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The book English Grammar: Understanding The Basics makes the following declaration:

If you can use many with a noun (when it is pluralized), it’s a count noun. If you can use much with a noun, it’s a noncount noun.

and elsewhere, it says:

If you can use fewer with a noun (when it is pluralized), it’s a count noun. If you can use less with a noun, it’s a noncount noun.

Consider this example: "I have less high schools in my area than in your area." According to the grammar rules above, high schools is a noncount noun but, far as I know, it is a count noun.

marked as duplicate by Avon, rogermue, Andrew Leach Jul 25 '15 at 19:00

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  • What does your dictioary say? – rogermue Jul 25 '15 at 16:44
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    If you said there are less high schools in my area it would not strictly be grammatical. Better would be fewer high schools. – WS2 Jul 25 '15 at 16:51
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    Many dictionaries don't distinguish mass from count noun. A good test is to look up bean and rice and see whether it will tell you that *A bowl of rices and *A bowl of bean are both ungrammatical. Most American dictionaries don't. The best way is to look for words with an indefinite article (a/an). When it appears, that's a sign the noun is being intended as a count noun, whatever the dictionary says. – John Lawler Jul 25 '15 at 16:59

You have your logic the wrong way around. You said (edited):

now let us take this example if i said "i have less high schools in my area than your area" by following the grammar high schools is non-count but far as i know it is a count noun

Yes, it is a count-noun, and by following the text you cited from your book, you would incorrectly conclude that it is a non-count noun. That is because the book says "if you can use many ...." and "if you can use much ..." etc. The book should have said "if you must use ..."

So you set up your example with incorrect usage of "less." The example was grammatically incorrect, so when you applied the rules from the book, you got an incorrect answer.

The example should have been "I have fewer high schools in my area ..." and if you had applied the book rules to that, you would have correctly concluded that it is a count noun.

To answer your question, the way to tell the difference is: does it make sense to apply a count to the noun?

High school. We have three high schools. You have one high school. Makes sense, so: Count noun. (Correct: You have fewer high schools than we do.)

Energy. We have three energy. You have one energy. Doesn't make sense, so: Non-count noun. (Correct: You have less energy than we do.)

  • Your energy example doesn't help, because "three energy" is plainly wrong. However, a mass noun like energy (or rice) can only be quantified in terms of something else: 3kW of energy, three bowls of rice. Thus "does it make sense to apply a count to the noun itself" is a good test: either the noun itself is counted, or it is measured. A counted noun usually takes fewer; a measured noun usually takes less. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '15 at 19:04
  • Er... I don't think I did. Or at least, I altered it. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '15 at 19:10
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    You pointed out that "three energy" is plainly wrong, because energy can't be counted, which was the point of the example, and then you commented that the answer I provided was a good one. You didn't alter it, you agreed with it :-) – Channel Islander Jul 25 '15 at 19:15
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    The point is that you change your example from "We have three high schools" (plural) to "We have three energy" (not plural) without saying why. But "We have three energies" (plural) is technically possible when discussing types of energy (eg heat, sound, potential). You didn't explain why "three energy" doesn't make sense when "three energies" does. Consequently, "Does it make sense to apply a count to the noun?" is a good test provided the right thing is being tested, and the way to get the right test is either count or measure. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '15 at 19:20

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