Nouns: Countable, Uncountable or Both? (Part 2)

In the first post of this series we looked at 10 nouns which can be both countable and uncountable depending on the meaning. Now, let’s look at another 10…

#10. HAIR

This noun is countable only when it means a single piece of hair:

I’ve got a few grey hairs.

Don’t ever pluck nasal hairs.

The cat has left white hairs all over the sofa.

Otherwise, it is uncountable:

Her hair was short and dark.

He’s a short fat man with no hair on his head.

I’m having my hair cut tomorrow. (Read about the construction “have something done” here.)

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#9. GLASS

Glass is uncountable when it means the transparent solid substance for making windows, bottles, etc. (1), and when it means objects made of the substance (2):

Sand is used in the production of glass. (1)

There is a priceless collection of Venetian glass in the museum. (2)

A glass is a container used for drinking made of glass (1), or the amount of a drink contained in a glass (2):

I’ll get you a clean glass. (1)

She poured a glass of wine. (2)

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#8. PAPER

Paper is uncountable when it means thin, flat material used for writing on, covering things in, etc. (1) It is countable if it means a newspaper (2) or a piece of writing about a particular subject written by someone who has been studying that subject (3):

He wrote his phone number on a scrap of paper. (1)

I buy a paper every morning. (2)

She’s just published a paper on language acquisition. (3)

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#7. WORK

The noun “work” can be countable only when it means something produced by a writer, painter, musician, or other artist:

This is a minor but moving work of literature.

Some of the youthful works of the artist are gathered in this room.

In most of its meanings, “work” is an uncountable noun:

Communities in which people are working are much healthier than communities where work is scarce.

What kind of work do you do?

Further reading: “Work vs. Job

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#6. ROOM

Room” is uncountable if it means the amount of space that is needed for a particular purpose (1), or the possibility for something to exist or happen (2):

There isn’t much room in here. (1)

There’s no room for doubt as to who did this. (2)

Otherwise, the noun is countable:

On the second floor were two large empty rooms.

I need to book a single room.

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#5. TIME

The noun “time” is mostly uncountable, but it can be countable when it means an occasion (1), an experience (2), a particular amount of time (3), or when it’s used for saying how often something happens (4):

Do you remember the times when we smiled at one another, when we laughed together? (1)

It’s my job to make sure the guests have a good time. (2)

She left a short time ago. (3)

Check the temperature two or three times a day. (4)

More often than not though, “time” is uncountable:

She left the bar a few minutes before closing time.

It was six o’clock in the morning, Pacific Standard Time.

Time is money.

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#4. MEMORY

Memory” is a variable noun if it means the ability to remember (1), but it’s countable if it means something that you remember:

She has a photographic memory. (1)

Complete loss of memory is called amnesia. (1)

I don’t have very fond memories of my school days. (2)

Remember the following phrases:

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#3. BEAUTY

A beauty is a beautiful woman (1) or something that you think is very good or a good example of its type (2):

The girl is such a beauty. (1)

That last goal was a beauty. (2)

The beauties of something are the features of something that are beautiful to look at:

He painted the beauties of the sea his whole life.

The beauties of nature are innumerable.

Compare the meaning of “the beauties of” and “the beauty of:”

The beauty of working at home is that you don’t have to travel to work. (= the advantage; the beauties of…)

I shall not attempt to describe the majestic beauties of the mountains. (= the beautiful features, = the majestic beauty of…)

More often than not, the noun is uncountable:

She had brains and beauty.

I always enjoy the beauty of her poetry.

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#2. FAILURE

Failure is a situation in which someone or something does not succeed, and a failure is someone or something that does not succeed:

His fear of failure was holding him back. (uncountable)

All my life I’ve felt like a failure. (countable)

“Failure” is a variable noun if it means a situation in which something does not work, or stops working as well as it should:

All trains were delayed due to a power failure.

Heart failure occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.

Further reading: “Idioms about Success & Failure

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#1. GOSSIP

Gossip is conversation or reports about other people’s private lives that might or might not be true, and a gossip is someone who likes to talk about other people’s private lives:

That was an interesting piece of gossip. (uncountable)

My uncle Michael was a great gossip. (countable)

A gossip can also mean an occasion on which people gossip:

He liked a good gossip when he arrived at the office.

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