Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This weekend, I took my family to Arby's to eat. My wife ordered us all some food, and filled the cups with some ice and some soda, then I got some sauce for my sandwich as well as some sauces for the kids' food. I wanted to share my wife's drink, so I asked her if I might have some drink, and she corrected me in a playfully pedantic way saying that "some drink" was not correct grammar in that case.

In perusing the Internet, I have found several people agreeing with her, but while I've seen plenty of assertion that my wording was wrong, nothing that I read explained why. During my searches, I also found several instances of "some drink" being used in that context, including Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" (which I figure has to count for something, right? :) ) I thought the community of experts at StackExchange could help me out.

I've set the stage for my story deliberately, because the way I used the noun "drink" seems comparable, to me, to the way I used "food," "ice," "soda," and "sauce," and none of those other terms seem offensive to anyone. So I'm curious if "some drink" in my case actually is wrong (and why it's different from something like "some sauce"), or is it simply that alternative phrasings also exist (e.g. "some of your drink", "something to drink") which may be preferably more specific, but not technically any more correct?

share|improve this question
4  
The give away is if you Google for "have some drink", none of the first 20 hits are even remotely like your usage. The first two that are even close are on pages filled with non-standard word usage like "wanna". –  David Schwartz Jan 22 '13 at 14:43
    
@DavidSchwartz: I'm not sure I'm seeing what you're seeing. Many (4 of the first 10) of the results seems to be along the lines of a play on the facetious phrase "hav[ing] some drink with that ice," which, I would think would be the same usage. If one omitted ice from that scenario, wouldn't it simply be a request to "have some drink"? –  Steven Jan 22 '13 at 14:59
1  
I would suggest that if you were referring specifically to your wife's drink with the question could I have some drink it was actually a contraction of some of your drink and would have been perfectly correct. If however you asked a waiter/waitress for could I have some some drink it would have been incorrect, particularly as they would not have known what you were referring to. –  spiceyokooko Jan 22 '13 at 15:07
2  
this reminds me of the conversation between Alice and The March Hare: Take some more tea... –  Sean Cheshire Jan 22 '13 at 18:14
1  
Are you all mad? Whatever justification/peculiar circumstances one might come up with for grammaticality, the given phrase is terribly infelicitous for the situation. 'May I have some of your drink ?' is the minimal fix. Also, Shakespeare wrote from a different variety of English than any one nowadays, -and- it was poetry where most anything goes. So you shouldn't take him as a usage guide when talking to your wife at Arby's. –  Mitch Jan 23 '13 at 13:40

7 Answers 7

up vote 18 down vote accepted

It's not ungrammatical. I would say though that "give me some drink" sounds either the request of a man in dire thirst, or who has a plan to be very drunk in short order, (or as an old-fashioned or regional usage) while "give me a drink" a less coloured request for a single beverage.

We do generally refer to individual beverages as drinks as a countable noun, and the liquids as drink as an uncountable. So likewise, "give me a beer" and "give me some beer" are both valid, but not identical.

I note that while "give me some drink" and "give me a drink" are both found in ngrams, the latter is more common, and this is a growing trend. Meanwhile, while it finds "can I have a drink" and "please give me a drink", it doesn't find the some equivalent of either.

share|improve this answer
2  
All the answers are really good, but I think I like this one the best (and not just because of the first three words :) ). Barrie England gave some good examples of historical usages similar to mine, but David Schwartz did a good job explaining countable vs. uncountable nouns. So that left me struggling a bit; while I can see that drink can be contained in easily quantifiable units, I wasn't sure that necessarily had to be the case. I think it's helpful how you demonstrate that "drink" can kind of skirt that line based on context. –  Steven Jan 22 '13 at 15:46
    
If I got it straight, "give me a beer" would mean "give me a bottle of beer", while "give me some beer" would mean "give me anything with beer inside", right? –  Francisco Presencia Jan 22 '13 at 18:45
2  
If a pitcher of beer were sitting on the table, would one essentially request the same thing by handing his companion a glass and asking him to pour him a beer vs. pour him some beer? –  Steven Jan 22 '13 at 18:49
    
@Steven is correct, in that context we would probably say "some" because it would be clear we mean "some of the beer in the pitcher". It might also make sense in the days when bars generally refilled glasses, rather than gave you a fresh one with each drink. That said, I'm not 100% certain that in the way that this disagrees with Barrie, that he doesn't have the better answer. –  Jon Hanna Jan 22 '13 at 18:57

The difference is that drinks are things people consume in discrete units, unlike "food", "ice", and "sauce". You wouldn't say "can I have some ice cube".

Look at "sauce". This is both a countable noun and a mass noun in English. You can have two sauces but also some sauce. But if you wanted a sauce (a specific unit of sauce) or several sauces, you wouldn't say "some sauce". Similarly, if you want one drink or several drinks, you shouldn't say "some drink".

We generally reserve "some" for uncountables (some sand, some water) or plurals (some cars, some dishes).

