Variable nouns


New Member
I'm using Collins Dictionary. It says:

Variable Nouns vs. Uncountable Nouns.
- Materials such as metal, plastic and wood are defined as Variable Nouns.
- Materials such as Aluminium, coal, iron and tin are defined as Uncountable Nouns.

- Liquids such as beer, coffee, juice, oil are defined as Variable Nouns.
- Liquids such as milk, gasoline, petrol are defined as Uncountable Nouns.

- Stone (as a unit of weight) are defined as Variable Noun (although, it is countable).

What does Variable Noun mean?

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  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I've also never heard of a variable noun. I suppose it is their term for a noun that can be used sometimes countably and sometimes non-countably. This is true of many nouns, in some circumstances, and I wonder whether it's helpful. It would be better just to give examples of countable and non-countable uses; but you also need the grammatical knowledge of when nouns can switch kind (wines are kinds of wine, some chicken is some chicken meat).


    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Mark1993, can you provide a link to the web page containing the "Collins dictionary" text that you quote in post #1? I would like to look at the actual web page, before I comment on it. It is puzzling, and does not make much sense.

    When I go to and search for "variable noun", it says there are no results. It lists "countable noun" and "uncountable noun", but not "variable noun".

    I found a definition online: a "variable noun" is a noun that changes its spelling in some situations. In English, that situation is singular-to-plural. So "cat" is variable: the plural is spelled "cats". But "sheep" is invariable: the plural is spelled "sheep", like the singular.

    If that is the definition, it does not add a third category to "uncountable/countable". There are still just the two.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    From the 2003 edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language):
    Most nouns have both a singular and a plural form, expressing a contrast between ‘one’ and ‘more than one’, and these are known as variable nouns. A small group of cases do not have a number contrast – the invariable nouns.

    The book goes on to explain that variable nouns are those that “change from singular to plural in a wholly predictable way, usually described simply as ‘adding an -s’ (though the reality is not so straightforward). This is the regular plural form, as seen in cats, oboes, eggs …”


    English - England
    At the fish and chip shop

    A: "Next!"
    B: "Three fishes and one chips, please."
    A: "So that's one fish and chips and two fish?"

    English is simple.:D


    New Member
    Mark1993, can you provide a link to the web page containing the "Collins dictionary" t.......o.
    Sorry, I use the British version.

    Petrol definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary

    I believe I know the answer already, It's about uncountable nouns.
    - I cannot say: "Out of all the milks in the world ....", <-- [Marked as [UNCOUNT NOUN]
    - but I can say: "Out of all the beers in the world....." <-- Marked as [VARIABLE NOUN]
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