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This is for academic writing purposes.

I am trying to come up with a word that could indistinguishably describe a bottle or a can within a pack of beer. I cannot say "a unit" because "a unit" in my field means a pack (of beer). For example, when we say, price per unit of beer, it means, price per 1 pack of beer. I, on the other hand, seek to say "price per bottle/can" within such unit. Is there a word that is equally suitable to describe either a bottle or a can?

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Have you considered that the word unit might be misapplied here? Are you using the words outer and inner anywhere? One solution is 24 units in an inner (the box of 24 tins which is taken through the checkout), and those retail boxes are supplied in an outer. If the retail boxes are simply supplied on a pallet, then they become the outer. – Andrew Leach Jan 28 at 8:46
Bear in mind that when talking about alcoholic drinks, unit has another meaning as well. The phrase "Price Per Unit" is used in legislation in Scotland, referring to units of Alcohol. – Paul Butcher Jan 28 at 10:15
Each time you write a paper using the chosen term, you'll have to define it as "a bottle or a can." How many times in a paper do you need to refer to a bottle or can without knowing which one it is? For example, "Plotznik sells beer in 12-packs for $0.65 per bottle" (because you know Plotznik always uses bottles); "if each unit contains 12 cans and sells for $6.60, the price is $0.55 per can"; and so forth. How bad would it be to write "bottle or can" in each of the places where you cannot simply write either "bottle" or "can"? – David K Jan 29 at 18:54
In the paper, the beer sales is only a tool to describe a larger notion. So the purpose is not to go into the details whether it's a bottle or can. – Olga Jan 29 at 20:38
If you don't care to detail whether it's a bottle or can, why not simply choose one or the other? If it's just an analog, why is it important if you potentially refer to a can as a bottle, or vice versa? – MichaelS Jan 30 at 1:09

13 Answers 13

up vote 2 down vote accepted

container as in open container laws

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Easily misunderstood in the world of distribution. You could ask someone to get you one container and end up with a giant steel box. – Caleb Jan 29 at 14:14
@Caleb And then it could be 20', 40', or 53', either standard or high-cube... The permutations are many. – Monty Harder Jan 29 at 20:24

What's wrong with beer?

There are 12 beers in a 12-pack. The price is 70¢ a beer.

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I agree with @Fuhrmanator. In this specific context, 'beer' can be reasonably understood to refer to whatever the constitutive units are. – Yasha Jan 28 at 2:28
The problem with this is that beer is also used to mean variety or brand of beer. If I ask 'how many beers does this bar sell', am I looking for 'it sells four beers on tap and eleven in bottles', or 'it sells on average 2750 beers a week'? – nekomatic Jan 28 at 10:12
Beer is overloaded here, so its use would be ambiguous. – jimm101 Jan 28 at 12:27
@nekomatic I agree with your argument for a bar or even a beer store. However, the title of the question specifies units "in a pack," and varieties or brands doesn't really make confusion there (except for variety packs). The usage is for a specific context. – Fuhrmanator Jan 28 at 14:02
If, as the OP states, a unit is equivalent to "a pack of beer" which let's say are six cans, and then you use the term beer it doesn't sound very "academic" compared to "unit", does it? And then the op says: price per unit of beer, so the word beer is already used. I think the OP is looking for a more universal term, one which could stand for any single product or item. – Mari-Lou A Jan 28 at 19:14

In the UK trade this is sometimes referred to as a "single". Usually meaning one bottle from a case of 6, 12 etc, where the case is the main stock keeping unit (SKU) for distribution. It could also apply to cans.

E.g. "Quantity: 3 cases, 1 single." or "Quantity: 1 cases, 3 singles."

You'll see this reported on customs and excise forms along with liquid volume and alcohol volume and other tax related measures of quantity.

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In the USA, this is also what I've commonly heard one called. – hatchet Jan 28 at 21:39
I'm in the Midwest USA. I have never heard this term. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 29 at 16:34
@BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft: Nonsense... you heard it fifteen minutes ago! :D – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 29 at 16:50
I've heard it in a singles bar. – Hot Licks Jan 31 at 3:08
A single would be the best word to use in this case. – Ian Stanway Feb 3 at 17:42

Serving makes sense:

a single portion of food or drink; helping

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+1 Unless, of course, they are promoting the low calories, in which case they will suggest there are 12 servings per pack. – bib Jan 28 at 0:49
'Serving' is inappropriate. Nobody would call a single can or bottle of beer (whether in/from a multipack or not) a 'serving' or 'helping'. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 28 at 1:16
@EdwinAshworth Are you suggesting a serving of beer is more or less than 12 oz? – bib Jan 28 at 1:36
@EdwinAshworth nobody? I think in the context it conveys the idea while being unlikely to infringe on other terminology. – jimm101 Jan 28 at 2:20
@EdwinAshworth in the US, 12 oz is the size for 86.347% of all beer sales (totally made up), but here are 20 ozers and 32 ozers and others, but a serving, per DUI guidelines, is technically 8 oz, so the notion of serving is pretty much a fantasy. [Nevertheless, I voted for serving.] – bib Jan 29 at 0:55

I would use can, and the first time you do this, explain that everything you say equally applies to bottles and you're using the term can for simplicity.

