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Thread: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

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    Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Hello all! I'd like to ask about an issue that drew my attention in Portuguese. Why are countable items tagged/labeled in the form of bare singular nominal in Portuguese language?

    In Portuguese language, I know that there is countable/uncountable distinction. Hence, in Portuguese language countable nouns are used plural in a sentence just like saying "I bought apples" in English. However at groceries/stores in Portugal I noticed that many kinds of fruit and vegetables are tagged singular. For example apples are tagged as "maçã" not "maçãs". There are also plural usages at the labels of packages such as "ervilhas(peas)" and "morangos(strawberries)". I know that count/mass distinction appears in many European languages and plural form is preferred in order to tag/label such items on price tags, product packages, ingredients/nutrition lists etc. due to sentential usage. In English, countable nouns are all tagged in plural such as apples, strawberries, oranges, jackets etc.if they are more than one.

    Why is there that inconsistency and h
    ow are countable items are tagged in Portuguese? For example if I have a product which is a bag of oranges, should I translate it labeling as "laranja" or "laranjas"? If a product includes oranges, in the ingredients list is it written as "laranja" or "laranjas"? Is there any literature, research that touches upon that tagging/labeling issues? Thank you very much for your help and contribution.
    Last edited by xxb; 28th April 2013 at 1:57 AM.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    XXB,

    One possible explanation for this apparent inconsistency is that at a market, or fair, for instance, it's usual to write "banana $0,00", or "maçã $ 0,00". Thus, meaning one banana (rarely sold in units down here in Brazil, but in dozens) costs $ 0,00, or one apple. The meaning would be "apiece". On the other hand, a pack of potato chips would be labelled "batatas chips", although one would order at a restaurant "batata frita". We usually say I like "batata frita", and not "batatas fritas"; both forms are correct. We say and write "suco de laranja" (orange juice) and not "suco de laranjas"; suco de uva... And yes, it's usual to write a can of ervilhas, or to say "morangos com creme". Concerning ingredients, a label would be written: contents suco de laranja, pedaços de maçâ, but ameixas (if many and entire, not in pieces).

    I believe you shouldn't worry too much about this issue. If you write on a price tag "maçãs" or bananas, either singular or plural will be correct (unless, of course, in the case of a pack containing one sole unit).

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    I notice that in Portugal the plural is more usual than in Brazil.

    Suco de fruta (Pt Br) X Sumo de frutas (Pt EU)
    Sal de fruta X Sais de frutos
    Lavar o cabelo X Lavar os cabelos
    etc.
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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Thanks for the answers. I can understand that if something is sold as singular units it is also appropriate to tag it singular on a price tag. As it is common all over the world, aren't many fruit and vegetable kinds (apples, bananas, oranges etc.) sold in kilos (mass) rather than one by one in Portugal? I saw that unit weight was kg or gram, on Portuguese supermarket web sites you can see those examples. What I mean about the packages is packages that only contain the product itself like a package of frozen strawberries or a package of apples where nominal form of the nouns are used not like potato chips. I've never seen apples in plural form at the tags, it was "maçã" however there were more than one apple in the package or the unit selling amount was kg in a supermarket.
    p.s: Restaurant menus are also another example for such linguistic landscape.
    Last edited by xxb; 28th April 2013 at 11:01 AM.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Isso é apenas nas 'tags'. É uma maneira de escrever de supermercado e de frutarias.
    Dizemos: saco de maçãs, saco de batatas, caixa de morangos, etc.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Quote Originally Posted by anaczz View Post
    I notice that in Portugal the plural is more usual than in Brazil.

    Suco de fruta (Pt Br) X Sumo de frutas (Pt EU)
    Sal de fruta X Sais de frutos
    Lavar o cabelo X Lavar os cabelos
    etc.
    É raro ouvir 'lavar os cabelos'. É mais frequente dizermos 'lavar o cabelo' ou 'lavar a cabeça'.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Quote Originally Posted by marta12 View Post
    É raro ouvir 'lavar os cabelos'. É mais frequente dizermos 'lavar o cabelo' ou 'lavar a cabeça'.

