In linguistics, a count noun (also countable noun) is a noun that can be modified by a numeral) and that occurs in both singular and plural forms, and that co-occurs with quantificational determiners like every, each, several, etc. A mass noun has none of these properties, because it cannot be modified by a numeral, cannot occur in plural, and cannot co-occur with quantificational determiners.
Below are examples of all the properties of count nouns holding for the count noun chair, but not for the mass noun furniture.
Occurrence in plural/singular.
- There is a chair in the room.
- There are chairs in the room.
- There is chair in the room. (incorrect)
- There is a furniture in the room. (incorrect)
- There are furnitures in the room. (incorrect)
- There is furniture in the room.
Co-occurrence with count determiners
- Every chair is man made.
- There are several chairs in the room.
- Every furniture is man made. (incorrect)
There are several furnitures in the room. (incorrect)
Some determiners can be used with both mass and count nouns, including "some", "a lot (of)", "no".
Others cannot: "few" and "many" are used with count items, "little" and "much" with mass. (On the other hand, "fewer" is reserved for count and "less" for mass, but "more" is the proper comparative for both "many" and "much".)
In linguistics, a mass noun, uncountable noun, or non-count noun is a noun with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets. Non-count nouns are distinguished from count nouns.
In English, mass nouns are characterized by the fact that they cannot be directly modified by a numeral without specifying a unit of measurement, and that they cannot combine with an indefinite article (a or an). Thus, the mass noun "water" is quantified as "20 litres of water" while the count noun "chair" is quantified as "20 chairs". However, both mass and count nouns can be quantified in relative terms without unit specification (e.g., "so much water," "so many chairs").
Some mass nouns can be used in English in the plural to mean "more than one instance (or example) of a certain sort of entity"—for example, Many cleaning agents today are technically not soaps, but detergents. In such cases they no longer play the role of mass nouns, but (syntactically) they are treated as count nouns.
Some nouns can be used indifferently as mass or count nouns, e.g., three cabbages or three heads of cabbage; three ropes or three lengths of rope. Some have different senses as mass and count nouns: paper is a mass noun as a material (three reams of paper, two sheets of paper), but a count noun as a unit of writing (the students passed in their papers).
Collective nouns are nouns that – even when they are inflected for the singular – refer to groups consisting of more than one individual or entity. Examples include committee, government, and police. These nouns may be followed by a singular or a plural verb and referred to by a singular or plural pronoun, the singular being generally preferred when referring to the body as a unit and the plural often being preferred, especially in British English, when emphasizing the individual members. Examples of acceptable and unacceptable use given by Gowers in Plain Words include:
- A committee was appointed to consider this subject. (singular)
- The committee were unable to agree. (plural)
- The committee were of one mind when I sat on them. (unacceptable use of plural)
Singulars and Plurals
English nouns are inflected for grammatical number, meaning that if they are of the countable type, they generally have different forms for singular and plural. This article discusses the variety of ways in which plural nouns are formed from the corresponding singular forms, as well as various issues concerning the usage of singulars and plurals in English. For plurals of pronouns, see personal pronouns