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food - countable or uncountable?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by ediskvaka, Jan 27, 2011.

  1. ediskvaka Senior Member

    Is food countable or uncountable in the phrases
    I do not eat much/many food?
    Is there any food?
  2. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Hello Ediskvaka and Privet.

    Well, as far as I am concerned I don't eat much either. There are a lot of different kinds of food out there. I like fresh food. Sometimes I buy frozen foods. They are convenient to prepare. I avoid rich foods like pastries.
    Is there any particular type of food that I like most? I think it is fish, especially trout. I also eat a lot of vegetables. :)

    It depends on how you look at "food" - in general or in particular.

    Please tell us what kind of food you like most and what kind of food you usually buy. This will give us a better picture of how you understand the uncountable and countable use of the word food.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011
  3. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    Food is uncountable in general use, as it is in your examples.

    Like most non-count nouns it can be countable when considering types of food. In this case it takes the plural foods, and may take the indefinite article, a.
    Which foods should I avoid during pregnancy? (which kinds of food?)
    Cotton, and its seed, is not a food. (not a kind of food)

    I do not eat much/many food?
    It is "much food" (food in general), but "many foods" (many kinds of food).

    Is there any food?
    Food takes singular concord with verbs ("food is", not "food are"), so if it were countable here it would say "Are there any food" (which isn't correct).
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011
  4. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    The test here is "Can we say 'two food, three food, four food'?" The answer is "No, we cannot." "Food" is therefore uncountable. We cannot say *"I do not eat many food."

    "Foods" is a different matter.
  5. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    That is a good test as far as the word "food" is concerned (in its countable meaning). Because it has a plural form - "foods".

    But there are words that do not take 's' in their plural form, e.g. trout. But that is a different matter as well.
  6. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    "Foods" isn't a common word (not sure I've ever heard it). Where did you come across it? Normally I think the plural would be "foodstuffs" (which itself isn't particularly common).
  7. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    What I have really wanted to say is: That is a good test as far as the word "food" is concerned (in its uncountable meaning). And in its countable meaning it takes "s". But then it is the particular food. I wanted to agree with Sound Shift. (I made a boo-boo when I wrote: "(in its countable meaning)". I'm sorry.)

    I also wanted to point out that there are other words (food words) that do not take "s".

    I agree that the word foods is not used very often in colloquial speech. But sometimes it can be used. I found these examples in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, New 8th Edition:
    "Campaigners are challenging the safety of genetically-modified foods."
    "Does the food taste good?"
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011
  8. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English

    Foods is common enough if you read diet plans where you can choose two or three foods from a range of food groups, for instance.
  9. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    Matching mole alrady gave examples but here's another couple:

    Some foods are better than others at building your immunity.

    Certain foods are proven to stimulate faster cancer growth.

    These are not rare uses.
  10. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Well, I think colloquially you can take pretty much any uncountable noun and pluralise it to mean "types of..." To my mind that doesn't mean that "food" has a plural form "foods". You can't say, even colloquially, "there were three foods on the table". You can say, albeit only formally, "there were three foodstuffs on the table".
  11. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
  12. chrumcia1987z New Member

    Very interesting discussion!

    I have a question in a way related to the topic.

    Is a sentence: "My favourite food are pancakes" completely unacceptable?

    Because the verb should match the subject, and not the object, right? But at the same time we might reverse the order and say "Pancakes are my favourite food" and everything is fine. And the fact that the order can be thus reversed makes me wonder whether "My favourite food are pancakes" is completely wrong (prescriptively speaking, at least;)).
  13. Fabulist Senior Member

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    There was also an earlier suggestion of "foodstuff" as an equivalent of "food" as a type of food. I wonder if this isn't a British usage. While the term "foodstuff" is familiar to me as an American, I would expect to see it only in the formal technical discussions of economists and agricultural experts. Perhaps they use it more broadly, but I associate it with the material from which food is made; e.g., wheat is a foodstuff, bread is a food. I would certainly not expect to hear it at the dining table.
  14. Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    There are 2085 example of "foods" in the British National Corpus. Naturally, a proportion (a small proportion) are the names of food-producing businesses.