    Concordo. Lavar os cabelos não se ouve.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Quote Originally Posted by marta12 View Post
    Isso é apenas nas 'tags'. É uma maneira de escrever de supermercado e de frutarias.
    Dizemos: saco de maçãs, saco de batatas, caixa de morangos, etc.
    Thanks but it will be appreciated if you can answer in English. So, in Portugal/Portuguese what is the custom, widely used method(singular or plural) to tag anything countable if the quantity is more than one? If the custom/method singular does it have an explanation? From English to Spanish in all other languages there are plural expressions (such as I sell/buy apples/jackets etc.) and they use plurals to tag anything countable if the quantity is more than one, which is compatible with the grammar/sentential meaning. I think there must be some explanations in linguistics/translation studies regarding that issue in Portuguese.
    Last edited by xxb; 28th April 2013 at 4:04 PM.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Marta said that this can be seen in fruit shops but people don't usually speak/write like that in other situations: um saco de batatas, adoro morangos.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Regarding to labels, the usual is using the singular name of the content, for both, countable or not countable items. I think there is no gramatical rule for it, it's a matter of usage. As Luiz said, if you use singular or plural it will be understood equally.

    In these online stores you find both cases

    Brasil mandioca, vagem, batata, espinafre but ervilhas
    Portugal castanha, cebola, cenoura, but espinafres, favas, ervilhas
    Last edited by anaczz; 28th April 2013 at 6:44 PM.
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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Quote Originally Posted by anaczz View Post
    Regarding to labels, the usual is using the singular name of the content, for both, countable or not countable items. I think there is no gramatical rule for it, it's a matter of usage. As Luiz said, if you use singular or plural it will be understood equally.

    In these online stores you find both cases

    Brasil mandioca, vagem, batata, espinafre but ervilhas
    Portugal castanha, cebola, cenoura, but espinafres, favas, ervilhas
    Thanks for the comments. Is that singular tendency to tag items in Portuguese only seen at supermarkets, groceries or is it more widely used to tag any plural item? (whatever you can think i.e. ingredient lists, restaurant menus, any product packages that don't necessarily have to include fruit and vegetables etc.)

    Excuse my curiosity but different examples and comments about that issue in Portuguese seems surprising to me. What is more surprising, in the literature I also couldn't find any explanation regarding such usages of bare nominals.

    At any other language I have seen so far, tagging/labeling/naming whatever we can call that action is practiced in line with the usage in the language. For example, as you know in English speaking countries people tag apples as "apples" not "apple" because they say "I buy/like apples". Same situation is seen in other languages which ranges from Spanish to Russian. For example, in Turkish speaking countries tagging is singular because it is said "I buy apple" not "I buy apples." Tagging apples plural sounds very unnecessary and wrong in Turkish, hence noone uses plural tags.

    So, compared to all other languages that tendency to use singulars in Portuguese seems inconsistent and surprising to me. As far as I understand, items are counted in sentences but this doesn't reflect to tags in Portuguese. For example, it is said "eu comprar maçãs" but apples are tagged/labeled as "maçã".

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    In Brasil it's as usual to say "Eu comprei maçã" as "Eu comprei maçãs"

    Thanks for the comments. Is that singular tendency to tag items in Portuguese only seen at supermarkets, groceries or is it more widely used to tag any plural item? (whatever you can think i.e. ingredient lists, restaurant menus, any product packages that don't necessarily have to include fruit and vegetables etc.)
    Yes, it's quite normal for, let's say, screws, clothes, vegetables etc.
    You can use the plural, then it will be about the whole content of the pack and can also use the singular, then you'll talking about the kind of product that is inside the packet:
    Parafuso para madeira philips cabeça chata - pacote com 100 peças.

