Can we use countable nouns to refer to "types" of things?

Example 1

They are two different additives.

Example 2

They are two different types of additives.

Can Example 1 have the meaning of Example 2?

Example 3

Milo is a drink.

Example 4

Milo is a type of drink.

Can Example 3 have the meaning of Example 4?

Example 5

There are three ingredients used in this product.

Example 6

There are three additives used.

This basically means the number of additive and ingredient types, right?

  • 2
    I would say that (1) simply means 'two substances are added', (2) emphasises that the substances are of different kinds (a powder and a liquid, an acid and an alkali, or whatever). Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 12:23
  • 1
    I would say that Milo is a brand of milky bedtime drink. So are Horlicks and Ovaltine. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 14:17
  • (2) also implies that there may be more than 2 additives. Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 8:27
  • I would be careful of saying Milo is a type of drink. The word "drink" comes with overtones that could be misinterpreted to mean something alcoholic. A more neutral word would be beverage.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 10:57

5 Answers 5


Yes, due to the cooperative nature of communication. The listener actively tries to understand, rather than critically looking for loopholes.

So since people don't (usually) name individual cups of a beverage, but do name types of beverage, this is all dealt with by the part of the brain that uses context to resolve ambiguity.

Similarly "types of additive" needs to be understood contextually. A "type" might be preservatives, colours or flavourings, rather than a specific chemical.

You wouldn't say "The batter has four ingredients, flour and three eggs". You would say it has two ingredients. The eggs are one ingredient of the batter.

  • Can countable nouns be used to mean a type of something? Rather than saying "The F1 car is a type of car", can we say "The F1 car is a car"?
    – VinceL
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 12:15
  • Well that would be a correct but rather silly tautology.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 0:16
  • It would be fine to say "The F1 car is a racing car" or "The F1 car is a car that is designed for high speed".
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 13:47

No, they don't mean the same thing.

A 'type' can be a group of things with shared characteristics. So a "type of drink" would be a kind of drink that may include a number of different drinks that have something typical in common. For example, wine is a type of drink. There are many wines, but they all have characteristics in common.

You can also say that some specific thing is "a type of" the group it belongs to, meaning it 'typifies', or is typical of that group. For example, Merlot is a type of wine.

I would say that Milo is a drink, not a "type". It is a very specific brand name that identifies it as a single product, not a group. I don't believe "drink" is a specific enough of a group for Milo to a be typical of it. What is typical of 'drinks' apart from the fact they are liquid? You'd need to be more specific, for example "Milo is a kind of bedtime drink" which may group it in with other hot milky beverages that it shares typical qualities with.


For your first question, adding "types of" adds the meaning that the additives (of any number) fall into two different categories. In some contexts this might not be significant, but in this particular phrase I think it is.

Which brings me to the second question. (3) and (4) could be the same here. "type of" can mean "example of", which is not feasible in (2) from the first question. This is especially true if Milo is a specific brand (which apparently it is).

In (5), strictly speaking an additive cannot be the first ingredient. There must be something to add to. In use additives are things which do not define the product. e.g. flour, eggs, butter, sugar in a cake are ingredients not additives.

  • Sorry I just added example 5. can you also elaborate about that one?
    – VinceL
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 9:00
  • Sorry I meant example 5 and example 6 respectively means the number of ingredient types and the number of additive types, right?
    – VinceL
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 9:42
  • (5) means exactly three distinct ingredients, (6) means there are three extra things in addition to the defining ingredients (e.g. colouring or preservative in a cake). Once you start adding in types that is a different thing, and applies equally to additives and ingredients. e.g. two types of additive could mean two colouring additives and three preservatives, but would mean five extra ingredients. Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 10:02

Yes. Countable nouns can indeed refer to types of things because they are understood contextually.


Many do not realize that there is really no such thing in English as an uncountable noun. What English does is to use countable nouns in uncountable ways--and we then refer to those nouns as "uncountable" within that context.

Some examples are shown in the table.

Countable context Uncountable context
How many apples do you have? Doctor: How much apple did the baby eat?
There are many waters which merge in the sea: ranging from rainwater to rivers. We should drink water every day.
Bakers make many breads: Wheat bread, rye bread, and cornbread are just a few. Asians often think Americans eat bread in place of rice.
The ways of the world lead nowhere. The way of life is the search of a lifetime.
The learnings from the mission will help NASA plan for a future mission to Mars. Students' learning in school should be balanced.
Types of flies include mosquitoes, gnats, midges, and house flies. She is not my type.
How many additives are in processed foods? How much additive is necessary to preserve the food?

As these examples show, virtually any noun in English can be used within a countable or an uncountable context, including the word "type." As a countable noun, it can be plural in form.

Note that not all countable nouns will appear plural. I have used plural forms in the table merely for clarity. But "one apple" is just as "countable" as are "two apples."

One additional note: Grammarians will say that a list of items should all be of the same form. If one uses plural, countable nouns in the list, the entire list should be of plural nouns; but if one uses nouns in a singular or uncountable form, all nouns in the list should match this.

For example:

I like apples, mangoes, and bananas. (Correct)
I like mango, strawberry, and apple. (Correct)
I like pear, papayas, and pineapple. (Incorrect)

So to answer the question:

Can we use countable nouns to refer to "types" of things?

Yes, we most certainly can use countable nouns to refer to types of things.

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