A mass noun refers to something that can’t usually be counted. In fact, it’s sometimes called an uncountable or noncount noun. It’s not to be confused with collective nouns! In this post, we’ll explain the rules that apply when you use mass nouns in your writing.
Examples of Mass Nouns
Mass nouns usually belong to one of the following groups:
● Liquids and gasses
We opened a window to let some air in.
Allow me to pour you some wine.
● Materials that consist of tiny pieces
There was flour all over the counter.
The building was reduced to rubble.
We are expecting rain.
After the storm, the sunshine was welcome.
● Feelings and qualities
She couldn’t hide her happiness.
The soldiers showed great courage.
● Collective terms
All of our furniture is in storage.
The traffic was at a standstill.
Are Mass Nouns Singular or Plural?
Even though mass nouns often refer to a large quantity of something (e.g., sand), they’re always used with singular verb forms:
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
Flour is hard to clear up.
Flour are hard to clear up.
Your furniture looks very elegant.
Your furniture look very elegant.
If you want to indicate how much of a mass noun you’re referring to, you can place a unit of measurement or another suitable describing word in front of it:
The recipe calls for eight ounces of flour.
There are four pieces of furniture in the hallway.
The building was reduced to a pile of rubble.
Can a Noun Be Both Mass and Countable?
Some nouns have countable and uncountable (mass) forms. For example, “cheese” is usually a mass noun, but if you’re referring to varieties of cheese, it becomes a countable noun:
Mass noun: I like pizza with lots of cheese.
Countable noun: France is famous for its cheeses.
Another example is “language,” which is a mass noun when you’re referring to the idea or concept of language, but a countable noun when you’re talking about a particular language:
Mass noun: She uses simple, concise language.
Countable noun: He speaks five languages.
Summary: What Are Mass Nouns?
Mass (or uncountable) nouns are things that can’t be easily counted. If you’re not sure whether a noun is countable or not, try putting a number in front of it and adding “s” (or “es”) to the end. If it doesn’t sound right, then it’s probably a mass noun. For example, you wouldn’t say “five traffics” or “100 courages,” so “traffic” and “courage” are mass nouns.
As we’ve seen though, this rule isn’t completely reliable, as some words, like “cheese” and “language,” can be both mass and countable nouns.
We hope by now you feel confident about using mass nouns in your writing. For tips on all aspects of grammar, including common mistakes, check out our Common Writing Errors guide. And if you’d like an expert to check your work for writing errors, our proofreading team can help. You can even try out our service for free.