Countable and uncountable nouns

What are countable and uncountable nouns?

One way of classifying nouns in Spanish grammar is into countable and uncountable nouns. As their name indicates, countable nouns refer to individual things that can be counted (e.g. una panadería, el barrio) while uncountable nouns, also known as mass nouns, refer to things that cannot be counted (e.g. ilusión, paciencia).

Learn more about countable and uncountable nouns in Spanish grammar with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Han abierto una panadería nueva en el barrio.

Todos los pasteles y las tartas son artesanales: los buñuelos, las rosquillas, las yemas...

Me hace mucha ilusión porque yo no tengo paciencia para hacer dulces en casa.

Advertisement

What are countable nouns in Spanish grammar?

Countable nouns have the following qualities:

  • they can be used in both the singular and the plural;
    Examples:
    una rosquillaa doughnut
    dos rosquillastwo doughnuts
    muchas rosquillaslots of doughnuts
  • they refer to beings or entities that can be divided into units;
    Example:
    Cada paquete trae cinco rosquillas.Each packet has five doughnuts.
  • countable nouns require a article or a number when they follow a verb;
    Example:
    Póngame una rosquilla y cinco buñuelos, por favor.Give me a doughnut and five cream puffs, please.

What are uncountable nouns in Spanish grammar?

In Spanish, uncountable nouns have the following qualities:

    • they are only used in the singular;
      Example:
      Yo no tengo paciencia.I don’t have any patience.
    • they refer to substances or materials that cannot be divided into units;
      Example:
      Los ingredientes básicos son harina, aceite y azúcar.The basic ingredients are flour, oil and sugar.
    • in order to count foodstuffs, we refer to their packaging, container or quantity;
      Examples:
      Un brik de leche, una botella de aceite y un paquete de azúcar.A carton of milk, a bottle of oil, a packet of sugar.
      Medio litro de leche, una cucharada de aceite y una taza de azúcar.Half a litre of milk, a tablespoon of oil and a cup of sugar.
    • uncountable nouns never appear with numerical quantifiers (e.g. uno, diez). Instead we use them we indefinite quantifiers such as poco, mucho, bastante etc.
      Example:
      Queda poca leche en la despensa.There’s not much milk left in the cupboard.
      Me hace mucha ilusión.I’m really looking forward to it.
    • when uncountable nouns follow a verb as an indirect object, they do not take an article;
      Examples:
      Yo no tengo paciencia.I don’t have any patience.
      not: Yo no tengo la paciencia.
      Las rosquillas llevan leche, aceite y azúcar.The doughnuts contain milk, oil and sugar.
      not: Las rosquillas llevan la leche, el aceite y el azúcar.

Remember

Like in English, some uncountable nouns are used as countable nouns in spoken language. When we do this we use an article.

Example:
Quiero café. → I want coffee. (this expresses a general desire – I want the energy from coffee)
Quiero un café. → I want a coffee. (this expresses a specific wish – I want a cup of coffee)

Uncountable nouns in the plural

Some uncountable nouns only exist in the plural. However, this does not mean that they have a plural meaning.

Examples:
tener agujetasto have muscle pain
estar en apurosto be in a tight spot
sentir celosto feel jealous
comprar comestiblesto go grocery shopping

Units of measurement for uncountable nouns

Many uncountable nouns refer to food. To indicate the quantity of food needed, we use containers or packaging as a reference point as well as units of measurement (kilos, litres etc.).

Units of measurement Translation Uncountable nouns Examples
un paquete de, un grano de
a packet of, a grain of café, arroz, azúcarcoffee, rice, sugar

—Voy a la compra. ¿Qué necesitamos?

—Pues dos paquetes de café molido,

un paquete de macarrones y uno de espaguetis,

dos bricks de leche semidesnatada

y uno de zumo de manzana,

un tarro de miel de eucalipto,

tres barras de pan integral,

una botella de aceite de oliva virgen extra,

una tableta de chocolate con leche,

150 gramos de queso de cabra

y 200 gramos de jamón cocido.

¡Ah! Y un kilo de arroz redondo.—I’m going shopping, what do we need?
—Well, two packets of ground coffee,
one packet of macaroni and one of spaghetti,
two cartons of semi-skimmed milk
and one of apple juice, a jar of eucalyptus honey, three loaves of brown bread, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, a bar of milk chocolate, 150 grams of goat’s cheese and 200 grams of cooked ham. Oh! And a kilo of rice.

una lata de
a tin/can of tomate, cerveza, atúntomatoes, beer, tuna
un brik de, un cartón de
a carton of leche, zumomilk, juice
un tarro de
a jar of mermelada, mieljam, honey
una barra de
a loaf/bar of pan, chocolatebread, chocolate
una botella de
a bottle of agua, vino, aceite, leche, zumowater, wine, oil, milk, juice
un bote de a tin/can of tomatetomatoes
un bloque de a block of mantequillabutter
una tableta de, una onza de a piece of, an ounce of chocolate
una taza de, un vaso de a cup of, a glass of leche, café, agua, zumomilk, coffee, water, juice
100 gramos de 100 grams of jamónham
un kilo de a kilo of arrozrice
un litro de a litre of aceite, agua, lecheoil, water, milk
una rebanada de a slice of panbread
una loncha de a slice of queso, jamón, fiambrecheese, ham, cold cuts
un filete de a filet of ternera, merluzalamb, hake
una cucharada de a tablespoon of sopa, puré, crema, gazpachosoup, purée, cream, gazpacho

It is also possible to use the units of measurement and containers with countable nouns. We do this for things that can be counted but are not normally referred to in units. In this case, the noun is in the plural.

Examples:
Un kilo de patatas son 7 u 8 patatas.A kilo of potatoes is around 7 or 8 potatoes.
En una caja de bombones hay aproximadamente 15 bombones.In a box of sweets there are around 15 sweets.
Una docena de huevos son 12 huevos.A dozen eggs is 12 eggs.
Un bote de garbanzos tiene... ¿500 garbanzos?A tin of chickpeas has ... 500 chickpeas?

Countable and uncountable nouns in Spanish vs. English

Note

Some nouns are countable in Spanish but not in English, and vice versa.

Examples:
Te doy un consejo. → countable in Spanish
I’ll give you a piece of advice. → advice is uncountable in English.
Necesitamos unas informaciones. → countable in Spanish
We need some information. → information is uncountable in English
Las dos noticias fueron buenas. → countable in Spanish
Both pieces of news were good. → news is uncountable in English