When I’m marking essays for my IELTS writing correction service, I sometimes find that people misuse the word “content.” This is understandable because actually it can be quite a confusing word!
In this lesson, I will explain when you should use “content” as an uncountable noun and “contents” as a countable one.
Content vs Contents – What’s the difference?
The word “content” is sometimes countable and sometimes uncountable. It depends on what exactly you mean.
Most often, people use “content” to refer to the ideas contained within a book, magazine, film, or speech. For example:
- The book was badly written but the content was important.
- Some reviewers objected to the film’s controversial content.
More recently, this word has come to mean the material shown on a website or sometimes even the whole internet:
- Whenever you search for something nowadays, it seems you are presented with a sea of irrelevant content.
- This website has a lot of content, but honestly it’s pretty superficial.
In each of these cases, “content” is uncountable.
- WRONG: He wants to hire a freelancer to write contents for his website.
- CORRECT: He wants to hire a freelancer to write content for his website.
However, “content” can also be a countable noun. The Cambridge Dictionary defines this as:
everything that is contained within somethingSource
- He emptied out the contents of his locker.
- She rummaged through the contents of her bag.
Here, we are thinking about individual items inside a bigger thing.
“Content” as an Uncountable Noun
It is much more common these days to use “content” as an uncountable noun. Since the advent of the internet, there has been a huge emphasis on the creation of content – blog articles, videos, and so on. Although we can use it to refer to other media, it is certainly most common when talking about the digital realm.
Here are some more examples of “content” as an uncountable noun:
- I consider myself a serious writer and I have no intention of producing trivial content so that someone can boost their Google ranking.
- She creates an immense amount of content. I have no idea how she finds the time!
- There’s a ton of new content produced every day, but how much of it is really of any value?
- He signed up to write for a magazine but now he feels he’s just churning out mindless content.
- If you want to get more views, you have to produce more content.
All of those refer to “content” in the sense of things found on the internet, but of course we also have “content” in other media:
- The book’s content was so controversial that it was banned in several countries.
- Parents have criticised the supposedly violent content of this new movie.
- TV producers often make shows for kids that seem silly and fun, but which in fact are filled with important educational content.
We can also use “content” as an uncountable noun to refer to the component parts of something. For example:
- Soft drinks have a high sugar content and should not be given to children.
- This brand of milk has a higher fat content than the other one.
“Content” as a Countable Noun
When “content” is a countable noun, it refers to all the things inside or making up another thing. For example:
- The rollercoaster went upside down and the contents of his pocket fell out.
- There was a hole in my bag and the contents fell out before I noticed it.
- My home was burgled but the insurance company refused to compensate me for the contents of my safe, which I had left unlocked.
- The contents of this report are dubious at best.
As you can see, these use cases are a little less common than the previous ones. Even so, it is helpful to know this and be able to use it properly.
The word “content” can be used as either a countable or uncountable noun. It has a slightly different meaning in each case, but mostly you will use the uncountable form because this is more important for modern life.