If we take uncountable noun (or "mass noun") such as toothpaste which is marked in the dictionary as uncountable, then which auxiliary verb / copular (is / are) I have to use in the following sentences / contexts?

Sentence A: There is/ are toothpaste that is / are not safety. (I mean to one only...)

Sentence B: This toothpaste is pleasant for mouth (I mean to 2 types of toothpaste).

In sentence B my paradox here comes from the fact that it is something uncountable (a lot...)and therefore should get "are" when my meaning to one only and it should get "is".

  • 1
    My paradox here comes from the fact that it is something uncountable (a lot...)and therefore should get "are" I don't understand you. Uncountable things get is, not are. The sand is hot, not "the sand are hot".
    – stangdon
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:11
  • Thank you. I edited my question. Then I always have to refer to it as singular, even when I'm talking about many? Dec 11, 2017 at 18:14
  • Many uncountable nouns are also countable. So that's the rub here. These toothpastes are not good products. These dessert sands are hot. So, it depends really.
    – Lambie
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:19
  • Well, a toothpaste as a particular brand of toothpaste is one thing and in that case it's countable, but toothpaste as a substance is still uncountable. You don't say, for example, pour me some milks. Or better yet: What are you drinking? I'm drinking wines. There is a clear difference when you use which. Dec 11, 2017 at 18:58
  • The point that I'm trying to make is that things that are uncountable can't be countable and uncountable at the same time in the same context. Dec 11, 2017 at 19:04

2 Answers 2


For the most part, authorities will agree that noncount (or uncountable or uncount or mass) nouns are generally treated as singular when it comes to agreement. The Voice of America guidance, for example, states

Grammatically, a noncount noun is always singular, even if it refers to multiple items like furniture, luggage, or equipment.

This is somewhat overstating things, as some collective nouns may represent an uncountable concept (e.g. police, clergy) but be customarily paired with a plural verb.

The police are investigating his disappearance.
× The police is investigating his disappearance.
× The polices are investigating his disappearance.

Additionally, a great many nouns primarily used in an uncountable meaning can also be used with a countable meaning, especially when referring to varieties or portions of something. Toothpaste is just such a noun; for example, one can refer to brands or types of toothpaste as different toothpastes.

There is toothpaste that is not safe.
There are toothpastes that are not safe.

These kinds of toothpaste are pleasant to the taste.
These toothpastes are pleasant to the taste.


What makes you think that uncountable necessarily means a lot? What if I've got some amount of beer and I just don't happen to have a lot of it. Will beer cease being an uncountable noun? What should happen then? And who decides how much is a lot and how much is not. To be honest, the logic is just flawed.

Uncountable things are by definition can't be counted (unless you're talking about different brands of milk or coffee or what have you, but that's another topic for another discussion). So, they must be singular things. And that's why we need the concept of plurality if we want to talk about things that can actually be counted like cars, houses et cetera.

  • 2
    I agree with you. The confusion arises when uncountables are countable. Shall I get one or two coffees? Right? How many sugars in your coffee, dear? How much sugar in your coffee, mate? :)
    – Lambie
    Dec 11, 2017 at 19:47

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