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I have run into a conundrum.

When I go to get some friends cans of beer I say:

You guys want a beer?

When I am referring to going to a bar and drinking some I say:

Let's go get some beers!

When I go to a store to buy beer I say:

I am going to get beer.

How can I work this out? My friend is a native Chinese speaker and this is the sort of plural thing that trips her up. How is this explained?

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migrated from linguistics.stackexchange.com Nov 10 '12 at 11:58

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5  
You seem to mix countable and non-countable nouns. Beer, as category, is not countable, so it can't be plural. However, bottled beer and beer types are countable. Why didn't you post it to English@SE? –  bytebuster Nov 10 '12 at 3:20
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Your first two examples are explained by expectation: 1) You are getting up and expecting to return with a single beer for each person, thus singular. 2) You are heading out to a bar where you expect to have more than one beer (both due to the increased effort on your part and due to social norms), thus plural. In the third example you use "beer" as a category, not as a countable, thus singular. Semantically speaking the "beer" in 1 and 2 is different from the "beer" in 3. –  acattle Nov 10 '12 at 7:27
    
Isn't that, there can be used plural in each of this cases? - (hence is it just about emphasize of how much are you going to drink) –  Jirka Kopřiva Nov 13 '12 at 0:33

1 Answer 1

Beer can mean both the substance "beer" and the units by which you drink("a beer"). The substance beer cannot be plural(ie. non-countable, see comment). The units by which you consume the substance(ie. "we drank 3 beers last night") is countable. See this post and this comment in particular, for more clarity.

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