06 Apr Do nouns like ‘information’ and ‘advice’ have a plural form?
Everyone gets these wrong at one point or another, and it’s completely understandable – in German and Swiss German, information and advice are countable nouns. In English, however, information and advice are uncountable nouns. So what’s the difference between countable and uncountable nouns?
|Information||Die Information (singular)|
|–||Die Informationen (plural)|
|Advice||Der Rat/Ratschlag (singular)|
|–||Die Ratschläge (plural)|
Countable nouns are nouns which can be counted, and therefore have plurals. We can use the articles a/an with countable nouns, as well as numbers.
A dog, three dogs
An apple, six apples
A newspaper, four newspapers
Uncountable nouns are nouns for things that we cannot really see as separate objects, such as materials like gold or liquids like water, or abstract nouns like information or advice. These nouns cannot be used with numbers and usually have no plural form. In most cases, we can’t use a/an either, although there are some exceptions.
Information (not an information/two informations)
Water (not a water/two waters)
Money (not a money/two moneys [monies?])
Therefore, the incorrect sentence above should look like this:
Can I have a coffee?
Uncountable nouns can have an article or be used with numbers when talking about ordering drinks.
Have you got any tea or coffee? (Uncountable)
Could I have two coffees? (Countable – two cups of coffee)
All it takes to get used to countable and uncountable nouns is practice – reading and listening will definitely help you get a better idea. However, there are always some confusing nouns. Take, for example, vegetables (countable) and fruit (usually uncountable). In such cases, it’s a good idea to look a word up in a dictionary, but here are a few helpful rules:
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit is uncountable, vegetables are countable. In German and Swiss German, fruit can be countable (die Frucht, die Früchte) or uncountable (das Obst), while vegetables are uncountable (das Gemüse).
We should eat 5 fruit and vegetables a day.
It is possible to say fruits, but only if you’re talking about different types of fruit:
They have a wide selection of exotic fruits like prickly pears, papayas and persimmons.
Basically, when talking about fruit as a food category, it’s uncountable. For different kinds of fruit, use the plural. Nouns for specific fruits, such as apples, strawberries, pears or melons have a plural form.
When it comes to different kinds of vegetables, however, not all nouns are countable. Lettuce, broccoli, corn, spinach and asparagus are uncountable, for example, whereas potatoes, onions, peas, cabbages and pumpkins are countable.
Hair is uncountable in English, but both countable and uncountable in German and Swiss German.
Her hair is curly. (Uncountable)
Ihre Haare sind lockig. (Countable)
Ihri Hoor sind lockig. (Countable)
Ihr Haar ist lockig. (Uncountable)
Ihres Hoor isch lockig. (Uncountable)
When talking about one or more hairs, we use the word strand or a number before the plural, making hair countable.
A strand of hair.
She thinks he’s cheating because he had two blonde hairs on his coat.
These two nouns have similar meanings. The only difference is that travel is usually uncountable (we can’t say a travel), whereas journey is countable (plural: journeys).
I like travel, but only if I’m travelling light.
We had a great journey.
In some cases, travel is indeed used as a plural in fixed expressions:
I met many interesting people on my travels.
‘Gulliver’s Travels’, Jonathan Swift
So how can we use uncountable nouns when we want to use plurals?
We can often change uncountable nouns into countable nouns by adding an expression like a piece of in front of the noun. Let’s take advice as an example:
She’s so stubborn! She never listens to advice. (Uncountable)
Can I give you a piece of advice? (Countable)
Here’s a useful list of other uncountable nouns which can be made countable using a phrase in front of the noun or even using another word:
|Accomodation||a place to live|
|Baggage||a piece/an item of baggage OR a case/bag/trunk|
|Luggage||a piece/an item of luggage OR a case/bag/trunk|
|Bread||a piece/loaf/slice of bread OR a loaf, a roll|
|Equipment||a piece of equipment OR a tool|
|Furniture||a piece/article of furniture OR a table, a wardrobe, a chair, etc.|
|Information||a piece of information|
|Lightning||a flash of lightning|
|Thunder||a clap of thunder|
|Luck||a piece/stroke/bit of luck|
|Money||a note/coin or a sum of money|
|News||a piece of news|