Three most common errors: count nouns and non-countable (mass) nouns

Count Nouns and Non-Countable (Mass) Nouns

In English, nouns that can be counted (count nouns) and those that cannot be counted (mass nouns) are handled very differently. In many cases count nouns and mass nouns are easily distinguished my simply asking whether making the noun plural and putting “how many”, a definite article, or a number in front of it makes more sense than “how much”:

Count nouns :

  • A pencil: three pencils
  • A frog: three frogs
  • A minister: three ministers.

Mass nouns are uncomfortable with numbers:

  • A confusion: three confusions (No. “How much confusion”)
  • An air: three airs (No, “How much air”)
  • A misery: three miseries (No, “How much misery”)
  • A research: three researches (No, “How much research”)

Many nouns can be both count and mass nouns, often with different meanings.


  • How much paper? (boxes, rolls or reams of paper)
  • How many papers? (He published three papers last year)


  • How much oil? (one quart)
  • How many oils? (olive oil, corn oil, linseed oil — three oils.)


  • Much mystery surrounds the case of the giant rat of Sumatra.
  • Many mysteries were set in English country houses.

Remember, mass nouns do not take indefinite articles and are quantified by “how much”. When in doubt, just compare the results count from a search for “much [noun]” to that from a search for “many [noun]s”.