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Serenity Carr, Assistant Editor
What does [count] and [noncount] mean before a definition?
Friday August 17th 2018
Question
Some of the words in your dictionary have [count] or [noncount] before the definition. Some words don't. What does [count] and [noncount] mean?  — Jeanne , United States
Answer

The entries in our dictionary that have the [count] and [noncount] labels are all nouns. Every noun is used as either a count noun or a noncount noun. Some nouns can be used in both ways. So what are count and noncount nouns?

 

A count noun is a noun that can be counted. Some count nouns are cat, book, person, letter, and thought. Each one can be counted, and when there is more than one, it takes a plural form: cats, books, people, letters, thoughts. Below are examples of how each is used.

  • I have one cat but my sister has two cats.
  • We have too many books on that shelf.
  • There are so many people on the train I can't sit down.
  • I have a thought: we should try

 

A noncount noun is a noun that cannot be counted. Sometimes non count nouns are called mass nouns. Non count nouns cannot be counted and so they do not have a plural form. Some noncount nouns are milk, sand, mud, homework, and happiness. Below are examples of how each is used.

  • Can you pour me a glass of milk please? (NOT "Can you pour me a milk?")
  • The table is covered with sand.
  • You have mud all over your boots.
  • The homework is posted on the board.
  • My main goal in life is to find happiness in everyday tasks.

 

Some nouns have different meanings and can be used as both count nouns and non count nouns. An example of this is breath.

When breath is used to mean "air that is inhaled and exhaled when you breathe" it is a noncount noun, as in the examples below.

  • It was so beautiful it took the breath right out of me.
  • He avoided eating the onions because he didn’t want to have bad breath.
  • You have to hold your breath under water.

 

When breath is used to mean "a single amount of air that you take into your lungs at one time" it is a count noun, as in the examples below.

  • Take three deep breaths, please.
  • I drew one long breath before beginning my presentation.
  • The patient can only take shallow breaths.

 

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