Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(13) Nouns and their Countability.

(The Relationship to Definiteness and Number; The Semantico-Grammatical Nature of Countability and the Degree of Grammaticalisation in English and Czech; Nouns Uncountable in Particular Meanings; Countability with Abstract Nouns; Lexical Means of Singularisation).

(13.1) Countability as a Grammatical Category

- a semantically-grammatical category

- (a) countable nouns = individual items; the names of countable separate objects, people, etc.

- countable N can be used with an article/in plural/with numerals

- (b) uncountable nouns, or, mass nouns = continuum, measurable x not countable; the names of things which we do not see as separate

- countable nouns: used with numerals and quantifiers without restriction (several proposals, many errors, a hundred years, etc.)

- uncountable nouns: not used with numerals, used with a restricted number of quantifiers (much trouble, little money, etc.)

- nouns used with higher numerals only: about five hundred cattle, twenty police, many folk, etc.

- E: countability has a greater degree of grammaticalisation, manifested also in the use of null article with uncountable nouns (salt is soluble in water)/indefinite article with countable nouns (a cat is a domestic animal)

- CZ: countability semantically manifested in the absence of uncountable nouns used with numerals, grammatically manifested only in the absence of plural in uncountable nouns

(13.2) Countable Nouns

- some countable nouns used with null article in some special situations

(1) particular syntactic positions

- of-phrase: the type of sentence, the role of subject, this kind of tree, etc.

(2) particular phrasal use

- all/enough + SG: she's all woman, there's not enough table for everyone to sit at, etc.

- also: in person, step by step, go by train, etc.

(3) idiosyncratic items

- the semantic meaning of the article (both definite and indefinite) does not fit into some contexts: it was morning x it was a sunny morning; he was friend to us, etc.

(13.3) Countable/Uncountable Nouns

(1) material: uncountable x product of the material: countable

- chocolate [čokoláda] x chocolates [čokoládové bonbony], stone [kamení] x precious stones [drahé kameny], oak [dubovina] x oaks [duby], etc.

(2) abstraction: uncountable x its concrete manifestation: countable

- a fate worse than death x several deaths from drowning; these facts show that x the story is founded on fact; act without thought x keep one's thoughts to oneself; listen in silence x there was a sudden silence; explain in great detail x don't omit a single detail; etc.

- experience1 = zkušenost: uncountable x experience2 = zážitek: countable (she has too little experience x it was a grand experience)

(3) substance: uncountable x a kind of substance: countable

- to prefer red wine x to have a large assortment of local wines; tobacco(s), wheat(s), etc.

(3') substance: uncountable x a portion of the substance: countable

- coffee(s), ice(s), etc.

(4) characteristics: uncountable x a bearer of the characteristics: countable

- beauty x she is a beauty; his writings sparkle with wit x he is a notable wit; a man of genius x he is a genius; etc.

(5) idiosyncratic items: uncountable in one meaning x countable in another

- fruit [ovoce] x fruits [plody práce]; paper [papír] x papers [noviny]; toast [toast] x toasts [přípitek]; etc.

(13.4) Uncountable Nouns

(1) collective nouns, composite objects

(2) names of materials, abstractions, substances, characteristics

(3) most of singularia/pluralia tantum

(4) partially converted adjectives

(5) idiosyncratic items

- CZ x E differences: evidence, information, homework, knowledge, luggage, money, news, etc. countable in CZ x uncountable in E

- some uncountable nouns can be used with an indefinite article when modified: get up in darkness x an oppressive darkness; by general consent x an unwilling consent; etc.

- x uncountable even when modified: great fun, hard luck, great happiness, etc.

(13.5) Lexical Means of Singularisation

(1) special lexical items to use uncountable nouns as countable: these lexical items have then little semantic meaning

- an act of friendliness / kindness / mercy; an article of news / clothing / furniture; a bar of chocolate; a bit of advice / information / knowledge; a cake of soap; a case of measles / mumps; a fit of anger / coughing / enthusiasm; a flash of lighting; an item of news / interest / evidence; a loaf of bread / cheese; a lump of sugar; a piece of luggage / chalk / advice; a point of interest; a sheet of iron / metal / paper; a shred of evidence; a slice of bread / cake / cheese; a stroke of good luck / misfortune / success; a word of advice / counsel'

(2) some uncountable nouns > countable synonyms

- work > jobs; housework > chores; imagination > fancies; etc.

(2’) uncountable nouns ending in –ing > countable converted nouns as synonyms

- smoking > have a smoke; breathing > take a deep breath; etc.

(3) uncountable pluralia tantum referring to people/names of nationalities > countable synonyms with man/men

- the sick > the sick people; the poor > a poor man; the English > the Englishmen; etc.


Dušková, Libuše, et al. Mluvnice současné angličtiny na pozadí češtiny. Praha: Academia, 2003.

Svoboda, Aleš, and Mária Opělová Károlyová. A Brief Survey of the English Morphology. Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita, 1993.

Other Sources

Veselovská, Ludmila. Přednášky a semináře: Morfologie 2. ZS 2003/04.


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