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Lesson 1.2c Mass and Count Nouns

downloable worksheet


All languages have a distinction between nouns that are countable (count nouns) and those that are not (mass nouns). Count nouns refer to things that are discrete units, while mass nouns refer to unbounded masses.  For example, the count noun toad is used to denote individual toads, but rice cannot be used to denote individual “rices,” so rice is a mass noun.


mass nouns: mud, mail, information

count nouns: frog, idea, shoe


And there are some handy tests to distinguish these. Count nouns can be pluralized and they can occur with numbers or other words that express quantities: one, both, many, etc. Mass nouns can’t be pluralized, can’t be counted, and occur with much or less. (But both mass and count nouns can occur with the, all, and some.)


Take some nouns and try them out. Can the noun be pluralized? (If so, it’s a count noun.) Can it occur with a? (If so, it’s a count noun.) Can it occur with much? (If so, it’s a mass noun.) Did you find any nouns that work both ways, like light? (I turned on two lights. There is not much light in this room.)


Determine whether the following nouns are mass nouns, count nouns, or both. Be prepared to provide evidence for your answer.


            gerbil                                              sheep

            food                                                homework

            freedom                                          sky

            neighborhood                                water


Teacher note: In general, less is used with mass nouns, while fewer is used with count nouns. But less has long been used with count nouns too, in fact. Many a grocery store sign says “10 Items or Less,” and although some people get upset about it, less has been used with countable things ever since English was English. Apparently, King Alfred (the Great) who was a staunch defender of English used it that way in his writings, way back in the 800s. And we’ve seen it ever since.]


See also lesson 1.2a on irregular plurals, if you haven't already.


key words: nouns, parts of speech, mass and count nouns


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.1a: Explain the function of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in general and their functions in particular sentences. 

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.1c:Use abstract nouns (e.g., childhood). 


Here is this lesson as a pdf.

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