    "Like so many peasant foods, the essence of pasta is its simplicity"
    "The passion for ‘health’ foods and mineral water, and exercises such as ‘jogging’ and aerobics, were largely middle-class enthusiasms."
    "The Lappish diet is restricted to these basic foods and the result has been both anger and concern."
    "Alternatively, you could fill the basket with his favourite foods or toiletries."
    "... foods rich in fat or refined sugar might seem very attractive ..."

    The use of "foods" is far too common in written work to be dismissed as colloquial pluralisation by adding 's'.
  15. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Indeed, far from colloquial "foods" is used routinely by the most up-market purveyors of fine foods.
    Fortnum & Mason,
  16. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    What is interesting some people say:
    "... pancakes are one of my favourite foods ... " (http://viciousange.blogspot.com/2010/03/if-you-have-too-many-grapes.html)
    "Pancakes are one of my favourite foods!! I love them with sugar and milk! Yum Yum" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/leeds/features/get_together/pancake_day/pancake.shtml)
    I have even seen "foods" used in a question: What are your favourite foods beginning with each letter from your first name?

    As regards me nectarine crepes are my favourite type of food. Here is how they look: http://www.joyfulabode.com/2007/09/25/how-to-keep-your-man-happy-or-delicious-nectarine-crepes/. :)

    This dish is looks good too: Citrus Creme' Crepe with Nectarine Sauce (http://www.chaserivers.com/chase-rivers-flair/2010/04/citrus-creme-crepe-with-nectarine-sauce.html:)
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2011
  17. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    I stand by what I say. To use another example "water" doesn't have a plural (referring to the stuff you drink, not the more poetic meaning for rivers or seas) yet you can say "like many French mineral waters, Evian is mostly exported..." As long as you can't say "how many foods do you want for dinner?" I'm not going to be convinced that "foods" is anything other than a plural of an uncountable noun indicating "kinds of", just as you can do with any uncountable noun.
  18. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Could be, the Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition familiar to me - a substance suitable for consumption as food - whereas the first definition in Meriam Webster (AE dictionary) is a substance with food value; specifically : the raw material of food before or after processing
  19. Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Ahh, we were slightly at cross-purposes. I was objecting to your describing it as a colloquialism. I regard it as a normal part of standard English.

    In our inimitable forum style, we have wandered away from the original question (helped on the way by some of the mods :D).
    Do we agree that in the examples it is uncountable, but in a different context it becomes countable?
  20. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    If we remove the word many from the examples above then they will look like this:
    I do not eat much food?
    Is there any food?

    Now the word food can be substituted by pasta or any other food (or foodstuff <e.g. spaghetti, parboiled rice> or even chow <from Chinese pidgin English>) related item. Thus we get this:

    I do not eat much pasta.
    Is there any pasta? (= e.g. Is there any pasta in the bowl?)

    In the above sentences pasta is definitely uncountable. It is a mass.

    The trouble is that Ediskvaka's examples contain the word many. Now we have to take it into consideration. And, of course, many goes together with countable nouns.

    If we keep the word many then we can create these sentences:

    I do not eat many pastas. = I do not eat many pasta dishes. But I really like "Cincinnati Chili" (http://whatscookingamerica.net/Beef/CincinnatiChili.htm)
    Is there any pasta? = Is there any pasta dish on the menu?

    Could we say: I do not eat many foods.? It looks that we cannot, doesn't it?
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2011
  21. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Answering the second part first - I'd like to say yes as we're basically on the same page, I think - but in my opinion, no:D.

    My point is that you can take pretty much any uncountable noun and add -s to mean "types of" (or in terms of coffee, for example, "cups of" etc) just as long as the uncountable noun is something that can come in different types. As such if you say "food" is sometimes uncountable and sometimes countable then you are effectively doing away with the whole of the category of uncountable nouns because you can say the same about any of them.

    What I mean is that "types of xxx" is not really a plural of "xxx". To give an example, "coffee" is uncountable yet I can say "some coffees contain more cafeine than others" and "I like two coffees before breakfast". Does that make "coffee" countable? I'd argue not. Another example - "I've drunk all of the wines in the pub" means you sampled all the (types of) wine on offer. It's very different from "I've drunk all the wine in the pub" or "I've drunk all of all of the (types of) wine in the pub".

