I am really confused as to why there is an article before the singular uncountable form of " need" noun. I stumbled upon this while looking out for its usage in Oxford learner's dictionary.

  1. "There's an urgent need for qualified teachers"
  2. "To fulfill an emotional need"

Please help as to when I can put an article "an/a" before "Need" or any other uncountable nouns in general.

  • I do not think need is an uncountable noun. There may be an urgent need for qualified teachers and also an urgent need for qualified doctors; there are multiple urgent needs. Similarly, reassurance and respect are both emotional needs. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 2:29
  • Are you under the impression that singular noncountable nouns cannot take articles?
    – user105719
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 11:18
  • @user105719 Not much. I know uncountable nouns do take articles before them. However, sometimes it makes me a bit confused. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 23:28
  • @stevekeiretsu I wondered the same, but when I went through the definition and usage of the word"Need" on oxford learner's dictionary page, I found "need" specifically mentioned as both countable and uncountable. I am copy pasting the examples here. Please find it below :[singular, uncountable] a situation when something is necessary or must be doneto satisfy/meet/identify a needneed (for something) There is an urgent need for qualified teachers.We will contact you again if the need arises.The house is in need of a thorough cleaning.need (for somebody/something) to do something. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 23:28
  • OK, good. It's probably not much help to know, but articles are among the oldest words in the language. They've had over 1000 years to develop an array of idiomatic usages, so useful general rules are hard to come by.
    – user105719
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 1:22

1 Answer 1


In your example sentences, "need" is countable, not uncountable.

This school has many urgent needs. There's an urgent need for qualified teachers. There's an urgent need for new classrooms.

To fulfill all emotional needs. To fulfill an emotional need.

An uncountable use is:

This school is in need of qualified teachers.

It doesn't make sense for a noun to be both singular and uncountable at the same time. Oxford Learner's Dictionaries says it's "singular, uncountable". That means it's singular or uncountable not singular and uncountable. Cambridge Dictionary is clearer saying it's "S or U" (singular or uncountable (not both)), with other definitions being "plural"; "C or U" (countable or uncountable); or just "U" (uncountable).

  • Oxford Learner's Dictionaries: need
  • Wiktionary: need
  • Cambridge Dictionary: need

So your question is based on a fallacy. Uncountable nouns don't take "a/an". If it has "a/an", it's a countable noun.

  • Please reconcile your answer with my cat example in my comment above.
    – user105719
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 5:27
  • @user105719 I don't need to. You used "the", not "a". I can't think of a grammatical sentence that uses "cat" in an uncountable way. "Some rice is in the kitchen. Some cat is in the kitchen." (only grammatical with a different meaning of "some" and a countable "cat"). "A little rice is in the kitchen. A little cat is in the kitchen." (same issue as with "some"). "I have less rice than you. I have less cat than you." (sounds like we're both eating cat meat, not the desired meaning).
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 5:35
  • You don't need to in the sense that you need not do anything I suggest. I'm not the grammar police. You do, however, need to reconcile your answer to make it correct. That's entirely up to you. The article here is immaterial. In my example cat is singular because it's not cats. In its meaning as the genus felidae, it's noncountable, not least because there's only one such genus. Note that the example is not talking about a particular cat as in The cat is in the kitchen; it's idiomatically talking about the abstract set of all cats using the trope of the representative example.
    – user105719
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 7:11
  • @user105719 Grammar is less about semantics and more about, well, grammar! A grammatically singular noun will always take a determiner, "a" if nothing else, never the null determiner (which is possible in the plural and uncountable "I see cats. I see rice." but "I see a cat." never "I see cat."). I would be very interested if you could point me to a dictionary definition of uncountable "cat" because I can't find one.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 9:04
  • A grammatically singular noun is redundant. A singular noun is a lexical category, and it's a noun not inflected as a plural. This definition is independent of which articles the noun takes. The noun Esperanto (the artificial language) is singular and it does not take a determiner. (The same goes for other languages, but I chose this example because the same word for the language often applies to speakers of that language and the latter does take articles, confusing the situation.
    – user105719
    Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 9:43

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