In English, as in numerous other languages, there are nouns that are countable and nouns that are uncountable. However, this can be an area of some confusion with non-native learners of English, due to the fact that certain articles, if used at all, tend to be used very specifically and yet considerably differently to how they are implemented in certain other languages.

It can seem rather random, like the roll of a dice, when you tutor constantly crosses out articles where you have used them and adds them where you have not! This post explains how and when to use an article, especially with regards to countable and uncountable nouns. Let’s have a look:

an image of assorted dice

Countable and uncountable nouns

A countable noun is a noun that can also be formed as a plural or be used with the indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’. For clarification on the definite and indefinite articles, please see the relevant post.

A noun, as we know, is a naming word for a person, place or thing: dog, table, Sarah, Paris, etc.

For example one might say,

  • I have five cats
  • There are three Sarahs in my class
  • There’s only one Paris
  • There is a table over there

I can talk about any number of apples, cats, mice and children, and these are all plural forms of nouns (both regular and irregular) and can be used with the indefinite article:

  • A dog
  • An apple
  • A mouse
  • A child

But what about the following nouns?

  • Music
  • Furniture
  • Mud
  • Water
  • Beauty
  • Air
  • Bread

Can you see that an indefinite article cannot be used with them? This is because the indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’ are only used with singular countable nouns, whether those nouns represent material things or concepts, and these nouns are uncountable. An uncountable noun, such as ‘mud’ or ‘music’, does not have a plural form and yet, as is the case with ‘furniture’, may be referring to a plurality of things.

Using articles with countable nouns

In English, a determiner, of which an article is one class, is used before a noun to introduce it or to provide information about it. More about the specific use of articles and determiners can be read in the relevant post on the parts of speech. Your choice of determiner will depend on whether you need to quantify the noun or express possession or whether it is definite or indefinite. If there are any adjectives before the noun to describe it, a determiner will also come before them if it is necessary.

An article must always be used when one is introducing a singular noun. The examples below show the use of both definite and indefinite articles with singular nouns.

  • There is a fox in the garden
  • There is a bird on the wall
  • There is an apple on the desk

However, when nouns become plural, indefinite articles are no longer used, whereas the definite article still can be:

  • There are foxes in the gardens
  • There are birds on the walls
  • There are apples on the desks

Furthermore, the definite article is not always used with plural nouns when they are indefinite, ambiguous or undefined:

  • There are children everywhere
  • There are walls around the city
  • There are apples all over the ground

Plural nouns take the definite article when the writer or speaker wants to specify that these are particular or specific ‘walls’, ‘apples’ or ‘gardens’ that they are referring to, ‘walls’ that are known to the hearer or reader. You will know which ‘walls’ I am referring to when I say that ‘there are birds on the walls’. However, if I say that ‘there are birds on walls everywhere’, I am no longer referring to a specific set of known ‘walls’.

To recap:

The indefinite articles are always used with singular countable nouns and never not used.

The indefinite articles are not used with plural nouns.

The definite article is used with singular nouns.

The definite article is used with plural nouns that are definite and not with plural nouns that are indefinite, ambiguous or undefined.

Using articles with uncountable nouns

The definite article ‘the’ can be used with uncountable nouns in the same way as it is used with countable nouns when they need to be definitely specified:

  • There are the children
  • They are in the mud
  • They are playing the music loudly
  • They are drinking the water I gave them
  • And they are playing with the dogs

Likewise, (as with plural countable nouns) the definite article ‘the’ is not used with indefinite, ambiguous or undefined uncountable nouns. In other words, if we are talking or writing about a noun in a general sense rather than a definite sense:

  • I enjoy the taste of coffee (coffee in general)
  • I enjoy the taste of the coffee (the coffee you have just served me)
  • Sugar is bad for you (all sugar in general)
  • Could you pass me the sugar? (the specific sugar on the table in front of us)
  • Water is good for you (all water in general)
  • He jumped into the water (the specific area of water he jumped into)
  • Technology is useful (technology in general)
  • I don’t like the new technology the company is using (specific technology I am referring to)
  • There is mud everywhere (mud in general)
  • He got some of the mud he jumped in on his trousers (the specific mud he jumped in)
  • I don’t like music (music in general)
  • I always love the music you play in your car (specific music I am referring to)

To recap:

The indefinite articles are not used with uncountable nouns just as they are not used with plural nouns.

The definite article is used with uncountable nouns (just as with plural countable nouns) that are definite and not with uncountable nouns that are indefinite, ambiguous or undefined.

However, there are some nouns that can be both countable and uncountable, depending on the context in which they are used:

‘Paper’ can be countable when referring to individual sheets:

  • I need two papers

But it can be uncountable when referring to the material:

  • The printer is out of paper


  • Do you drink coffee?
  • Would you like a coffee? (Really this is an abbreviation of the phrase ‘a cup of coffee’.)

Usually, uncountable nouns become countable when they are quantified or measured, and a quantifying determiner is used to describe this:

  • I bought more water.
  • She gave a lot of advice.
  • Would you like some bread?

For more on types of nouns, and on those nouns that are sometimes uncountable, sometimes countable, please visit the linked post.


1. Using an article with names/ proper nouns.

While I wrote that the indefinite articles are always used with singular countable nouns and never not used, there is a type of noun called a ‘proper noun’. This means names such as Sarah, January, Plymouth and Monday.

