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Is "2 litres" in the above sentence a countable noun? I have had mixed answers for this question. Some say yes, and some, no.

I have read articles, but none give me any clear answer.

Thanks a lot

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    Are you non-American ('litres') as in your title, or American ('liters') as in the question? May 21 at 20:18
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    Must surely be countable, otherwise how would you know there were 2 of them?
    – WS2
    May 21 at 22:49
  • @MichaelHarvey i meant to write "litres" only but auto correct changed it to "liters" we use british english May 22 at 12:36

2 Answers 2

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The noun "litre" is countable. But in the phrase "two litres of milk" is is being used in a special way, and the whole phrase is non-countable.

Normally in a noun phrase like "two packs of sugar", the headword is "pack" and this determines if the phrase is count or noncount, singular or plural. So "a pack of cards" is singular "Two packs of sugar are ..."

However some words are "units" (examples include "litre", "metre", "foot", "pound" etc.) These give the amount of a non-count substance. So while "two litres of milk" seems to be similar to "two packs of sugar", it is normally treated differently. "Two litres of milk" is normally considered non-count and singular.

Two litres of milk is enough for a family.

But beware! because sometimes "litre" can be used to mean "A container of one litre size", and that is countable. It sounds more natural with "pint" (since milk is often sold in pint bottles) to say "There are two pints of milk on the table".

So this isn't an easy question, but fortunately, as there is a lot of variation among native speakers, both count and non-count grammar is acceptable.

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  • Can you provide your definition of "countable" and "non-countable"? I've seen people use those terms with various meanings. Thanks. May 21 at 23:55
  • "countable" nouns (or count nouns) are nouns that have a plural, or being used in a sense which has a plural. Examples are "apple/apples" Countable nouns pair with "How many?" questions. "uncountable" or "non-count" are nouns which don't have a plural (or a sense of a noun which doesn't have a plural" Examples include "rice". non-count nouns pair with "how much" questions. Some nouns have both count and non count senses. "How much coffee?" / "How many coffees?" Simple examples use food, but there are lots of interesting non-food examples.
    – James K
    May 22 at 17:12
  • That seems a bit confusing to me, because some nouns have a plural (and thus should be countable according to what you say) but don't pair with "how many" questions (and thus shouldn't), such as "pants" (we normally say "how many pairs of pants", not "how many pants") and "measles". There are also nouns that don't have a plural (and thus should be uncountable according to what you say) but don't pair with "how much" questions (and thus shouldn't), such as "mankind". May 22 at 17:31
  • Yes those are interesting cases, they are nouns that are always plural. However at this point I'm going to refer you to any guide to English grammar. learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/a1-a2-grammar/… cambridge.org/core/books/… (p334)
    – James K
    May 22 at 18:32
  • Thanks. I'd normally post an alternative answer to this question, but OP has already selected an answer, so I doubt that it'd be worthwhile. May 22 at 19:15
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Whether litres are countable or not in your sentence, it should be

There are two litres of milk.

As @JamesK notes, "litres" here could be countable (if you are thinking of one litre containers) or non-countable if you are thinking of the quantity of milk, as in

A cow produces two litres of milk in a day.

That "two" need not be an integer. It might be 2.5. (Neither number is biologically right. The real number is a lot larger.)

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