Did you know that some nouns in English can be both countable AND uncountable, depending on the situation? It’s true! For these words, the uncountable form usually refers to the general idea, and the countable form usually refers to a specific item.
Here are some examples of words that can be both countable AND uncountable:
Countable: The animal
- We have ten cows and fifteen chickens on our farm.
Uncountable: The food
- Would you like some chicken?
Countable: Individual documents
- I showed my papers to the immigration agent.
Uncountable: Paper in general
- I need to buy some paper – our printer is all out.
Countable: Specific events, moments in time
- We’ve been to Tokyo three times.
Uncountable: The general concept of time
- I didn’t have enough time to finish reading the book.
Countable: Individual strands of hair
- The last time I was at that restaurant, I found two hairs in my food!
Uncountable: Hair in general
- My sister has blonde hair.
Countable: The specific places in a house, apartment, hotel, etc.
- Our house has five rooms: the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room, and family room.
Uncountable: “Room” meaning “space” in general
- I’ll make some room for these new books in the bookshelf.
Countable: Specific memories of past events
- I have fond memories of the volleyball games my friends and I used to play in college.
Uncountable: The ability to remember (in general)
- I have a terrible memory. I always forget people’s names!
coffee / water / beer / tea / soda
Countable: When asking for a specific number of these drinks
- Could you bring us three coffees with milk, and two herbal teas?
Uncountable: When talking about the drink in general
- I drink a lot of coffee, but I don’t drink very much beer.