There is more to nouns than just name, place, animal, and thing! One of the classic examples of confusion that surrounds nouns is countable and uncountable nouns and their use with modifiers. Not having clarity of countable and uncountable nouns is one reason why many students make mistakes in SC. In this article, we will clear your doubts surrounding these nouns and also solve an official question to enhance your understanding of the same.

I. COUNTABILITY IN NOUNS

Before we talk about terms used to refer to quantities in nouns, let us understand the idea of countability in nouns.

1.       Countable nouns

A noun can refer to something that has physical existence, can be seen, and can be counted as separate units. Such nouns fall in the category of countable nouns.

For example, human, mango, key, etc

More than one human = humans (two, three, four…and so on)

More than one mango = mangoes (two, three, four…and so on)

A simple example of countable nouns.

For such nouns, plurality is denoted by adding “s”, “es”, “ies”, “ves” and such after the words.

2.      Uncountable nouns

The nouns that fall in this category could be of two types:

2.1 Have physical existence, can be seen but cannot be counted as separate units

For example, water, cement, furniture, luggage, money, etc

Plurality in such nouns is denoted by adding words indicating measurement or numbers with them.

For example,

a bucket of water or buckets of water

a bag of cement or bags of cement

a pieces of furniture or pieces of furniture

Water is an uncountable noun. To use it as a countable noun, you can relate it to a countable object such as a bucket of water.

2.1 Do not have physical existence and therefore cannot be seen or counted

For example, air, words denoting qualities (love, happiness, hunger, etc).

3. Nouns that fall in both categories

There are many nouns that maintain the same form whether singular or plural.

For example –

  1. Fish
  2. Prey
  3. Faculty
  4. Deer
  5. Sheep, etc

For such nouns, even if we are referring to more than one unit, we use the same singular form for the plural form.

For example –

The deer was hurt by the hunter’s arrow.

Frightened by the forest fire, the deer are running for their lives.  

Apart from adding “s” etc and words denoting measurement/numbers to indicate quantity, there are many adjectives or modifiers that are used to indicate the quantity of both countable and uncountable nouns. However, there are

  • adjectives/modifiers that are accepted only with countable nouns
  • adjectives/modifiers that are accepted only with uncountable nouns
  • adjectives/modifiers accepted with both countable and uncountable nouns

Let us look at some of the above modifiers –

II. Modifiers used only with countable nouns

The following modifiers are used to denote quantity of only countable nouns:

  • Few

Correct: A few tables were occupied in the restaurant in the evening.

Incorrect: Janet likes fewer sugar with her coffee than with her tea.

  • Many, several

Correct: Several trees need to be planted for every tree cut down.

Incorrect: One should not drink too many water before eating.

  • Number

a. A number of (take a plural verb)

Correct: A number of books have been donated to the school library.

Incorrect: A number of books has been donated to the school library.

b. The number of (takes a singular verb)

Correct: The number of books donated to the school library is not very big.

Incorrect: The number of books donated to the school library are not very big.

  • Numerous, Multiple, Various

Correct: There are multiple ways of solving the given problem.

Incorrect: Numerous knowledge is gained by reading books.

III. Modifiers used only with uncountable nouns

The following modifiers are used to denote quantity of only uncountable nouns:

  • Little, Less

Correct: A little knowledge is dangerous.

Correct: Janet likes less sugar with her coffee than with her tea.

Incorrect: The lecture had less students in attendance today than yesterday.

  • Much

Correct: There isn’t much grain in the local granary.

Incorrect: There isn’t many grain in the local granary.

  • Amount

Correct: The amount of work that needs to be accomplished today is huge.

Incorrect: The amount of essays that needs to be written is huge.

IV. Modifiers used with countable + uncountable nouns

The following modifiers are used to denote quantity of both countable and uncountable nouns –

  • All

Correct: All the flowers in the garden are red in color.

Correct: All the water in the reservoir has dried up.

  • Some

Correct: Some mangoes in the basket are green.

Correct: Janet needs some sugar to sweeten her coffee.

  • More

Correct: There are more cars on the road today even though it’s a holiday.

