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# Countable and Uncountable nouns

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Re: Countable and Uncountable nouns [#permalink]
Hello from the GMAT Club VerbalBot!

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Wonderful explanation, really helpful and valuable. I have been stucked with how to choose between less and fewer for a long time and reading your thread actually helped me a lot. But I still have some questions, could you pls kindly help me?

Question 1.
as you mentioned the "exception 2", the number of dollars represents the quantity of money, which is uncountable, so we should use less. -> Should we say "less gallons of apples" or "fewer gallons of apples" ? I am stucked because the gallons represent the weight which seems uncountable, but the main noun "apple" is countable. These two stuffs seem contradict when I choose between "fewer" and "less". How should I decide?

Question 2.
In your second table, you mentioned "equal number of bananas" is uncountable noun. I am confused because we could count the number of bananas: 1 banana, 2 bananas, ... etc. Pls correct me which direction I am going wrong.

Question 3.
Several following OG correct sentences have confused me for long time regarding the usage of "fewer" VS "less". Could you please help explain:

<1>sentence 1
Less than 35 years after the release of African honeybees outside Sao Paulo, Brazil, their descendants, popularly known as killer bees, had migrated as far north as southern Texas.
My question is: why use less to represent "year", which is a countable noun?
PS, This sentence is from PREP.

<2>sentence 2
Regulators are likely to end what are long-standing exemptions permitting pilots of small turboprop aircraft at small carriers to fly as many as 20 percent more hours per month than pilots at larger airlines do.
My question is: at first glance, I thought both "hours" and "precentage" seem to be continuous(eg,20.1111%, 0.05hours) and uncountable, so I choose "much". could please explain why use many here? Does the "many/much" represent hours or percentage? How should I know what the "many/much" stands for, hours or percentage?
PS, This sentence is from OG2020, a new question.

<3>sentence 3
In the major cities of industrialized countries at the end of the nineteenth century, important public places such as theaters, restaurants, shops, and banks had installed electric lighting, but electricity was in less than one percent of homes, where lighting was still provided mainly by candles or gas.
My question is: why use "less" here? what's the difference between this sentence and sentence 2, whereas sentence 3 applies "less" but sentence 2 applies "many"?
Besides, some instructors from other forums suspect that "fewer" should be used instead of "less". I am not questioning the official answer, but I just wanna make clear which one should be used, and the reason behind.
PS, this sentence is from OG2019.

<4>sentence 4
Despite a growing population, in 1998 the United States used 38 billion fewer gallons of water a day than it did during the period of all-time highest consumption almost 20 years earlier.
My question is: we usually use "less" to represent "gallons" but the sentence here uses "fewer". What is the reason behind?
PS, This sentence is from OG2019.

I understand that I've raised a long question and I really appreciate if you expend precious time reading my thread, and I highly appreciate if you would throw more light on it.

PS, Although I am not native speaker,I have tried my best to clearly express myself. If any further clarification is needed, pls feel free to let me know.

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Re: Countable and Uncountable nouns [#permalink]
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apple0073603 wrote:
Wonderful explanation, really helpful and valuable. I have been stucked with how to choose between less and fewer for a long time and reading your thread actually helped me a lot.

Thank you!

apple0073603 wrote:

But I still have some questions, could you pls kindly help me?

Question 1.
as you mentioned the "exception 2", the number of dollars represents the quantity of money, which is uncountable, so we should use less. -> Should we say "less gallons of apples" or "fewer gallons of apples" ? I am stucked because the gallons represent the weight which seems uncountable, but the main noun "apple" is countable. These two stuffs seem contradict when I choose between "fewer" and "less". How should I decide?

Both "fewer gallons of apples" and "less gallons of apples" are wrong since we don't measure apples in terms of volume. We measure apples in terms of number (number of apples) or weight (kgs of apples).

