Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns are always treated as singular when it comes to subject-verb agreement:

(1) [This wine] is not as sweet as that we were offered last Christmas.

(2) [Gravity] is an important force.

(3) [This information] is useless.

(4) [Research] tends to take a lot of time.

A Swedish perspective: Uncountable/Countable nouns (click to expand/contract)

As is also discussed in the AWELU section on nouns (follow the link below) , nouns are traditionally regarded as either countable or uncountable.

A countable noun is a noun that is typically used to refer to something that can be counted (e.g. one keyboard - many keyboards), while an uncountable noun is a noun that is typically used to refer to something that cannot be counted (e.g. air).

It is important to understand that even though a certain noun is basically countable, it may also have a fairly frequent uncountable use (and vice versa). Take the word beer, for instance. It is basically uncountable, as are all liquids and substances. In spite of beer being basically uncountable, we can naturally say things such as (1) and (2):

(1) She had three beers yesterday.

(2) This is actually a beer that I don't like.

These examples show that one and the same noun can have both a countable and an uncountable use. In fact, this is not at all uncommon.

It is also important to understand that this distinction between countable and uncountable nouns is not ad hoc. Instead, it is based on what the world is like, or at least on how language users view the world and the various types of entities in it that can be denoted by nouns.

What is meant by this is that whether a noun is categorised as countable or uncountable in a certain language depends on whether or not the speakers of that language think that the entity that the noun is typically used to refer to is possible to count or not. If something is possible to count, it can relatively easily be defined and observed where one of this entity begins and ends and where another one begins and ends, as it were.

Given this brief and simplified account of the ontological and cognitive basis of the uncountable/countable distinction, we should be able to form the hypothesis that fairly closely related languages like English and Swedish, which are primarily spoken by people from relatively similar cultures, should not differ very much when it comes to which nouns are countable and which are uncountable.This hypothesis is correct. For the large majority of nouns, there is no difference in countability between the English noun and its Swedish counterpart.

This is good news, of course. However, there are a number of important exceptions that we need to be aware of (in addition to remembering that one and the same noun may be used in more than one way), partly in order to get the agreement between subject and verb right. Estling Vanneståhl (2007:99) provides the following list of nouns which are uncountable in English, but countable or plural in Swedish (please note that the list is not intended to be exhaustive):

 

 

UNCOUNTABLE IN ENGLISH

COUNTABLE OR PLURAL IN SWEDISH

abuse

skällsord

advice

råd

applause

applåd/er/

behaviour

beteende/n/

cash

kontanter

change

växel/pengar/

equipment

utrustning/ar/

evidence

bevis

furniture

möbel, möbler

garbage

sopor

gear (informal)

grejer, prylar

hardware

järnvaror

homework

läxa, läxor

information

upplysning/ar/

interest

ränta, räntor

jewellery

smycke, smycken

knowledge

kunskap/er/

lightning

blixt/ar/

money

peng/ar/

news

nyhet/er/

nonsense

dumheter

pollution

förorening/ar/

progress

framsteg

proof

bevis

revenue

statsinkomster

rubbish

sopor

stationery

pappersvaror

stuff (informal)

grejer, prylar

underwear

underkläder