    Back to the first part - the colloquial question - as I say I think you can take any uncountable noun and pluralise it to give a different nuance of meaning as long as it's possible to conceive there are different types of the item in question. I think that the ease with which this is done varies depending on how commonly it occurs. For example, a common occurrence is if someone says "I'll have a tea, please" (instead of "some tea"). Being a bit of a pedant that always grates on my ear when I hear it (not that I'd say anything), it sounds colloquial to me. It hasn't yet for me reached the status of being standard. "The petrols sold at this station are all terrible" sounds even worse to me. "I like a tall cool beer", however, sounds fine. "The punishments used at this institution are terrible" also sounds fine.

    So it seems to me that this countable use of an uncountable noun has to earn its spurs before it can be considered standard - and most aren't. With "foods" I agree that it is not colloquial in the phrase "fine foods" and in the shop context. In other contexts, yes you're probably right "colloquial" is a bit too harsh. Nonetheless something like "certain foods are proven to stimulate faster cancer growth" still niggles a little at my ear - at the very least it sounds like business speak.

    Bringing it right back to the original question I'd say that "food" is uncountable, although the plural-looking form can be found in some fairly specialised contexts where it no longer means "food as in human fuel" but specifically "types of food".
  22. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    Your persistence in denying some very ordinary uses of the word FOODS is puzzling.

    Saying what cannot be said is not nearly so interesting as accpeting that FOODS is current in many contexts and not really specialised ones, diet planning and food retail are pretty mainstream contexts for foods of all sorts.
  23. Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Keep digging :D

    One meaning of coffee from the COED is "a hot drink made from the roasted and ground bean-like seeds of a tropical shrub."

    "I'll have a hot drink made from ... etc"
    "And I'll have a hot drink made from ... etc"
    "Waiter, that makes two hot drinks made from ... etc"

    Seems to me that coffee, when it means "a hot drink made from ... etc" fits pretty well to the concept of a countable noun.

    "I'll have two coffees please"

    I think you'll find a meaning of tea that is very similar.

    I would, however, agree that "food" is only pluralised when used to mean "type of food", but to my mind it then becomes countable
  24. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Which common usage of the word FOODS have I denied? Despite your use of the word persistence, I see you quote one of my first posts in the thread. Did you read the later ones?
  25. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Then we really do disagree. Yes "a hot drink made etc" is countable, but only if you have several types, otherwise it's uncountable. You (as in one) like coffee, you like a lot of coffee, and there's certainly nothing stopping you liking several coffees but if you do you either like several different brands of coffee or you like several cups. It's a classic use of pluralising an uncountable noun just as you can any uncountable noun to mean "types of" or in this case "cups of".
  26. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    What is interesting I have just come across an interesting article ""THE QUEEN TEA; Royal drops in for a cuppa with Susan." (http://www.google.pl/search?hl=pl&rlz=1C1GPCK_enPL398PL398&q=%22THE+QUEEN+TEA;+Royal+drops+in+for+a+cuppa+with+Susan.%22&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=) where the word "cuppa" is mentioned. Cuppa means a cup of tea. A cuppa is definitely a countable noun.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2011
  27. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    The word foods was used by Louis Alexander - A revolutionary teacher of English to the world (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2002/jul/09/guardianobituaries.obituaries) In his famous book Practice and Progress (New Concept English) by Louis George Alexander, Longman, page 131, chapter 51: Reward for Virtue - Why did Herbert's diet not work?, we read:

    “My friend, Herbert, has always been fat, but things got so bad recently that he decided to go on a diet. He began his diet a week ago. First of all, he wrote out a long list of all the foods which were forbidden. The list included most of the things Herbert loves: butter, potatoes, rice, beer, milk, chocolate, and sweets.”

    Below the story about Herbert and his diet there is a list of questions. Among them there is this one:
    "Has he forbidden himself all the foods he likes, or has he forbidden himself all the foods he does not like?"

    The word foods occurrs in the context of things that we eat every day, like butter, potatoes, milk and sweets.

    I wonder if foods is interchangeable with foodstuffs in British English. Maybe the word foodstuffs is used more often by the Americans.
  28. danialencar New Member

    Brazilian Portuguese
    I really like the discussion and I believe I learned a lot from it... however I have a very simple and maybe stupid question:

    Junk Food would be countable or uncountable when I'm using less and fewer. I was thinking of using it as an example in class then I start wondering... I would say less junk food, but now I'm not completely sure about it.
  29. Cagey post mod

    English - US
    Hello danialencar.