So, let's take "gallons of alcohol". In this case, both "fewer than three gallons of alcohol" and "less than three gallons of alcohol" are correct. The only difference is that in case of 'fewer', you refer to only One and Two gallons (we deal with integers while dealing with 'fewer', and positive integers less than 3 are 1 and 2), and in case of 'less', you refer to any quantity less than 3 gallons. Thus, to include the possibilities of 2.8, 0.4, and 1.6 gallons, we'll need to say 'less than three gallons'.

Now, you can see that while 'alcohol' is singular, we can use 'fewer'. Why? Because we are not talking one alcohol, two alcohols etc; we are talking about one gallon, two gallons etc. Similarly, if I talk about apples, we can say 'fewer apples' when we want to talk about integral apples. On the other hand, you can use 'less than three apples', when you want to include the possibility of 2.5 apples.

However, a few things always exist in integers, so we cannot use 'less' with them. For example: we have to say 'fewer than three attempts'; 'less than three attempts' is incorrect. As a rule of thumb, if the thing exists only in whole numbers, we need to use 'fewer' and not 'less' with it.

apple0073603 wrote:
Question 2.
In your second table, you mentioned "equal number of bananas" is uncountable noun. I am confused because we could count the number of bananas: 1 banana, 2 bananas, ... etc. Pls correct me which direction I am going wrong.

Again, here we are talking about number of bananas, not bananas. We do not say fewer number of bananas or fewer number of apples; we say fewer bananas and fewer apples. Or we say smaller number of bananas.

apple0073603 wrote:

Question 3.
Several following OG correct sentences have confused me for long time regarding the usage of "fewer" VS "less". Could you please help explain:

<1>sentence 1
Less than 35 years after the release of African honeybees outside Sao Paulo, Brazil, their descendants, popularly known as killer bees, had migrated as far north as southern Texas.
My question is: why use less to represent "year", which is a countable noun?
PS, This sentence is from PREP.

Since we can have 1.2 years, 1.8 years, 2.5 years etc, we can have 'less than xx years'. If the years existed only in integrals, we would need to use 'fewer'.

apple0073603 wrote:

<2>sentence 2
Regulators are likely to end what are long-standing exemptions permitting pilots of small turboprop aircraft at small carriers to fly as many as 20 percent more hours per month than pilots at larger airlines do.
My question is: at first glance, I thought both "hours" and "precentage" seem to be continuous(eg,20.1111%, 0.05hours) and uncountable, so I choose "much". could please explain why use many here? Does the "many/much" represent hours or percentage? How should I know what the "many/much" stands for, hours or percentage?
PS, This sentence is from OG2020, a new question.

Both 'much' and 'many' are correct in this sentence. The options are wrong for other reasons. Why are both correct? As we discussed above, since we can measure hours both in integrals and decimals, we can use both 'much' (used for continuous quantity) and 'many' (used for integral quantities) with 'hours'.

apple0073603 wrote:

<3>sentence 3
In the major cities of industrialized countries at the end of the nineteenth century, important public places such as theaters, restaurants, shops, and banks had installed electric lighting, but electricity was in less than one percent of homes, where lighting was still provided mainly by candles or gas.
My question is: why use "less" here? what's the difference between this sentence and sentence 2, whereas sentence 3 applies "less" but sentence 2 applies "many"?
Besides, some instructors from other forums suspect that "fewer" should be used instead of "less". I am not questioning the official answer, but I just wanna make clear which one should be used, and the reason behind.
PS, this sentence is from OG2019.

I'll reserve my judgment on this. I'll update this post in some time.

apple0073603 wrote:

<4>sentence 4
Despite a growing population, in 1998 the United States used 38 billion fewer gallons of water a day than it did during the period of all-time highest consumption almost 20 years earlier.
My question is: we usually use "less" to represent "gallons" but the sentence here uses "fewer". What is the reason behind?
PS, This sentence is from OG2019.

Refer to my reasoning for Sentence 2 above.
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ChiranjeevSingh wrote:
First things first: Why do we need to worry about countable and uncountable nouns?

Because whether some of the quantity words can be used with a noun is dependent on whether the noun is countable, and such usage is tested on GMAT.