If you want to be silly, you can argue that you were using "some" as an emphatic and what you really wanted was an exceptional drink.

(That's not to say it is incorrect or cannot be used. You just need a great degree of language skill. See Barrie England's answer for some examples that read well.)

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for a good explanation. I was thinking her contention came from something along these lines, and you've articulated it well. –  Steven Jan 22 '13 at 15:19

Fear not. It was good enough for John Fletcher:

Give me some drink, this fire's a plaguy fretter

Walter Scott:

‘You shall have it’, answered . . . Waverley . . . giving him some drink from his flask.

and Charles Dickens:

The subject of their speculations had done due honour to the house by calling for some drink.

The Corpus of Contemporary American English and the British National Corpus also testify to its currency.

share|improve this answer
2  
These uses are correct and seem perfectly current to me (if you change plaguy and fretter in the first example). With sufficient skill, you can make almost anything work and, dare I say it, even sound good. –  David Schwartz Jan 22 '13 at 14:56
2  
The first two seem old-fashioned to me, and the last of a different meaning (as per my answer). Do the contemporary examples you mention argue against me? –  Jon Hanna Jan 22 '13 at 15:10
    
That could match the different meaning I offer. I'm unconvinced, but open to convincing. –  Jon Hanna Jan 22 '13 at 15:14
1  
@Jon Hanna. (Sorry, post deleted, edited and re-posted, so this is now out of order.) Here’s one from the late twentieth century from the BNC: 'Want some drink Ian? Like some drink?' I don’t suppose the speaker was possessed of more than the average amount of language skill that David seems to think is required. –  Barrie England Jan 22 '13 at 15:15
1  
The first usage seems to have “drink” meaning “water” (in the same sense as “he fell in the drink”) while the second two seem to have it mean “alcoholic drink”. I don’t think any of these is exactly the same as the OP’s situation. –  Jon Purdy Jan 22 '13 at 19:00

People do not think of "drink" as being plural and that is why it sounds strange... but of course drink is both plural and singular. I can go and buy me two McDonalds' even though it doesn't sound correct I can still do it; McDonalds' is possessive singular yet I am using it as a plural noun which is why it may sound incorrect. You are correct in asking for drink from your wife using drink as a plural noun because I am sure that you want more than just one sip.

share|improve this answer

May I have some drink is grammatical, and it is a demand for alcohol, carrying the connotations that additional servings will likely be required after that one.

This is because the sentence is using drink as an uncountable noun.

When drink is used as an uncountable noun, it refers to alcohol, and as a metaphor for an alcoholic lifestyle: "He dissipated himself in drink."

May I have some drink cannot be used for ordering a non-alcoholic beverage.

share|improve this answer
    
Do you have a source for this information? It would be helpful to cite it if you do. –  Barrie England Jan 23 '13 at 7:42
1  
Saying 'cannot' in this case seems a little harsh to me, but I agree with the overall sentiment of this answer. Heard by itself, I'd expect "Give me some drink" to be uttered at a saloon, more so than at Arby's by a man asking his wife for a sip of her Diet Coke. –  J.R. Jan 23 '13 at 9:07

To add to Kaz's answer (which overlooks this possibility):

"May I have some drink?" is grammatical, even when used with the countable noun drink. It is a request for one of several/many possible drinks.

The difference with "May I have a drink?": the word some stresses that you don't care which of the drinks you will have, which is odd but not impossible.

Now a drink is a quantity of some beverage poured into some container for being served and drunk.

Your question didn't refer to a choice out of such things; instead, it referred to a specific one, namely, your wife's. You were asking for part of it. This means you were using drink as a synonym of sip or gulp. Apparently, your wife isn't familiar with this usage of the word drink, and neither was I. Moreover, even if you were using drink in this sense, the use of some instead of just a remains odd.

share|improve this answer

Although your question deals with "drink", I would offer this ...

"Can" denotes ability and should not be used to denote permission. "May" should be used to denote permission. "Can I have a drink?" really is asking if you have the ability to drink. "May I have a drink?" is requesting permission and would be better in the case you describe.

This rule often is relaxed in informal settings such as a visit to Arby's probably would be. But still, even to my Yank ears, the use of "can" to denote permission is a bit too unrefined and one which I avoid.

share|improve this answer
    
That's fair enough. I suppose, one way or another, my wife was correct in chastising me for my poor grammar. –  Steven Jan 22 '13 at 18:26
    
You use cans in restaurants over there? Have they no glasses? –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 22 '13 at 18:35
4  
I'm afraid this is entirely false and in conflict with actual usage. For example, corpus data shows that in conversation can outnumbers may more than 20 times over. –  Barrie England Jan 22 '13 at 18:37
    
I've edited the title to eliminate confusion. As it stood, I could see the question being interpreted as one over the usage of "can" rather than "some drink". –  Steven Jan 22 '13 at 18:40
1  
I'm off to have some food. And drink. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 22 '13 at 18:44

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.