English, like many languages, has two types of nouns: countable and uncountable. At least, this is what we are told. What if I said there was another type of noun. A noun that is both countable, AND uncountable?
I found just such a noun with “pizza.” Let me explain:
Countable nouns can be used with the article a/an, or with numbers that explain how many there are. Here are some simple examples:
- a drink
- an apple
- two boys
- three oranges
Uncountable nouns either are too numerous to practically count, or they might have no form at all which can be counted:
It is incorrect to use a/an or a number in front of an uncountable noun. It is also incorrect to make an uncountable noun plural.
an air two sands a flour
To quantify these kinds of nouns we usually use a number with a secondary noun that is attached to it, or to modify it with a special adjective called a quantifier.
- a grain of rice
- a cup of tea
- three bowls of cereal
- some pasta (any, lots of, etc.)
Pizza is a different kind of noun altogether. Pizza is uncountable in the fact that we quantify it in slices or pieces.
- Would you like a piece of pizza?
- I am so full. I ate four slices of pizza.
- They must have liked the pizza. There isn’t one slice left.
Pizza is also countable if we use the word to describe the whole of one prepared dish.
- I would like to eat a pepperoni pizza.
- We’ll need at least ten pizzas for the teenager’s birthday party.
- Are you hungry? Would you like some pizza?
These words shouldn’t be confused with uncountable nouns that are commonly used incorrectly.
- Can I have a water? (a glass of water, a bottle of water, a drink of water)
- Go to the store and get a milk for tomorrow. (get some milk, get a carton of milk)
- Three coffees, please. (three cups of coffee)
This strange “pizza” phenomenon exists only with nouns that exist as a whole, and also when describing portions of it. Here are some examples.
- Would you like a piece of cake with your coffee?
- My favorite dessert is chocolate cake.
- She blew out the candles and we all had some birthday cake.
- My brother loves to eat apple pie.
- Shall I bring you a piece of pie with ice cream?
- I was busy all weekend baking pie. I baked three apple pies, two cherry, and a pecan pie.
- She has such beautiful hair.
- Every hair on his head has been meticulously groomed.
- I lost my appetite when I found a hair in my food.
What other words can you think of that are both countable and uncountable?
quantify /ˈkwɑːntəˌfaɪ/ (verb): to count – to show the number of.
phenomenon /fiˈnɑːməˌnɑːn/ (noun): a situation or a fact that can be studied. It is usually something difficult to understand or unusual.
meticulous /məˈtɪkjələs/ (adjective): something done with great care and precision.
groom /ˈgruːm/ (verb): to make orderly or neat, and to make something (an animal, person or oneself) look good.