I'm getting confused about these two sentences:

  1. The government should provide education to its citizens.
  2. She has received a great education since high school.

I think education is an uncountable noun.

Why does the second sentence use the article a before education?

It might be a stupid question, but I really want to understand this topic clearly. I looked on many websites but there was no related answer to this.

  • thank you for correcting my grammar -*- I have to study harder :) have a nice day
    – jit
    May 26, 2015 at 11:03

5 Answers 5


"Education", like many abstract nouns, can be used in both countable and uncountable forms. They are most often used as countable nouns when speaking about a specific entity that is not abstract. Here are some examples of these abstract nouns being used in both forms.

We are taught that love is one of the greatest emotions.
I can't eat at diners; I just have a love for finer food.

Everything can be completed with enough time.
There is a time for laughter, even at a solemn event.

If you don't want to end up like your father, remember the benefits of education.
You'll need an education if you don't want to work at fast food for the rest of your life.

Any time you want to refer to abstracts like this with specificity, you'll find them commonly used in countable forms.


Some of the answers above seem to assume that if an indefinite article is used with a noun, it must be a count noun usage. However, there may or may not be the possibility of using other count quantifiers / plural inflections with such words in given contexts:

I just have a love for finer food.

There are two great loves in my life: fine food and classical music.

*I have loves for finer food and classical music.

*She received three educations.

In an article at Useful English is found:

In formal writing and literary works the article a/an may be used with some uncountable abstract nouns to show an unusual or temporary aspect of something. The indefinite article here has similar meaning to: such, certain, special, peculiar.

Compare these examples.

Formal / literary style:

The director spoke at the meeting today with an enormous enthusiasm.

A paralyzing horror overwhelmed him.

She smiled at us with an unusual friendliness.

Standard / everyday style:

The director spoke at the meeting today with great enthusiasm.

He was paralyzed with horror.

She smiled at us with unusual friendliness.

Accepting this, the 'count / noncount' divide is blurred in that an indefinite article is not proof of a count usage.

That having been said, I think that the answers given by Cord and Flater above, with education being considered countified in the sense of 'instance of', fit better here.

  • Thank you, this is helpful. I understand that if it happens in general or everyday we don't use the article in the sentence but if it happens in a special or specific event. the article a/an may be used. for example, one of my friend is a guitarist. He has terrible voice, he performs every Friday. when he sang a song to audience last Friday, it was pretty good. So, when I talk to another friend I said "You know what, last Monday was an incredible performance." "He has terrible voice" <he always has, happens regularly "last Friday was an incredible performance" <not every Friday Am I right ?
    – jit
    May 27, 2015 at 3:25
  • Although there is an idiom 'in good voice', we would always say 'X has a good / terrible voice'. "... the article a/an may be used with some uncountable abstract nouns to show an unusual or temporary aspect of something." May 27, 2015 at 16:03

Yes, it is basically an uncountable, as in the first sentence, but can be understood as short for "a course of education" when applied to individuals as opposed for example to government policy. So the formation of the type, "he got an education in/from" is very common.

@Flater answered while I was writing, expanding the word into "type of" rather than "course of", but it's the same principle.

  • Thank you so much for your answer :) I will read more. :D have a nice day
    – jit
    May 26, 2015 at 10:27

She has received a great education since high school.

Is actually saying

She has received a great [type of] education since high school.

It isn't talking about education as a general principle (which is uncountable, as you say), it's about the specific type of education "she" received— which, according to the sentence provided, was a great one.

It just gets shortened from type of education to education because it's generally understandable from context.

  • Thank you Flater. Can i ask more about this. So, any uncountable nouns are possible to use article if we use it in specific purpose right ? for example, he has a great passion in programming.
    – jit
    May 26, 2015 at 10:18
  • All examples I can think of where an uncountable is actually counted have some sort of implied countable noun in it. "Cheese" is uncountable, yet "the store sells 20 different cheeses". Again, "cheeses" is a contraction of "types of cheese". For "education", it depends on whether you're talking about the general concept of education, or a specific person's (personal experience with) education. It's still not countable ("five educations" still sounds wrong), but can receive an article ("an education is what makes a person self-sufficient" sounds okay).
    – Flater
    May 26, 2015 at 10:23
  • OK when I imagine it as a type of something, it is more clearer. Any uncountable nouns can have type even passion as well. such as a great passion, an incredible personality. an outstanding performance. Thank you so much.
    – jit
    May 26, 2015 at 11:03
  • Examples like 'A paralysing horror overwhelmed him' prove harder to recover the 'implied count noun' with. May 27, 2015 at 16:07

If dictionaries say "education, noun, uncountable" this is right insofar as you can't count two/three educations. But that does not exclude that you can use a structure such as a good education. -"At that university I receive a good education in Latin and Greek.


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