What are COUNT NOUNS?
Look around the room or the classroom you're sitting in the more "stuff" in the room, the better. Name some things that somebody must have carried into the room.
desks, chairs, flag, clock, computers, keyboards, projector, books, bookcases, pens, notebooks, backpacks, lights, students (Well, maybe the students walked in under their own power!)
Now name some things that are part of the room itself.
floor, wall, ceiling, windows, door, chalkboard
You can imagine there being more than one of everything you've named so far although you might have to have more than one room to have more than one floor or ceiling. These are all COUNT NOUNS, things that you can count.
What are MASS (NON-COUNT) NOUNS?
Here is a list of MASS NOUNS for you to consider. Can you count any of these things? Do we use the plural form of any of these words in common speech and writing? What do the things in the first column have in common? the second column? In the first section, above, we named things in the classroom that we could count. What are some things in the same room that we can't count?
What are ABSTRACT NOUNS?
Here is a list of ABSTRACT NOUNS for you to think about. Can you touch or see any of these things in the physical sense? Can you count any of them? Can you create sentences in which some of these words can be used as plurals?
How can something be BOTH a COUNT NOUN and a MASS NOUN?
If we conceive of the meaning of a noun as a continuum from being specific to being general and abstract, we can see how it can move from being a count noun to a mass noun. Consider, for example, the noun experiences. When I say
I had many horrifying experiences as a pilot.
I'm referring to specific, countable moments in my life as a pilot. When I say,
This position requires experience.
I'm using the word in an abstract way; it is not something you can count; it's more like an idea, a general thing that people need to have in order to apply for this job.
If I write
The talks will take place in Degnan Hall.
these talks are countable events or lectures. If I say
I hate it when a meeting is nothing but talk.
the word talk is now uncountable; I'm referring to the general, abstract idea of idle chatter. Evils refers to specific sins pride, envy, sloth, and everyone's favorite, gluttony whereas evil refers to a general notion of being bad or ungodly.
One more example: "I love the works of Beethoven" means that I like his symphonies, his string quartets, his concerti and sonatas, his choral pieces all very countable things, works. "I hate work" means that I find the very idea of labor, in a general way, quite unappealing. Notice that the plural form means something quite different from the singular form of this word; they're obviously related, but they're different. What is the relationship between plastic and plastics, wood and woods, ice and [Italian] ices, hair and hairs?
Further, as noted earlier, almost all mass nouns can become count nouns when they are used in a classificatory sense:
But some things cannot be made countable or plural: we cannot have furnitures, informations, knowledges, softnesses, or chaoses. When in doubt, consult a good dictionary.
The following quiz has more to do with the spelling of irregular Plurals than with the recognition of non-count nouns, but you can try it now or after you've reviewed the section on plurals.