    Welcome to the forum. :)

    I think that 'less' is usually right. I would say, for instance, "Eat less junk food."

    If we are thinking of specific examples of junk food, we might use the countable version, but I think this is less likely. Here is one example I thought of: Today he likes fewer junk foods than than he did when he was a child.
    (It's not a good example. It's just the best I could to right now. ;))
  30. danialencar New Member

    Brazilian Portuguese
    Thanks for the welcome. I've never tried one of these forums before and I really like the idea of sharing and learning.

    Well, I can totally see the difference when using fewer and less in this case... thanks.
  31. EdisonBhola Senior Member

    I read through the whole thread but still don't understand the difference. :(

    When you purchase any frozen or chilled food/foods, you can get a free bottle of oil.

    Would you use "food" or "foods", and why?
  32. velisarius Senior Member

    British English (Sussex)
    I'm assuming this means any one item, so for me it would be "When you purchase any item of frozen or chilled food..." I would happily omit "item", making it "any frozen or chilled food..."
  33. EdisonBhola Senior Member

    Does "any frozen or chilled foods" (with an s) mean "any kinds of frozen or chilled food" (without an s)?
  34. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    It would mean more than one kind of food. "Foods" is not commonly used in everyday speech. We more often say different kinds of food, than different foods. Using "foods" also makes it unclear whether you have to buy more than one frozen item and whether the items have to be different kinds of items to get the oil.
  35. EdisonBhola Senior Member

    How about this (treating food as countable and adding "a"):

    When you buy a frozen or chilled food, you can get a free bottle of oil.
  36. Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    No. To paraphrase Myridon, countable "food" is not commonly used in everyday speech. There has to be a particular reason to use the countable form: for example "which foods contain vitamin C?" "Fruit and vegetables". Here "foods" is used to mean "types of food". "Dark chocolate is a food from Heaven": here the countable form identifies dark chocolate as a particular and special type of food, but allows for the possibility that there is another food from Heaven, perhaps manna. I thought this had been explained previously.
  37. Lecword Senior Member

    Hi all,

    I've been reading this thread and I was wondering if you could help me.
    Should I say "wide rage of food" or "a wide range of foods"?
    "A great variety of food" or "a great variety of foods"?

    Many thanks
  38. Cagey post mod

    English - US
    Hello, Lecword. :)

    I would say a wide range of foods. The point of having a wide range is that you have a lot of different kinds of food, which is when we use the countable form.

    I would say "a great variety of foods" for the same reason.
  39. felipenor New Member

    Portuguese - Brazil
    But those examples strike me as exclusively related to ordering/buying. On the other hand though, if you were offering it to a friend at your place, you'd probably say "Do you want some coffee?" or "Would you like a cup of coffee?", but not "Would you like a coffee?", right?
  40. Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    I could say any of those in that situation.
  41. felipenor New Member

    Portuguese - Brazil
    Really? I always assumed there was some difference, but then again I'm not a native speaker. I thought it sounded fine to ask a "friend" "Do you have some coffee?", but weird to ask "Do you have a coffee?" or "Do you have an orange juice?"
  42. terence77 Junior Member

    India - Hindi & English
    Food is uncountable in general except a few case where name of the food item is specified exactly as mango, pizza etc. In other cases food has the similar usage as water. I do not eat much food would be the correct usage according to me.
  43. Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Yes, really, why do you think I wrote it? But I wouldn't say "Do you have ..." as a way of offering somebody a drink, because that's not English. I certainly say "Would you like a coffee?", often.

    Don't confuse that with:
    Me "Would you like a drink?"
    Friend "Do you have coffee?" not "... a coffee?"
    but this is normal:
    Friend "Could I have a coffee?"

    But this is wandering from the thread topic, which is "food".
  44. felipenor New Member

    Portuguese - Brazil
    I didn't mean "Do you have a coffee?" an a way of offering, but rather as a way of requesting (sorry if I wasn't clear). If it's ok to offer saying "Would you like a coffee?", why isn't it ok to request saying "Do you have a coffee?"

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