    What kind of material is inside the packet? parafuso para madeira philips (wood screws with philips head)
    What is inside the packet? parafusos

    Cueca de algodão pacote com 10 unidades
    What are you selling? Cuecas (cotton briefs)
    What kind of thing is inside this packet? cueca de algodão

    something like that...
    A ignorância é um lugar quentinho. (Leonardo Sakamoto)

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Thank you very much for your contribution. Maybe this topic may sound unnecessary, I can understand that both ways of tagging wouldn't be wrong. However, tendency to use singular(kind name) or plural(all together, the quantity) seemed very interesting to me. (It's rare to see singular tagging in English in this manner.) Maybe on the contrary to what I claim, Portuguese isn't the only language which tags/labels countable things singular at the same time allowing plural for them in the grammar/expressions. Maybe I must ask that issue in English forum with the participation of many different native speakers in order to see the situation all over the world.

    Quote Originally Posted by anaczz View Post
    In Brasil it's as usual to say "Eu comprei maçã" as "Eu comprei maçãs"



    Yes, it's quite normal for, let's say, screws, clothes, vegetables etc.
    You can use the plural, then it will be about the whole content of the pack and can also use the singular, then you'll talking about the kind of product that is inside the packet:
    Parafuso para madeira philips cabeça chata - pacote com 100 peças.

    What kind of material is inside the packet? parafuso para madeira philips (wood screws with philips head)
    What is inside the packet? parafusos

    Cueca de algodão pacote com 10 unidades
    What are you selling? Cuecas (cotton briefs)
    What kind of thing is inside this packet? cueca de algodão

    something like that...
    Last edited by xxb; 30th April 2013 at 9:39 PM.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    I'd like to ask one more last question. After those explanations I know any more, only kind denotation regardless of quantity hence singular is used convenitonally in Portuguese tagging/labelling although quantity is expressed in sentences grammatically such as "I buy/like apples". In Portuguese, I can understand that it is enough to tag apples,carrots etc. as singular in a supermarket or label on a package because important thing above all is denoting kind/type of the product.

    How is that singular/plural issue when it comes to typing ingredients list ? Because ingredients lists matter quantity as well. For example, let's say I purchased a loaf of fruit cake in Portugal/Brazil. In the ingredients list on the package do fruit names appear singular or plural? I assume more than one quantity per fruit type is used in the cake and I mean ingredients list that only show names of the product.

    Hence which ingredients list in Portuguese is possible to see: "Ingredients: Flour, Sugar, Apple, Carrot..." or "Ingredients: Flour, Sugar, Apples,Carrots..."?

    Similar issues might be seen in restaurant menus as well. I'm just trying to understand logic of using bare singulars/plurals in Portuguese. Can we say that logic,meaning and usage in Portuguese tagging/labeling is more or less same with English which has exact same quantity expression/countability in the grammar. Maybe Portuguese speaking people who learn/know English or vice versa may have figure out that situation if significant differences exist. Thank you very much again.

    Quote Originally Posted by anaczz View Post
    In Brasil it's as usual to say "Eu comprei maçã" as "Eu comprei maçãs"



    Yes, it's quite normal for, let's say, screws, clothes, vegetables etc.
    You can use the plural, then it will be about the whole content of the pack and can also use the singular, then you'll talking about the kind of product that is inside the packet:
    Parafuso para madeira philips cabeça chata - pacote com 100 peças.

    What kind of material is inside the packet? parafuso para madeira philips (wood screws with philips head)
    What is inside the packet? parafusos

    Cueca de algodão pacote com 10 unidades
    What are you selling? Cuecas (cotton briefs)
    What kind of thing is inside this packet? cueca de algodão

    something like that...
    Last edited by xxb; 6th May 2013 at 7:57 PM.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    anaczz can you please delete some messages in your inbox? I'd like to send you a PM regarding Portuguese but I'm having a notification that you exceeded message quota so I'm not able to send it. In case Im sending an e-mail to you. Thanks a lot for your understanding!

    Quote Originally Posted by anaczz View Post
    In Brasil it's as usual to say "Eu comprei maçã" as "Eu comprei maçãs"



    Yes, it's quite normal for, let's say, screws, clothes, vegetables etc.
    You can use the plural, then it will be about the whole content of the pack and can also use the singular, then you'll talking about the kind of product that is inside the packet:
    Parafuso para madeira philips cabeça chata - pacote com 100 peças.