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Unless, of course, the beer comes in bottles? – jpaugh Jan 28 at 22:59
@jpaugh "explain that everything you say equally applies to bottles and you're using the term can for simplicity" – DCShannon Jan 29 at 7:41
That's an unusual usage of the word "simplicity"... – user568458 Jan 29 at 16:00
@user568458 no, that is normal: google.com/… – Matthew Moisen Jan 29 at 18:37
Since this question is about academic writing, and I am an academic reader, I would like to make a personal request to the OP: please, please don't do stuff like this. In my field, at least, people rarely read papers straight through, from beginning to end. It's more typical to jump around, skipping backward and forward, reading some parts closely and skimming others. As a result, the first place a reader sees a word is often not the first place it's used. And when a word looks non-technical, readers often assume it means what they think it means... – Vectornaut Jan 30 at 21:37

You could use drink.

Each unit contains twelve bottles of beer, at a price of 70c per drink.

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"Beverage" can also be used if formality is wanted. – user568458 Jan 29 at 16:04
A beer is not a consistent measure. It would be more usual to quote the price per pint or litre. – Stevetech Jan 31 at 6:38

I like @uosɐſ's and @Furhmanator's suggestions of just using beer. It's both a mass noun and a count noun, so there's no problem saying "price per beer."

  • There are six beers in a six pack.
  • The average price per beer is $1.25.

Or you might just go with subunit since they are smaller units within the larger unit (a pack).

  • There are six subunits in a six pack.
  • The average price per subunit is $1.25.
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'Beer' works of course, but that's been suggested. +1 for subunit, which sounds appropriate if they're using unit for the whole pack. – DCShannon Jan 28 at 4:42
The problem with sub-units is they can be ambiguous too. Many cases and some twelve-packs are just boxes to hold six-packs. So does a case have four sub-units, or 24? And heaven help you if you get one of those odd beers that comes in four-packs! – TMN Jan 28 at 17:21
@TMN There are cases that hold smaller packs? I've never seen such a thing. – DCShannon Jan 29 at 7:39
@DCShannon: yes — it may vary regionally, but when I lived in Pittsburgh, it was very common to buy beer as cases consisting of four six-packs. This may be partly to do with local liquor laws — I forget the details now, but roughly, large-scale beer stores were only allowed to sell in cases of at least 24, while bars/restaurants could sell smaller units but had to pay a higher tax band or something. – PLL Jan 29 at 12:47
@DCShannon: Yes, I see it fairly often, but given PLL's response it may be a Pennsylvania thing. The alcohol laws here are somewhat...politically Puritan. It's only in the last six months or so that we're allowed to buy twelve-packs, and the first one I bought was a thin cardboard box wrapped around two six-packs. – TMN Jan 29 at 14:07

In the US, a six-pack or twelve-pack has six or twelve cans or bottles. I'm afraid you might be stuck with saying 1 can/bottle and explaining it. Or you can just state that you plan to use the word container or unit.

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you could try:


a hollow container for holding liquids

  • a container (as a cask, bottle, kettle, cup, or bowl) for holding something


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In this vein, I'd also suggest per caravel or galleon. – tristan Jan 31 at 22:34

For clarity, you might refer to it as a singleton;

a person or thing occurring singly, especially an individual set apart from others.

So the sentence would be...

"She took the 6-pack and split it into singletons"

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While I do not know the beer industry (except as a consumer), in other inventory contexts I have seen the word piece used as a subunit.

Wiktionary says:

A part of a larger whole, usually in such a form that it is able to be separated from other parts.


The word subunit might work as well.

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each would also be correct in this case:

price per each

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Following practices in the beverage industry you could call this a Stock Keeping Unit (SKU). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_keeping_unit

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But the pack might also have a barcode. – phoog Jan 28 at 15:25
A SKU is retail terminology but anything sold as an item is an SKU – Lambie Jan 28 at 16:49
A bottle, a six-pack, a twelve-pack and a case of beer are all separate SKUs. – TMN Jan 28 at 17:17
SKU is for any product. It is not a name for the thngs in the six- or twelve-packs. Those can only be bottles or cans. – Lambie Jan 29 at 0:16
Actually SKU is a pack. – Olga Jan 29 at 6:12

protected by Matt E. Эллен Jan 29 at 12:09

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