Is it correct to say maple tree, or would maple be both correct and enough to mean a tree (not just its fruit)?
The word maple is used to mean the tree. The definition given by the NOAD is "a tree or shrub with lobed leaves, winged fruits, and colorful autumn foliage, grown as an ornamental or for its timber or syrupy sap."
The word origin is from Old English mapel, which is the first element of mapeltrēow, mapulder ("maple tree"), used as an independent word from Middle English onward.
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Maple doesn't refer to the fruit (unlike say an apple tree) since the main product of the maple is the sap or products made from it. If you eat a "maple tart" or "maple cookie" it will taste (at least in theory) like the concentrated sap, not the tree itself. The adjective doesn't imply "maple tree". That said, "a maple" is unambiguously a maple tree. Same for "an elm", "an oak", and other trees whose main product is not the fruit. "An apple" could mean an apple tree but only in highly specific contexts, eg "He looked along the drive, admiring the trees - several elms, an apple, and three maples."
Finally, for completeness, you might say "a maple" to mean "a maple one" such as "what flavour donut should I get you? A maple?" or "We were looking at flooring options and we've settled on a nice maple." But that's the adjective at work again.
protected by RegDwighт♦ Mar 23 '12 at 21:22
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