Mass nouns cause a lot of problems for English learners.
Upper intermediate English learners usually know mass nouns, do you?
- A mass noun is a noun that names things that in English cannot usually be counted.
- A mass noun is generally used only in the singular.
- Many abstract nouns (non-physical nouns) are uncountable, but not all uncountable nouns are abstract.
For example, the word ‘clutter’ is a mass noun (it’s the name given to the total amount of garbage or refuse that makes up the clutter). The nouns clutter, garbage and refuse are uncountable nouns.
- That garage is full of clutter. [This sentence makes grammatical sense.]
- That garage is full of clutters (or full of garbages or full of refuses). [NOT grammatical]
Examples of Uncountable Nouns/Mass Nouns
Food and Drink:
bacon, beef, beer, bread, broccoli, butter, cabbage, candy, cauliflower, celery, cereal, cheese, chicken, chocolate, coffee, corn, cream, fish, flour, fruit, ice cream, lettuce, meat, milk, oil, pasta, rice, salt, spinach, sugar, tea, water, wine, and yogurt
If you are not sure if a noun is countable or uncountable, look in a dictionary.
Uncountable nouns are preceded by [u], and the countable nouns are preceded by [c]
Tests for Mass Nouns:
- Mass nouns are quantified by an amount rather than a number.
- Mass nouns have only one form (singular).
- Mass nouns cannot be quantified by "a," "an," or "one".
- Mass nouns can be quantified by a determiner, such as:
a little/little/very little
a bit (of)
a great deal of
a large amount of
a large quantity of
a lot of
IMPROVE YOUR USE OF MASS NOUNS
1 Write a sentence (or many sentences) using the mass nouns and determiners above
2 Select a mass noun from the Food and Drink list above.
3 Use a noncount determiner from the list above
ENGLISH LEARNERS, NESs, TEACHERS, and TUTORS ARE WELCOME TO COMMENT ON THE SUBMITTED SENTENCE EXAMPLES
I wrote a short poem to have some fun :)
Bread, Broccoli and Butter,
Said one day to the Water,
''Just like you, Coffee, and Wine
We take no a, no an, no one
They say that we are selfish
Like a sea with a lot of fish
That we want it all
And nothing is enough at all
But we are happy with a bit of fun
Or maybe a little laughter in the sun.''
Many years ago (500 years ago) the noun thank was used in the singular form.
Although the verb thank is common, especially in the exclamation thank you, you wouldn’t give somebody a single thank – unless you happened to be in Ancient Britain and using the Old English thanc.
The singular form was dropped and the plural form thanks became commonly used.
So, the noun thanks is always found in the plural form, e.g., I send you my thanks (my many expressions of gratitude).
Your countable/uncountable example is great, "Once I shot a bull, instead (shootting) OF SHOOTING some bull."
The animal "bull" can be counted, so it's countable, e.g. 20 bulls, but the noun "bull" in the expression "shooting some bull" is uncountable because it's an abstract concept (just words/not something that can be counted) and it means:
1 - To talk about something that is not important; wasting time talking; friendly talking about nothing
2 - To lie and exaggerate
Every rule seems to have an exception.
So, the words food and art can both be countable sometimes and uncountable (a mass noun) other times.
uncountable: "I love to eat food". "Food is a good thing to eat".
countable: "There are many different kinds of foods in the world." [foods = many types or kinds of food]
uncountable: "I love to look at beautiful art" [art includes paintings, sculptures, things that can be seen]
countable: "When I went to university I studied the sciences, but some of my friends studied the arts" [arts include literature, painting, sculpturing, music, dance, etc]