English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is it correct to say maple tree, or would maple be both correct and enough to mean a tree (not just its fruit)?

share|improve this question
The botanical term for the fruit of the maple is samara. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samara_%28fruit%29 – user19318 Mar 23 '12 at 14:36
up vote 2 down vote accepted

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.

share|improve this answer
@klamlaluno: Thank you. – brilliant Mar 23 '11 at 8:17
This leads us to ask the following question: What is the name of the maple fruits? – kiamlaluno Mar 23 '11 at 9:36
The winged fruits of the maple tree are generally referred to as "keys", at least here in Canada – Kate Gregory Mar 23 '11 at 11:42
The word "tree" is nearly always optional after kinds of tree, but for some kinds of tree it is pragmatically more often required. So for example, without context "three apples" would mean the fruit; but if we are planning a garden we can say "I'm going to put three apples there" and unambiguously mean the tree. – Colin Fine Mar 23 '11 at 11:43
@kiamlaluno: in AmE, key can be used to refer to the winged fruit thing whether it is dry on the ground, still attached to the tree, or spinning in the air in between. – Mitch Mar 23 '11 at 14:11

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.

share|improve this answer
Thanks Kate. Very informative and clear. – brilliant Mar 23 '11 at 14:21
Nice answer; great examples. – Jimi Oke Mar 23 '11 at 16:03

protected by RegDwigнt Mar 23 '12 at 21:22

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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