What do sand and news have in common?

They are uncountable nouns.

“Switch the TV on. The news is starting in a few minutes.”

Often wondered why the word “news” is used with a singular verb? It’s got an “s” at the end, so it sounds like a plural noun. But it’s actually an “uncountable noun”. Uncountable nouns have no plural form and always take a singular verb.

Uncountable nouns are substances or abstract concepts or qualities that cannot be quantified without adding an explanation, or a measurement. Like water or money or information.

You can’t count water; you can count bottles of water. Same with money; you have to add a denomination and an amount: U$500.

You can’t use “a” or “an” with uncountable nouns. To express quantities, you can add words or phrases like any, some, a lot of, much, a bit of, a great deal of, etc:

Have you got any money?
I have some information for you.

Or you can use an exact measurement like a cup of, a bag of, a litre of, a handful of, a pinch of, etc.

If you want to know the quantity of an uncountable noun, you ask “How much?” or “How many …?”

I have no time for this now.
Q: How much time do you have?

I don’t think we have enough water for everyone.
Q: How many bottles do we have?

Other examples of uncountable nouns:

Advice, air, art, beauty, butter, coffee, currency, electricity, evidence, fear, furniture, gas, happiness, knowledge, love, luggage, music, news, power, research, rice, safety, sand, sugar.

© Andrea Paulsen