So, without further ado, let’s get to understand the two kinds of nouns and the correct and incorrect uses of the different words with them.

What is a countable noun?

A countable noun is a noun that can be counted. Generally, these nouns have plural forms.

For example: cars, radios, bats, bananas, men, ideas

Words that can be used only with countable nouns are: Few, Fewer, Many, Number, and Numerous.

These words cannot be used with uncountable nouns.

What is an uncountable noun?

An uncountable noun is a noun that cannot be counted. These nouns do not have a plural form (since they cannot be counted).

For example: excellence, understanding, crisp, knowledge, sleep

Words that can be used only with uncountable nouns are: Amount, Equal, Great, Greater, Less, Little, and Much.

Words that can be used with both

The words listed in the table can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.

How to determine whether a noun is countable?

A noun is countable if and only if you can count it. For example: you can say one car, two cars, three cars. So, “car” is countable.

However, you cannot say one information or two informations. Therefore, “information” is an uncountable noun.

Also, remember that countable nouns generally have plural forms while uncountable nouns never have plural forms. Therefore, if a plural form of a noun exists, it means that it is indeed a countable noun. (The below section lists out exceptions to this rule)

Exceptions

“What would be a language without exceptions to its rules!”. I heard this statement somewhere, and it makes so much (not many! – uncountable noun) sense. Most, or rather almost all, rules in English have exceptions. And it’s important to know these exceptions; otherwise, we may get tripped by GMAT!

OK! So, we have already touched on one kind of exception.

Exception – 1

Sense – Is it countable or uncountable?

We do have plural “senses”. But I just used “much” with sense. Was I wrong?

No. I wasn’t. Some nouns can act as both countable and uncountable, depending on the context of a sentence.

For example:

• He makes so much sense.
• Your senses are working superbly.

Both the above sentences are correct.

• In the first sentence, “sense” is used in an uncountable way. Here, we are focused on the “extent” of sense – or reasonableness – not on the number of senses.
• In the second sentence, “senses” is used in a countable way. Here, we are focused not on the extent of the sense but on the “number” of senses or faculties of perception.

Let’s take another example:

• There’s so much truth in this statement.
• The fundamental truths of life can be discovered by anyone.

Again, both the above sentences are correct.

• In the first sentence, “truth” is used in an uncountable way. Here, we are focused on the “extent” of truth – or correctness – not on the number of truths.
• In the second sentence, “truths” is used in a countable way. Here, we are focused not on the extent of truth but on the “number” of truths – or facts.

Take Away:

• If we are concerned about the “extent” of the noun, then the noun is being used in an uncountable way, and words corresponding to uncountable nouns should be used in the sentence.
• If we want to talk about the “number” of the noun, then the noun is being used in a countable way, and words corresponding to countable nouns should be used in the sentence.

Exception – 2

Let’s look at the below two sentences:

• A movie ticket costs less than 3 dollars.
• The journey will need as much as 2 gallons of diesel.

Are the above sentences correct?

Yes. They are. Both the above sentences are correct.

Why can we use “less” or “much” with a countable noun “dollars” or “gallons”?

The reason is that in the first sentence, the number of dollars represents the quantity of money, which is uncountable. Similarly, in the second sentence, the number of gallons represents the quantity of diesel, which is uncountable. Therefore, we can use words corresponding to uncountable nouns with these units of measurement. (dollars is a unit of measurement of money, and gallons is a unit of measurement of diesel)

So, even though these units are countable (you can say one dollar, 2 dollars or one gallon, two gallons), they are representing something uncountable (money or diesel). Therefore, the context of the sentence dictates that we use uncountable quantity words here.

Please also note that we can use also countable quantity words with these units if the context of the sentence requires. For example: we can say “We have fewer than 10 dollars”. In this case, it seems we are referring to the number of dollar bills we have rather than the amount of money. Even though this sentence is also correct, there is indeed some change in meaning.

I hope the article explains the concept of Countable and Uncountable nouns in an understandable way.

Regards,
Chiranjeev