Experiences or Experience? (Count vs. Non-Count Noun)

Understanding the Difference between “An Experience” and “Experience”

My students often have trouble with the noun “experience.” This is because experience has two (main) meanings. Let me try to explain it as simply as I can.

Meaning #1 (the countable experience):  “I had an interesting experience at school today.”


In this sentence, an experience is an event or incident. It is an event that you were a part of and the event made an impression on you (it’s something you will remember). These type of experiences are countable, just like events. If you had an interesting experience at school today, that means one interesting thing happened to you. For example, you kissed a girl (or boy) for the first time.

Here are some other examples of the countable form of the word experience:

  • Climbing Mount Everest was an experience that I’ll never forget. (This is one event that happened in the past).
  • I have had some bad experiences with taxi drivers.  (The speaker has had two or three unpleasant stories about taxi drivers that she has experienced herself. Each of these stories, or events, was a bad experience.)

 

Meaning #2 (the uncountable experience): “I have experience with computers.”


In this sentence, experience means familiarity.You have used computers for many years, so you are familiar with them, you have knowledge of them, and you have skill using them. This ‘experience’ is the familiarity and knowledge you have of something because you have used it for a period of time. This ‘experience’ is non-countable; it is not one event that happened to you. It is something you have gained over a period of time by doing something. Just like knowledge, understanding, or familiarity, you can’t count it.

Here are some other examples of the uncountable form of the word experience:

  • I have 8 years of teaching experience. (This means I have taught, in practice, for 8 years.)
  • Mike has just graduated college. He doesn’t have any work experience. (He has never worked; he has no familiarity with working and no knowledge of what working is like.)

Experience: Set Expressions & Idioms

We always say:

  • In my experience, Bob is a good teacher.
  • Based on my experience, Bob is a good teacher.
  • Speaking from experience, Bob is a good teacher.

Meanings: You have learned that Bob is a good teacher from the knowledge you have gained from studying with him personally.

Here is one useful idiom:

  • Experience is the best teacher.

Meaning: We learn best by doing things and getting direct experience. For example, people learn more about surfing by going to the beach and trying to surf; this is a better than reading about surfing on the Internet.

– —- –

Do you think you understand? Try the experience quiz!

1. Sarah gave birth to a baby boy last week. It was experience.

2. The doctor who helped her at the hospital had been a doctor for 20 years. He had . Sarah was happy that he was her doctor.

3. Yesterday, there was a fire in Sarah’s apartment building. Everyone had to leave the building. It was experience.

4. Sarah’s husband, Tom, has worked as a policeman for 5 years. In his , being a policeman is a good job.

5. Last year, he saved a boy who fell into the river. That was he will never forget.

Answers

1) a hard

2) a lot of experience.

3) a scary

4) experience

5) an experience

I hope that reading this has been a learning experience for you. If you still have questions, please post a comment below.

– Matthew Barton / Englishcurrent.com (Copyright)

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41 comments on “Experiences or Experience? (Count vs. Non-Count Noun)

  1. Amir (Posted on 10-10-2013 at 04:04) Reply

    Thanks for your excellent explanation.

    1. Mrs. Mashak (Posted on 2-7-2017 at 13:41) Reply

      I am so happy for your clear and understandable explanations. You are a skilful teacher.
      Regards,

  2. Cenk (Posted on 4-7-2014 at 15:22) Reply

    Thanks for your explanation. It was so helpful.

  3. Amru (Posted on 6-23-2014 at 11:26) Reply

    Really helpful article and good explaination.

    Thank you.

     

    Love the quiz after the explanation. Make things easier to understand.

  4. LI Xin (Posted on 6-23-2014 at 20:28) Reply

    Very, very helpful page. Thanks for the effort.

  5. Trish (Posted on 7-12-2014 at 19:07) Reply

    I had half understanding before this, now I fully understood.  The quiz is very helpful!

  6. Rex (Posted on 8-13-2014 at 03:21) Reply

    Very helpful for a non-English speaking person like me, thank.

  7. Huyen Joyana (Posted on 8-15-2014 at 13:35) Reply

    YOu must be a good teacher! :) …A big thank you to you! 

  8. Arif (Posted on 10-7-2014 at 13:02) Reply

    “experience” is an uncountable noun. But we have used an article. I am still confused :(

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-7-2014 at 20:36) Reply

      Where do you see this?

  9. Damien (Posted on 10-22-2014 at 07:35) Reply

    A really fantastic explanation. Thank you

  10. James (Posted on 12-8-2014 at 07:47) Reply

    Thanks for your elaborate and easy-to-understand explanation. It was always an awful experience whenever I wrote something with the word ‘experience’. With your easy explanation and examples, I finally came to understand the difference between the two.
    I really appreciate it.

    By the way, I have another question about your example sentence.

    “Mike has just graduated college.” As far as I learned, “Mike has just gradutated from college.” is the grammatically correct sentence.

    Is there any difference between the two?

    Thanks again.

