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I'm not sure about differences in these two sentences.

  1. I hear a noise.
  2. I hear noise.

Is noise something you can count? What is the difference between the two?

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  • 1
    What research have you done? Have you looked up the word noise in a dictionary? Do you know the difference between using nouns as "count nouns" and "non-count nouns"? Jun 15 '17 at 12:50
  • 2
    When you hear a bird call, you hear a noise. When you try to listen to a recording of the bird, but you cannot recognize the bird because of static sounds, you hear noise. Jun 15 '17 at 12:51
  • It's the same difference as between (I'm trapped in a dark cave and then I am so happy because) I see a light (up ahead) and (When the sun is shining and I'm outside) I see light (everywhere) or also the same as I hear a voice versus I hear voices.
    – Brillig
    Jun 15 '17 at 14:39
  • Noise is like light in that it can represent a large number in the singular form if the large number combines to form an indistinct continuous thing (like a general light when the sun is shining which is actually the reflection of the sun off many separate items or a general noise which is actually the combination of separate, but hard to distinguish, noises).
    – Brillig
    Jun 15 '17 at 14:45
  • @YosefBaskin that's incorrect. "noise" has specific meanings in the engineering world; unfortunately colloquial speech is nowhere near consistent. Jun 15 '17 at 17:01
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Noise can work as a countable or uncountable noun.

Continuous noise would be uncountable, such as static from an old CRT TV tuned to a channel with nothing transmitting on it, or the sound of an engine from a car.

Noises like the sound of someone banging something, knocking on something, or short sounds with well defined beginnings and endings are countable.

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It's all about the sense implied. In the first sentence(I hear a noise.) noise is synonymous with a sound. In this sense, the word refers to a distinct (loud) sound that can distract the mind for a short moment.

We say: 'Don't make a noise, please.' ['Please keep quiet.] Here, the word refers to a noisy atmosphere (as in a classroom) created by talking.

In the second sentence (I hear noise), the word refers to some constant unpleasant sound from the traffic, industrial facilities, crowded places, and so on. It is the unpleasant atmosphere created by the blending of various sound sources. We say-

  • There is so much noise outside.(uncountable)
  • The noise level in the audio is so terrible. (uncountable)
  • I heard a strange noise outside.(countable)
  • I heard noises coming from that house. (countable)

The difference in the given pair of sentences will be clear from the extensions:

  1. I hear a noise (coming from a particular source).
  2. I hear so much noise (in this place/ created by various sources.)
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"The isle is full of noises": separately identifiable, if not countable. As brillig says, 'what a lot of noise' is very different from 'what a lot of noises'.

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