TOEFL IBT – Count Nouns & Mass Nouns

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Nouns can be divided into two categories: count nouns and mass nouns, depending on what kinds of modifiers a noun can occur with.

Count Nouns

Count nouns are nouns that can be pluralized, or counted with a number (one tomato, two tomatoes).

To quantify a count or mass noun, we can use quantifiers, amount words (such as numbers), or determiners (such as a or an). A quantifier is a word that comes before the noun and indicates the quantity or amount being referred to. Some quantifiers that are used with count nouns cannot be used with mass nouns, and vice versa.

  • a lot of cats -> a lot of furniture (a lot of works with count AND mass nouns)
  • several cats -> several furniture (several works with count nouns but NOT mass nouns)
  • a little water -> a little potatoes (a little works with mass nouns but NOT count nouns)

Examples

  • She has two cats. (amount word)
  • She has a cat. (determiner)
  • She has many cats. (quantifier)
  • They bought ten balloons for the party. (amount word)
  • They bought some balloons for the party. (quantifier)
  • They bought many balloons for the party. (quantifier)

But you CANNOT say:

  • She has cat.  -> She has a cat
  • They bought balloon.  -> They bought a balloon.

Here are some common quantifiers:

all each few/a few/fewer many several
any enough little/a little/less more some
both every lots of/a lot of no

Tips:

  • A mass noun in your home language may be a count noun in English!
  • Certain quantifiers, like some, can be used with count nouns AND mass nouns! (some hair; some buildings)
  • If you can put a number in front of a noun and it makes sense, it is a count noun.
    • seven cups
    • seven oil

Mass Nouns

Mass nouns (also called uncountable nouns or non-count nouns) are nouns that cannot be pluralized. To quantify a mass noun, we need to use quantifiers, amount words, or determiners.

Examples

  • How much rice did you buy? (determiner)
  • They know French. (no determiner)
  • He has some furniture. (quantifier)
  • That piece of furniture is beautiful. (amount words)
  • They own ten pieces of furniture. (amount words)

But you CANNOT say:

  • He has a furniture. -> He has some furniture.
  • You bought a rice. -> You bought some rice.
  • They know a French. -> They know French.

There are also some nouns that change between mass and count depending on meaning.

  • Can I have a glass, please? (glass refers to the object used for drinking–therefore, here it is a count noun)
  • The table is made of glass. (glass refers to the material–therefore, here it is a mass noun)

BE CAREFUL: Just because the plural form of a noun does not change (one deer, two deer), does NOT mean it is a mass noun!

Tips:

  • A count noun in your home language may be a mass noun in English!
  • Mass nouns only have a singular form. (oxygen, NOT oxygens)
    • HOWEVER: There are many cat hairs on my jacket. -> referring to individual strands of hair, not hair as a whole
  • Names of languages are also mass nouns! (English, French, Chinese)

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