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Nouns #12: "Countable" Forms of Uncountable Nouns, by Dennis Oliver

Nouns #12:
"Countable" Forms of Uncountable Nouns


Sometimes you will see uncountable nouns used with a / an
or an -s. This seems to be wrong, but it can be correct when
the meaning is a type / types or a kind / kinds of the
uncountable noun.

Here are a few examples:

  example   meaning
  a money / monies   a type (kind) / types
(kinds) of money (yen,
(won, baht, dollar,
pound, etc.)
  an oil / oils   a type (kind) / types
(kinds) of oil (olive oil,
safflower oil, corn oil,
sesame seed oil, etc.)
  a flour / flours   a type (kind) / types
(kinds) of flour (rye flour,
whole wheat flour,
bleached wheat flour,
rice flour, corn flour, etc.)
  a bread / breads   a type (kind) / types
(kinds) of bread (white,
dark rye, whole wheat,
oatmeal, etc.)
  a fruit / fruits   a type (kind) / types
(kinds) of fruit (apple,
pear, cherry, peach, etc.)
  a meat / meats   a type (kind) / types
(kinds) of meat (beef,
lamb, chicken, pork, etc.)


Special Notes:


A similar process can be used to make countable
nouns uncountable:

A tomato is one whole tomato, but if you cut
or mash the tomato until you can no longer count
the pieces, it becomes some tomato / a cup of
tomato, etc.

An onion is one whole onion, but if you cut
or chop the onion until you can no longer count
the pieces, it becomes some onion / a tablespoon
of onion, etc.

An egg is one whole egg, but if you mix one
or more eggs until you can no longer tell how
many eggs you have, it becomes some egg /
a bowl of egg, etc.


For many kinds of food and drink, the "countable"
form of an uncountable noun means a portion /
serving / container of the uncountable noun:

A coffee / a hot chocolate mean a cup of
coffee or hot chocolate.

A beer / a white wine / a whiskey mean
a can (bottle, glass) of beer / a glass of white
wine / a glass (shot) of whiskey.

A candy means a piece of candy.


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