Correct: Jack wants more rice as he is still hungry.

  • Most

Correct: Most of my friends are from the same locality.

Correct: Most of the money that Jane saved has now been spent.

  • Enough

Correct: There aren’t enough ice-creams for all the children

Correct: There isn’t enough food to feed all the people at the party.

  • None

When plural – None of the pencils are sharp enough for use.

When singular – None of the stolen money was ever found.

Note: GMAT does not test the use of “none”

  • Any

When plural – Are there any extra chairs for the party?

When singular – Is there any coffee left in the container?

An example to understand how to use modifiers with countable and uncountable nouns

V. Solving an official question

Question –

Next month, state wildlife officials are scheduled to take over the job of increasing the wolf population in the federally designated recovery area, the number of which will however ultimately be dictated by the number of prey in the area.

(A) area, the number of which will however

(B) area; the size of the population, however, will

(C) area, however the number of wolves will

(D) area; the number of which will, however,

(E) area, when the size of the population will, however,

Solution –

Step 1: Understanding Intended Meaning

Next month, state wildlife officials are scheduled to take over the job of increasing the wolf population in the federally designated recovery area,

  • Next month, certain officials are all set to take over a certain job.
  • The job of increasing wolf population in a certain area.
  • The prepositional phrase “in…area” modifies the noun “wolf population

the number of which will however ultimately be dictated by the number of prey in the area.

  • The phrase “the number of which” means “whose number”.

    – This phrase can modify either “area” next to which it is placed or it can modify the noun “wolf population” – both the cases would be  illogical since the quantifier “number” can only be used for countable nouns and not mass nouns like “population”. The noun “area” is singular here and therefore its “number” is illogical.

    MeM (modified entity +modifier) pair does not agree logically

    – Context indicates that it is the size of the wolf population that is intended by the use of “the number of which”.

    – But the size of the wolf population will be finally decided by the number of prey in the area.
    -This is correct since “prey” is also the plural form of the singular “prey”.

Intended meaning:

  • Next month, state wildlife officials are set to take over a job
  • This job is of increasing wolf population in the federally designated recovery area.
  • But the size of the wolf population will be finally decided by the number of prey in that area.

Step 2: Eliminate choices with identified errors

a. Checking for five aspects

  • Golden rules – MeM (modified entity +modifier) pair does not agree logically
  • Meaning – Distorted meaning
  • Lists – No error
  • Tenses – No error
  • Idioms

b. Eliminate

The following choice/s have one or more of the errors present in Choice A –

Choice D

Step 3: Evaluate meaning of remaining choices

To be done for Option B, C and E . Detailed out below each choice:

a. Choice A Analysis

  • Incorrect and Eliminated in Step 2

b. Choice B Analysis

  • Fitting in the original sentence –

Next month, state wildlife officials are scheduled to take over the job of increasing the wolf population in the federally designated recovery area; the size of the population, however, will ultimately be dictated by the number of prey in the area.

The semi colon correctly separates the two clauses while keeping intact the intended meaning.

  • Logical
  • Clear,
  • Same as the intended meaning

Correct Choice.

c. Choice C Analysis

Fitting in the original sentence:

Next month, state wildlife officials are scheduled to take over the job of increasing the wolf population in the federally designated recovery area, however the number of wolves will ultimately be dictated by the number of prey in the area.

  • However is intended to serve as a connector between the two independent clauses, but the comma creates a confusion by suggesting that however is modifying “are scheduled”. The “however” must be separated by a semi colon here to separate the two independent clauses and should be followed by a comma.

Incorrect Choice.

d. Choice D Analysis

Incorrect and Eliminated in Step 2

e. Choice E Analysis

Fitting in the original sentence:

Next month, state wildlife officials are scheduled to take over the job of increasing the wolf population in the federally designated recovery area, when the size of the population will, however, ultimately be dictated by the number of prey in the area.

  • “When”, used for indicating time, has been used incorrectly and conveys the illogical meaning that “next month” the size of the population will be decided by the number of prey.

Incorrect Choice.