    James

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-22-2014 at 14:10) Reply

      You are probably correct in saying that ‘graduated from’ is more grammatically correct. But in my opinion, both are acceptable. A lot of Canadians will omit the preposition with objects like ‘college/high school,’ but we generally don’t do it when we mention the name of the school (“He graduated from Harvard” (not graduated Harvard)). Weird. Language evolves and mutates.

  11. Susan (Posted on 1-17-2015 at 23:47) Reply

    Thank you very much.

  12. Mint (Posted on 2-16-2015 at 22:20) Reply

    Thank you so much.

  13. Jana (Posted on 4-29-2015 at 16:34) Reply

    Thank you so much for your clear explanation followed by the quiz. It was a nice experience.

  14. Supria (Posted on 9-22-2015 at 23:07) Reply

    It’s a clear explanation. Thanks

  15. Carrie (Posted on 9-29-2015 at 17:34) Reply

    Many thanks for you perfect explanation.

  16. Sandra (Posted on 10-25-2015 at 13:05) Reply

    Thanks! Now I understand. :)

  17. Gary (Posted on 12-18-2015 at 09:12) Reply

    I am writing about my wartime experience or experiences? how would I know which version to use?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-18-2015 at 12:05) Reply

      Are you writing about your familiarity and knowledge of wartime (= experience) or of separate (countable) events that happened during wartime (= experiences)? Therein lies the answer.

  18. Ensieh (Posted on 3-3-2016 at 04:45) Reply

    wonderful!Thank U veryyyyyyyyyyyy much!

  19. Alli (Posted on 4-12-2016 at 09:02) Reply

    I beg to differ on #4. It could be either experience OR experiences – preferably experiences! It is based on encounters he has had, not necessarily as his body of work per se, but, varied individual experiences – therefor it would be rather plural than singlar.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 4-12-2016 at 15:25) Reply

      Even though the expression ‘Based on my/his/her’ is usually followed by the uncountable experience, what you said is possible. Good point. I have changed the question to ‘In his (experience)’ to make it less ambiguous for students who are at a lower English level.

  20. Vivian (Posted on 5-10-2016 at 16:38) Reply

    Excellent explanation and the quiz is great idea.

  21. Linh Le (Posted on 5-18-2016 at 16:45) Reply

    Thank you so much. It helps me a lot !

  22. Gbenga (Posted on 5-29-2016 at 14:58) Reply

    Awesome Thanks

  23. Irma (Posted on 5-30-2016 at 16:22) Reply

    Excellent explanation- can you also explain why do we use an article ‘an’ with ‘ethos’ when it’s an uncountable nounq. E.g. I have always been praised for having an excellent working ethos.
    Thanks

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 5-30-2016 at 17:15) Reply

      Hmm. Good question. I googled around a bit and found that ethos is a countable noun and its plural form is ethe / ethoses / ethoi or even ethea. Who knew.

      1. Irma (Posted on 6-2-2016 at 11:14) Reply

        Excellent – thank you. Articles cause me a lot if trouble not because I don’t know the rules but cause of so many exceptions.

  24. Hyejung from Korea (Posted on 6-1-2016 at 04:10) Reply

    Thank you so much! The information is very helpful! :-))) & Love the quiz!

  25. Jack (Posted on 10-20-2016 at 13:16) Reply

    Thank you, it is very helpful.

  26. Aimee (Posted on 10-27-2016 at 23:32) Reply

    Nice and easy understanding explanation.

  27. Camellia (Posted on 2-15-2017 at 04:32) Reply

    Thank you for your helpful explaination :)

  28. May (Posted on 3-12-2017 at 06:59) Reply

    What about if there’s a word “always” prior to experience, should it be “experience” or experience?
    Example: I always experience having a heavy baggage.
    Or should it be :
    I always experiences having a heavy baggage.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-12-2017 at 13:45) Reply

      In your sentence, experience is a verb, so it conjugates according to the sentence subject (‘I’). Therefore, the verb is just ‘experience’ with no ‘s’.

  29. Lycel (Posted on 4-6-2017 at 02:48) Reply

    What about using ‘these’ before the word experience?
    Should it ‘these experiences’ or ‘these experience’?

    1. MB (Posted on 4-6-2017 at 13:03) Reply

      ‘These experiences’ or ‘This experience’. (You cannot use ‘These’ with a singular or uncountable noun)

  30. NI (Posted on 4-27-2017 at 06:00) Reply

    Thank you very much for your explantion,. It was easy and clear.

  31. Sherry (Posted on 8-16-2017 at 18:47) Reply

    Thank you for your clear explantion. I still have an additional question. Should I put ‘allow” or allows in the following sentence? 8 years of research experience allows me to have excellent skills in biochemistry.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 8-17-2017 at 00:53) Reply

      allows. Also, generally when you write a digit that is below ten, you ought to write it out in letters. By the way, I like this construction better: “My expertise in biochemistry is a result of eight years of research experience.”

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