Before you can form plurals correctly, you need to understand the difference between count and non-count nouns. Noncount nouns are a large group of “mass” or “collective” nouns that do not make a distinction between singular and plural forms. Even though these nouns may refer to large quantities of things, they act like singular nouns grammatically:
The following categories of words frequently contain noncount nouns:
Abstractions: Beauty, revenge, knowledge, progress, poverty
Example: Ignorance causes poverty.
Liquids and gases: Water, beer, air, gasoline, milk
Example: Gas is cheaper than oil.
Wine is my favorite beverage.
Materials: Gold, silver, wood, glass, sand.
Example: He had a will made of iron. Gold is more valuable than silver.
Categories of food: Rice, flour, cheese, salt, yogurt.
Example: Bread is the staff of life.
Meat and cheese are sources of protein.
Languages: French, English, Korean. Example: Navajo is a complex language. Do you speak German?
BUT use “the French,” “the English” when referring to people of a given nationality:
Example: The French are great lovers of wine. (Note that this noun is plural.)
Academic fields: physics, astronomy, music.
Example: Philosophy is a difficult subject.
My brother is majoring in biology.
Sports and games: tennis, golf, basketball.
Example: Do you play chess? Soccer is becoming more popular in America.
Weather: Fog, snow, wind.
Example: Severe drought can cause famine. The city of Buffalo gets more snow than most cities in New York State.
Natural phenomena: gravity, nuclear energy, magnetism.
Example: Electricity is a form of energy. Newton discovered the principles of gravity.
Gerunds (verbal nouns): running, singing, smoking.
Example: Swimming is excellent exercise. Sleeping during class is not recommended.
Groups of things of varying size and shape: jewelry, garbage, luggage, equipment.
Example: Fine jewelry is expensive. Trash was thrown everywhere in the room.
If noncount nouns cannot take plural endings, how do you denote a specific number or quantity of noncount nouns?
As soon as you specify a noncount noun by attaching a defining phrase to it, you must use “the,” just as you would with any other noun. Note the difference between:
“Information is a valuable commodity.” vs
“The information that you gave me was valuable.”
When you are talking about a particular piece of information, as opposed to information in general, a definite article is needed. Note that even abstract nouns may be used in a specific way, as in:
“The beauty of the night was overwhelming.” or
“The poverty of the old man was tragic.”
Use of s with noncount nouns:
Certain noncount nouns, especially foods and liquids, may be used with a plural “s”—just like count nouns—when they refer to many different varieties (e.g. “many poisonous gases,” “various cheeses”). Note the difference:
“He drank too much wine.” vs
“The wines of France are famous.”
(For more information on definite and indefinite articles, see the handout “Definite and Indefinite Articles.”)