refer to "a numerous amount" of something. It's trying to slam a count word (numerous) together with a volume word (amount) and the result is highfalutin hash. Don't try to sound academic by piling up words that don't belong together.


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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 8/2/20 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.