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Countable or Noncountable Nouns?

Dear Teacher Joe,

I have a question for you. I have read these two sentences "Two ice creams, please." and "Is there any ice cream in the refrigerator?" Could you tell me whether "ice cream" is a countable noun or uncountable noun? I'm looking forward to your answer. Thank you.

Jennie from Inner Mongolia

Hi Jennie,

Thank you for your question. Normally, ice cream is uncountable. We have to say something like "two scoops of ice cream", if a restaurant serves it in a bowl. We can buy "two cartons of ice cream" in the supermarket. But what happens if we buy two little prepackaged items in the supermarket? What can we call them? Each type has a brand name, but often the names are not famous. We could ask for "two ice cream cones". Or we could ask for "two ice cream bars on a stick". Or we could ask for "two of those cones that have a big scoop of ice cream inside with nuts and chocolate on top", but that would be too difficult, wouldn't it? So, when we want that type of prepackaged ice cream, it's easier to just say "two ice creams". People do this with other items too. We really should say "two glasses of milk" or "two bottles of milk" but many people will say "two milks", just because it's easier.

Although you should pay attention to details, and you should try to speak as precisely as possible, you don't have to worry about being perfect. As far as learning grammar is concerned, the main focus should be on learning patterns that you can use again and again in your conversations. Many students worry so much about the details, that they never learn the basic sentence patterns of English. Then they wonder why they cannot speak English well! After students learn to use basic sentences easily, then they should think more about the details.

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