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Uncountable Noun

Term Definition
Uncountable Noun

The uncountable noun refers to any object that cannot be quantified or broken down into discrete units.

This type of noun is a synonym for mass nouns and usually refers to the objects without clear boundaries as units. For example, if you ask someone for "some water", then water here is an uncountable noun: it has no clear boundaries as a unit.

Using uncountable nouns

Here is an example of the uncountable noun being used correctly in a sentence. 

"Last night, he called his parents and told them that he wanted some money; but when they asked how much, he didn't specify." 

The word money in this sentence is a correctly used uncountable noun. 

Now, here is an example of the uncountable noun being used in an incorrect way

"The city officials laid out a list of guidelines regarding what people can do in order to prevent the occurrence of forest fire." 

Fire in this sentence is not an uncountable noun, insofar as a forest fire is a discrete unit; fire should thus be in the plural form. 

In case you would still like a little more information about the uncountable noun, here are a couple rules you can follow

1. The best way to figure out if a noun is an uncountable noun is to test it with your imagination. Can you imagine it as a discrete unit, lined up with other discrete units like itself? If you can, then it is a countable noun; if not, then it is an uncountable noun.

2. It's important to remember that just because something is abstract, it does mean it's uncountable. For example, you can have many kinds of abstract nouns that are countable.

3. It is important to remember that many words can be used in both countable and uncountable noun forms. Most drinks, for example, are like this. If you say "some beer", this would be an uncountable noun; but if you say "a beer", then this would be countable. 

The subjective nature of uncountable nouns

The most important thing to realize about the concept of the uncountable noun is that the uncountability is less a property of the object itself as of the way in which the object is being described by language. For example, in the uncountable noun phrase "some water", it would be theoretically possible to quantify this water in terms of ounces or even molecules. The point, though, is that the phrase itself does not lend itself to such quantification; it merely signifies water as a kind of vague substance, without really delimiting the water as a unit. This, of course, does nothing to change the water per se; but it does change the language user's perception of it. 

This is a good example of how language itself plays an important role in structuring reality. The concept of the uncountable noun has much less to do with the objective world than with how people subjectively perceive that word. For example, many liquids and gases are represented by the uncountable noun due to the fact that people have a hard time delimiting these substances into units; whereas human beings are generally referred to by countable nouns, for obvious reasons. The grammatical differences are thus reflective of differences in perception.

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Synonyms: uncountable-noun

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