    What kind of material is inside the packet? parafuso para madeira philips (wood screws with philips head)
    What is inside the packet? parafusos

    Cueca de algodão pacote com 10 unidades
    What are you selling? Cuecas (cotton briefs)
    What kind of thing is inside this packet? cueca de algodão

    something like that...
    Last edited by xxb; 17th July 2013 at 3:32 AM.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Quote Originally Posted by xxb View Post
    Similar issues might be seen in restaurant menus as well. I'm just trying to understand logic of using bare singulars/plurals in Portuguese. Can we say that logic,meaning and usage in Portuguese tagging/labeling is more or less same with English which has exact same quantity expression/countability in the grammar. Maybe Portuguese speaking people who learn/know English or vice versa may have figure out that situation if significant differences exist. Thank you very much again.
    I'm not sure everyone will agree with me on this, but here's a thought.

    When saying "I like apples", it is implied you are talking in a general way. If I were to say something similar in Portuguese, I would simply say "Gosto de maçã", using the singular. I don't know, but saying "Gosto de maçãs" wouldn't sound natural to me. If anyeone said that to me (using the plural), I would understand as "I like different types of apples", but not "I like apples in general". I think the singular is better in this case.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Quote Originally Posted by diego-rj View Post
    I'm not sure everyone will agree with me on this, but here's a thought.

    When saying "I like apples", it is implied you are talking in a general way. If I were to say something similar in Portuguese, I would simply say "Gosto de maçã", using the singular. I don't know, but saying "Gosto de maçãs" wouldn't sound natural to me. If anyeone said that to me (using the plural), I would understand as "I like different types of apples", but not "I like apples in general". I think the singular is better in this case.

    Thanks for the input diego-rj. Although I have limited knowledge about Portuguese compared to you the native speakers, I don't think the usage you mentioned is grammatically correct. Yes it might be a daily/colloquial usage but if it was the case everyone would teach Portuguese with singulars and I wouldn't ask all those questions.

    As explained in the posts, I can understand reason/logic here to some extent:kind of fruit/vegetable regardless of quantity is labeled with the price such as "maça kg $ 2" instead of "maças kg $ 2". Here I'd like to clarify my points since I realized that plural is also used extensively in Portuguese which is compatible with sentential/grammatical usage. Especially when it comes to packages I realized that for any kind of product from wet wipes to corn flakes ( i.e. lenços umedecidos, flocos de milho) is labeled plural which sounds okey for me. I think due to quantity matters in packages ,so do in grammar, plural form is used for labeling fruit and vegetable packs as well (they are counted) such as maçãs, laranjas, ervilhas, cenouras etc. However I can say that as far as I've seen, singular labeling is still widely used for those fruit and vegetable packs on the contrary to other products.

    So, I'd like to understand why kind denotation regardless of quantity which is singular form itself is used for fruits and vegetables? I mean why a pack of apples is labeled as maçã in singular while a pack of cotton buds is labeled plural as cotonetes? I know it is a way of usage, custom but is it about stating a species, stronger emphasis of kind,when we use maçã or laranja in labelling?

    I really want to understand how a native speaker thinks about/behaves for such a basic issue which confused me. For instance this exemplification will be really helpful for me. Let's say you have some products to be sold by kilos in a supermarket but not fruits and vegetables. Let's say they are candies or jar caps. In Portuguese would you tag them plural such as "candies kg $ 4" or singular "candy kg$ 4" as tagging fruits and vegetables? How is the custom for that? In Portuguese it's also interesting to see that some small sized fruits such as strawberries (morangos) can be tagged plural on the contrary to apples, oranges and pears. So I want to understand in what circumstances singular tagging is widely used, is it peculiar for fruit and vegetables and if so I'd like to understand the logic/reason.

    That's what I understood from the examples I could see on internet and my interpretations so far. Hope I described myself clearly. I'm looking forward to your help, you beautiful Portuguese speakers. Thanks a lot!

