countable numbers

Countable And Uncountable Nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns? You might not recognise the terms, but in your writing they definitely count.

Perhaps we should explain ourselves. In the course of our working week, we often have to edit sentences like this one:

The amount of hits on our website were really disappointing.

Can you see what’s wrong with it?

In fact, there are two problems, and they both relate to countables.

What Are Countables?

Countable nouns are thing that can be ‘counted’ or considered individually.

The first problem in the sample sentence is amount of hits. The word hits is a countable noun. We can’t talk about the amount of hits – or of videos, elephants or people, for that matter.

When we use amount we are referring to a quantity that’s undefined, even thought the amount can be described (large, negligible, unusual etc.) and we don’t usually consider its individual parts – if it has them. In other words, we are referring to uncountable nouns

Examples of uncountable nouns (underlined) are:

He found a large amount of mail on his desk
She added a small amount of sand
Last month we had an increased amount of support

For ‘countables’, we say a number of, because the quantity is more specific (we can count them)

In these examples, the uncountable nouns have been replaced with countables (underlined):

He found a large number of bills on his desk
She added a number of grains of sand to the mixture
Last month we had an increased number of new supporters

We don’t need to know the exact number, but bills, grains and supporters are countable nouns. You can test it by trying to put numbers in front of them – e.g. 20 bills, 10,000 grains, 95 supporters.

Now back to the original sample sentence.

As we have seen, the word amount is incorrect. The sentence should begin, of course, with:

The number of hits ….

But what about the rest of the sentence?

Subject-Verb Agreement

The second problem is the subject and verb don’t match.

Q: What caused the disappointment? A: The number of hits.

The hits weren’t disappointing; the number (of hits) was disappointing, and the noun number is singular, so the verb has to be singular as well:

With both errors corrected, the sentence should read:

         The number of hits on our website was disappointing.

Too Tricky? Too Picky?

You might think this type of language editing gets a bit tricky and you just can’t get the hang of it. That’s OK.

You might find it really tedious, and start to glaze over. That’s OK too.

But guess what? If you’re writing for an audience, you will have readers who notice – and who care – when you get it wrong.

That’s what editors are for!

Find out more about Why You Need A Professional Editing Service

Those Comms People can show you how to use language well. Or we can do it for you!

And then you might find the number of hits on your website will not be disappointing in the least!

Tell us what you think. Your comments and questions are welcome, below.

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