An article of clothing and a ray of sunshine: making uncountable nouns countable (2)

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by Liz Walter

My last post introduced the topic of adding words to uncountable nouns so that they can be used in a countable way. In that post, I concentrated on food words. Today, we will look at some other topics.

I will start with the general words article, piece and item, which are often used to describe one of a set of (usually relatively large) things, such as furniture, clothing or equipment:

The case contained several articles of clothing.

This piece of equipment is used for cutting the metal.

We hired a van to move the larger items of furniture.

Words for feelings and emotions are often uncountable, but there are several words we can use to talk about individual instances or small amounts of them. Some indicate positive emotions, for example a burst of enthusiasm or energy, a glimmer/ray of hope or happiness and a tingle of excitement:

In a burst of enthusiasm, I joined a gym.

The vaccine has given us a glimmer of hope at last.

Others are more negative, for instance a pang of hunger or remorse or a sudden, intense flash of anger. The word ounce is used in negative sentences to show that someone does not show a positive emotion at all:

I did have the occasional pang of remorse about quitting my course.

These people don’t have an ounce of compassion.

Weather is a topic that also has a lot of important uncountable nouns. Some of them become countable by forming compound nouns such as raindrop, hailstone and snowflake:

The ground was covered with hailstones.

Snowflakes fell softly to the ground.

Others add separate nouns, for example a rumble/clap of thunder, a flash/bolt of lightning, a ray of sunshine, a gust of wind and a sheet of ice:

A clap of thunder overhead made us all jump.

A gust of wind blew his hat off.

I will finish with a few more words that combine with common, uncountable nouns: a blade of grass, a strand of hair, a speck of dust, a sheet of paper and beads of sweat:

Strands of hair stuck to her forehead.

He wiped beads of sweat from his upper lip.

A rather random collection, I know, but all words that will make your English sound more natural and impressive if you learn them. Let me know if you think of any other useful ones!

18 thoughts on “An article of clothing and a ray of sunshine: making uncountable nouns countable (2)

    1. Liz Walter

      Only nouns can be countable or uncountable. Your sentence could be something like ‘There is a one per cent chance of success.’ (in this sentence, ‘chance’ is countable and ‘success’ is uncountable.)

      1. Diana Singer

        The indefinite article “a” actually has the meaning of one, so I believe you don’t need both.

      2. Liz Walter

        With regard to what Diana says, it would be very unusual to miss out ‘a’ in the sentence above because ‘one percent chance’ is functioning as a noun phrases here. But you could say ‘The chance of success is one per cent.’

      3. Nadeem Nadir

        How can we use hair,fruit,fish and news as countable nouns? And,
        When is a countable noun used without indefinite and definite articles?

  1. Ahmad M. Atari

    Hi and many thanks for your valuable contributions. With respect to the topic of making uncountable nouns countable I just want to point out the well known expression ‘ grain / pinch of salt’ as in the figurative saying: to take something with a grain of salt.

  2. Judy

    Hi. “a cup of coffee = a coffee” sounds natural. But “six cups of coffee” seems rarely to be replaced by “six coffees” according to my work experience at a branch of Starbucks. Am I wrong? Thank you!

    1. Tatiana

      I used to work in a cafe in Australia, and we used to say “six coffees” when talking about different kinds of coffee in a single order. Otherwise, we would say “six capuccinos”, “six lattes”, and so on. However, I think it depends on which country or region you live/have been living. If it sounds weird for you, maybe it really is weird around there.

  3. Denis

    What a brilliant article!
    Dear Liz, would it be okay to turn a phrase into a sort of adjective? For example, these sentences:
    ‘I have a dot-the-i’s-and-cross-the-t’s strain of approach.’
    ‘I have a dotting-the-i’s-and-crossing-the-t’s strain of approach.’
    Which of them does sound better from your perspective, and are hyphens okay here?
    Oh, and just one more thing – can I, for instance, write it this way:
    ‘I have a dot-the-i’s-&-cross-the-t’s strain of approach.’?

      1. Khalid Anis

        Respectable Liz Walter,
        You have written a very good article about “how uncountable nouns can be converted to countable nouns”.
        I highly appreciate your writing skills & through knowledge of Vocabulary.
        Thanks for give us lot of knowledge in English Langauge regularly to make our English Language good & excellent.
        I wish my sincere thanks to Liz Walter for teaching us.
        Yours Sincerely
        Khalid Anis.

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