A man writes his grocery list—raisins, apples, eggs, popcorn. As he scribbles down the last item, a question pops into his mind: To make nouns plural, generally you add an S to the end. Popcorn doesn’t end in S. Why? Though he doesn’t realize it, the man’s question is about the difference between count and noncount nouns.
To make most nouns plural, add S to the singular form. A few words, those ending in S, X, Z, CH, or SH, are pluralized with -ES. Still fewer have a special plural form, like children, geese, mice, radii, and amoebae. All these words, no matter how they are made plural, are count nouns. Simply put, count nouns are words for things that you can count.
Contrastingly, noncount nouns are nouns that you don’t count. You don’t add a number to the front or a plural ending to these words. Think about our grocery list. You wouldn’t say four popcorn, nor would you ask someone to pass the popcorns. Popcorn, therefore, is a noncount noun. There are quite a few food-related noncount nouns, such as bread, beef, and butter. How can you indicate relative amounts of noncount nouns?
Option 1: Use a quantity word and the preposition “of” in front of the noncount noun.
I want to make a lot of money.
She brewed plenty of coffee for her guests.
You need seven gallons of gasoline to fill the gas tank.
You can also indicate that there is none of a noncount noun or only a small amount.
There is no furniture in the living room.
I can only tolerate a little bit of humidity.
Option 2: Make the noncount noun an adjective by placing it in front of a count noun.
I installed two new software applications on my computer.
The teacher gave us so many homework assignments.
Some words can be both count and noncount nouns. The count and noncount versions of the word often have different meanings. Depending on what meaning you intend, you must decide whether to pluralize the noun or not.
The speaker presented two different talks at the conference.
In this example, “talk” is a count noun because it refers to two discrete speeches. It has individual units that are separate and can be counted.
I cannot stand foolish talk.
Here, the sentence refers to all foolish talk in general. This talk is not divisible into individual, countable units.
Popcorn, along with some other foods, materials, and abstract nouns, is a noncount noun. You can indicate how much popcorn you have by adding a quantity word and the preposition “of” before it. You can pluralize other noncount nouns by changing them to adjectives to modify a count noun. Context will help you decide whether to use some words as count or noncount nouns. Now, can you answer the man’s question? Why can’t you make popcorn plural by adding an S? And if you want to learn more, there’s no shortage of noun types. Visit the Grammarly handbook!