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    So, I'd like to understand why kind denotation regardless of quantity which is singular form itself is used for fruits and vegetables? I mean why a pack of apples is labeled as maçã in singular while a pack of cotton buds is labeled plural as cotonetes? I know it is a way of usage, custom but is it about stating a species, stronger emphasis of kind,when we use maçã or laranja in labelling?
    Usage, plainly usage. Cotonetes is how it is written in the box so we would repeat it automatically, and for apples, we don't buy apples, oranges and other fruits in packs (not usual), but in kilos or even units, also you can buy a box of maçãs ou maçã whatever. A kilo of bananas or banana, a dozen of banana or bananas randomly.

    One gondola of maçã. Banana. One can conclude the vendor is referring to the fruit itself and not the quantity of it.
    Eu quase que nada não sei. Mas desconfio de muita coisa...- Guimarães Rosa

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    Concordo com a Vanda, mas arrisquei um possível e eventual rascunho de explicação ulterior... O «porquê» pode ser sempre tanto a pergunta mais gratificante como a mais ingrata... Parece-me que temos realmente a tendência para o singular como forma de enfatizar o 'tipo', 'género' ou 'kind' das coisas. Não sei se há uma «lógica» ou «regra» muito estabelecida e pronta a inserir num manual de instruções, infelizmente. Em todo o caso, posso especular: parece-me que as coisas muito pequenas, e que já por si transmitem uma ideia de «consumo múltiplo», isto é, em (pequenos) um ou mais grupos de vários elementos - como uma ou mais colheradas(grupo(s)) de ervilhas (elementos), ou uma garfada de lulas (para não ser só vegetais) - têm mais probabilidade de aparecerem no plural (outros exemplos: cerejas, pevides...); no entanto, há exemplos que vão em sentido contrário, como 'feijão'!!! (Lá se vai a minha teoria!; ou talvez seja uma exceção à regra, se é que existe regra...). Mas acontece que, na minha singela e superficial reflexão sobre o assunto, outro dos fatores que podem, talvez, eventualmente, quem sabe, influenciar as 'tags' é o grau de familiaridade que temos com as coisas (aquilo que já é tão comum que nem se dá pela sua existência é apodado de 'arroz com feijão' no Brasil, acho eu, e a propósito). O feijão, a darmos alguma espécie de credibilidade à minha recém-nascida tese, mas de fato é assim, é 'o pão nosso de cada dia', é (ou foi) algo que está sempre presente, enquanto que com as ervilhas não é bem assim (como vê, não é só nas 'tags' que a diferenciação é feita; também se diz: "gosto muito de feijão, mas detesto ervilhas", por exemplo; e embora se possa até inverter o 'indicador de quantidade' [?], assim como está, parece ser mais natural). Os doces, como os do seu exemplo, surgem normalmente no plural: caramelos, rebuçados, pastilhas [em Portugal], chocolates (mas, claro, se for algo específico já não é assim: Chocolate BAILICA ...); talvez isto seja assim por causa da ideia implícita de quantidade, como referi - é mais natural a venda de um conjunto de vários destes elementos. Curiosamente, de entre os pequenos bolos de pastelaria, aqueles mais comuns podem surgir no singular: "pastel de nata - 2.00 / kg"; mas os menos conhecidos (ou talvez eu esteja a ser muito especioso na escolha...) parece que surgem mais frequentemente no plural: "roscas - 4.00 / kg" (é um doce do alto Minho). Se for assim, reforça-se a ideia de que o que é mais comum tende a surgir no singular. Antes de acabar, dizer-lhe só que este fenómeno não se regista apenas entre os frutos e vegetais; também no peixe e marisco (carapau, sardinha, robalo, camarão...; mas lulas e delícias do mar ); e até fora dos 'comes-e-bebes': prego - 1.00 / kg; por alguma razão, aliás, o prego se vende ao Kg mas os parafusos à unidade.

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    Re: Singular or Plural Tagging/Labeling in Portuguese Language

    xxb, já limpei minha inbox.
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