These can be used with an indefinite article:

  • I saw him on a Monday
  • There is a Sarah in my class (as in: There are no people called Sarah in my class. Are there any Sarah’s in yours?)
  • It was a cold January
  • There is also a Plymouth in the United States

But, in the sense that I would write the following in the singular form,

  • There is a flower in my hair
  • There is a cat on the table
  • There is a bird in my garden

…one would write a proper noun (that is the name of a person, time or place) without introducing it with an article:

  • Mrs Smith is in my garden
  • Sarah is at the bus stop
  • Paris is in France
  • Monday is the first day of the week

2. The following quantifying determiners are specific to either countable or uncountable nouns, but cannot be used with both.

Uncountable = little, less, least, much:

  • This tea has too little sugar
  • There is less furniture in my house than yours
  • She is the least beautiful of them all
  • You can never have too much knowledge

Countable = few, fewer, many, several:

  • I have too few flowers in my garden
  • There are fewer flowers in my garden than in yours
  • There are too many mistakes in my homework
  • I called you several times

These determiners are exceptions. Other quantifying determiners not listed here can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.


In summary, understanding whether a noun is countable or uncountable is essential for using articles correctly. Countable nouns can take the indefinite articles ‘a’ or ‘an’ in the singular, and the definite article ‘the’ in the plural. Uncountable nouns typically do not use the indefinite article and require ‘the’ when referring to specific instances or quantities. However, there are exceptions, as shown, and context always plays a role in determining the usage of any word.

If you have any questions or comments, please do add them below.


Created on By Michelle
Portrait of Student

Using Articles with Nouns

Using articles with nouns

1 / 14

These things take ------ time.

2 / 14

----- Jane is really tall.

3 / 14

Could you give me ---------- apple?

4 / 14

That lady is -------- mother of my friend.

5 / 14

There is ---------- tea in the pot.

6 / 14

He has --------- sister my age.

7 / 14

You’ll be leaving from ----- gate yet to be specified.

8 / 14

You’ll be leaving from ----- gate on the eastern concourse.

9 / 14

You’ll be leaving from ---- Gate 5.

10 / 14

She has ---- flowers in her hair that you gave her.

11 / 14

She has ----- flowers in her hair.

12 / 14

Put ---- flower in your hair.

13 / 14

I love ---------- flowers in your garden.

14 / 14

I love ----- flowers; they add such colour to life.

Your score is

The average score is 89%



Börjars, Kersti, and others. Introducing English Grammar, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2010)

Burton-Roberts, Noel. Analysing Sentences: An Introduction to English Syntax, 4th edn (Routledge, 2016)

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 3rd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Dreyer, Benjamin. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (Penguin Random House, 2020)

Hewings, Martin, and others. Cambridge English Grammar and Vocabulary for Advanced (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Huddleston, Rodney, and others. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Parrott, Martin. Grammar for English Language Teachers,
2nd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Quirk, Randolph, and others. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, reprint edn (Pearson, 2011)

Seely, John. Oxford A – Z of Grammar & Punctuation (Oxford University Press, 2020)

Trask, R. L. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation (Penguin Books, 1997)

New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2005)


  1. This was such a helpful breakdown of when to use definite (“the”) and indefinite (“a”/”an”) articles with different types of nouns. I’ve always found the rules around article usage tricky to remember. The tips and examples using countable and uncountable nouns really made things clear – especially the reminders about using “the” for singular nouns referring to something already mentioned. I also appreciated the reminder that uncountable nouns like “advice” don’t take an indefinite article. The exercises at the end were great practice. Articles are something I’m trying to improve in my writing, so this guide will be a handy reference. Thank you for putting together such a clear and thorough look at this challenging grammar topic! I feel much more confident now in choosing the right articles for different noun contexts.

    • That is wonderful, Eric. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this post. I can see that you have read the post attentively and are internalising the finer points of the use of articles. I do hope it continues to prove useful to you in your continued learning.

  2. Hey thank you for creating such a useful and great post!

    The way you have layed the information out, given examples as well as the easy to understand format, I know many will find this post helpful and grateful they have come across it. When it comes to nouns ever since I came across them in school, I have found them tricky to pick out and explain to others what they are however this post of yours has given me a more clearer idea of what these types of noun is.

    Thanks again and have a great day!

    • Hi Sariya. Thanks so much for your positive comment. I’m glad you have found it useful.

  3. Hi Michelle, I really enjoyed reading your article on using articles with countable and uncountable nouns. It was very clear, concise, and helpful. I learned a lot from your examples and explanations. English is not my native language, but I have been exposed to it since I was six years old when I lived in an English-speaking country for about eight months. I also studied English in school as it was part of the official curriculum in my country. I used to talk in English in my jobs, but I never attended formal English courses as an adult.

    Some grammar rules in English are complicated to me, especially the ones related to articles. One of the common mistakes that I make in English is using no article with specific or known nouns. For example, I would say “she is studying history at university” instead of using the definite article. Your article helped me to understand why this is incorrect and how to correct it.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us.

    • Hi Pablo, thank you so much for writing. I’m so glad you found this post helpful. I teach students from all over the world and omitting articles where they are needed, as well as using them when they are not needed, is a common occurrence. Even when those for whom English is not their first language are exposed to a lot of English, as you have been, there remain difficulties with articles because it is not instinctive for you; articles are used differently in Romance languages and other language families. The good news is that there is logic to how articles are used in English and it can be learnt flawlessly with practice and diligence.

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