Are vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, radish countable or not when we talk about food? Which is correct?

"We have some cabbage in the kitchen." Or "We have a cabbage."
"I added some radishes to the salad." Or "I added some radish."
"I don't eat much radish." Or "I don't eat many radishes."

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    If I put small radishes in my salad, they are countable. If I grate a big radish and add it, it could be uncountable – mplungjan Aug 12 '13 at 9:56
  • On the other hand, ‘cabbage’ is usually uncountable—“We have a head of cabbage in the fridge”, not “We have a cabbage in the fridge”. The same goes for lettuce. They are, I suppose, mass nouns because they are viewed as a multitude of individual items (leaves) that are lumped into a mass (a head), but mass nouns they are. Unlike radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, or carrots, which are clearly separable, individual items and thus countable. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 12 '13 at 10:07
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    @Janus: " 'Cabbage' usually non-count? Not according to my perceptions, or a crude interpretation of an Ngram result for <a head of cabbage,a cabbage>. The results for UK English are even more convincing than for US - which are still heavily in favour of count-noun status. (Nor would it usually be kept in the fridge here.) For lettuce, head's are far more popular in the US according to Ngram, but still outnumbered by lettuce's. We have discussed grey areas in mass-count analyses ( english.stackexchange.com/questions/94618/… ). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 12 '13 at 10:19
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    That would be possible in a horticutural setting (with previous context) over here (UK), but 'two cabbages' in general usage would correspond to 'two lamb chops'. Oh, and I'd say 'I bought two cabbages last week.' 'Would you like some more cabbage?' 'I added some radishes to the salad.' 'I don't eat much radish.' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 12 '13 at 10:36
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    Wikipedia has a very useful article at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_noun . The crux of the perceived problem is, I feel, the usual syntax / semantics tug-of-war. A quote is: "... mass nouns such as "water" or "furniture", with which only singular verb forms are used because the constituent matter is grammatically nondiscrete (although it may ["water"] or may not ["furniture"] be etically nondiscrete)" This is saying that water (and hence 'water') is essentially nondiscrete, but because of the quirks of the English language, though furniture is essentially count, 'furniture' usually isn't. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 12 '13 at 11:24

As a Brit, I would consider all the following vegetables and fruits to be count nouns:

peas, beans, radish, tomato, cucumber, carrot, onion, pepper, courgette, avocado, aubergine, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, ...

Although radishes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, potatoes, etc. are not usually sold individually, they are discrete items that can be counted, and they can be served individually as part of a meal.
I would serve "2 or 3 radishes or tomatoes" as part of a meal.

Moreover, although the smaller vegetables and fruits, such as peas, beans, blueberries, etc. and to a lesser extent, some larger fruits, such as tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, etc., are usually bought and served en masse, they are still treated as countable nouns and some of them are most commonly referred to in the plural.

On the other hand, many of the above items may be used as non-count nouns when referring to them as an ingredient in a meal or as 'a food'. [Thanks to comment from @Edwin Ashworth.]:

There's too much tomato in this curry for my liking.
You shouldn't eat too much avocado.

I would treat the following as non-count nouns:

spinach, chard, ...

because the individual leaves are harvested from the still-growing plant, and they are not sold individually.

[Answer above amended and corrected following comment from @JanusBahsJacquet.]
[Following section added (with consequential amendments above) after input from other answers and comments.]

In British English, some vegetables are treated as count nouns in some contexts and as non-count nouns in other contexts, such as:

lettuce(s), cabbage(s), potato(es)

I would never talk of "a head of cabbage or lettuce", and (although I would understand the expression) I think it would be very unusual to hear others in the UK use the term.
I would buy "a cabbage or lettuce", because the whole (top part of the) plant is harvested as a single unit, and they are generally sold as single units.
In such contexts, we use lettuce and cabbage as count nouns.

This is illustrated in the following references, which use lettuces (plural); a lettuce"; or plain lettuce (not "head of") as an item to purchase - all indications of a count noun

Lettuces are 95 per cent water, ... [1]
Grow lettuces in full sun ... [2]
Buy lettuces that look bright, firm and crisp ... [3]
Store most lettuces loosely wrapped in a plastic bag ... [3]
When preparing whole lettuces ... [3]
Yesterday I paid £1.25 for a lettuce. [5]
ASDA British Iceberg Lettuce [4]
ASDA British Iceberg Lettuce

On the other hand [thanks to answer from @gooper20] I would say:

Do we have much lettuce left?


How much of the lettuce have we eaten?
How much of it have we got left?
Do I need to buy another one?

I would also say:

Do you want some/any lettuce? (No 's'.)

Thus, in the context of serving the leaves of (part of) a lettuce or cabbage, we then use lettuce/cabbage as non-count nouns.

With potato, we would use it as a count noun when the individual potatoes (or parts of potatoes, e.g. roast potatoes where larger ones have been cut into smaller pieces before being roasted) are distinguishable (whether cooked or uncooked), but would use it as a non-count noun when potatoes have been 'mashed' or are otherwise indistinguishable as individual potatoes.

  • You seem to recognize “a head of” as being a common use, though, eh? – tchrist Aug 12 '13 at 13:00
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    I would definitely not consider peas and beans non-count nouns. “You’ve given me too much peas/beans” does not sound right to me: I would always say, “You’ve given me too many peas/beans”. While beans and peas are usually not actually counted, their plural use is, to me, a case of an actual plural, of many individual items seen as distinct things. And if you go to a really posh French restaurant, they might well serve you about three peas as an entrée. ;-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 12 '13 at 13:04
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    I don't know about the UK, but where I come lettuce is not countable, but heads and leaves of it are. You may buy "a head of lettuce", you may eat "a leaf of lettuce" but it makes no sense to talk about "a lettuce" or "two lettuces" – T.E.D. Aug 12 '13 at 13:18
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    @TrevorD - Well, perhaps this is a genuine BE/AmE difference then. – T.E.D. Aug 12 '13 at 13:39
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    Another American here, and I agree with @T.E.D. that lettuce is not countable (you buy a head of lettuce, not a lettuce). However, interestingly enough, cabbage can be countable. I can buy two cabbages, or I can buy some cabbage. – Marthaª Aug 12 '13 at 14:02

The question seems to try to determine whether the names of vegetables are mass nouns or count nouns. The answer seems to be it depends.

A discussion of mass nouns in Wikipedia begins with this summary

In linguistics, a mass noun (also uncountable noun) is a noun with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets. Non-count nouns are distinguished from count nouns.

The names of many foods are mass nouns with little dispute: flour, sugar, milk, pasta. These are products that are bought and used by volume or weight, not by count.

Some foods are usually bought and consumed by the piece or unit: cupcake, pie, burrito.

Many foods can be bought by weight, volume, or unit, and may be prepared or consumed either by unit or by volume: I ate an apple, but I used a pound of sliced apple (or apples) in my pie.

But many foods are usually bought, prepared and consumed by weight or volume, even though they exist in discrete units: cabbage, watermelon. These items are occasionally sold by unit (All Watermelons $4.99!), but the amounts served are almost always less than a full unit. Additionally, the preparation tends to cut or reduce the food to a form that can be served by rather than unit.

Is radish or cabbage a mass noun? Yes, they can be. I love radish in salad. Are they count nouns? Yes. I threw three cabbages in the soup.

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    There must be a UK/US difference here. I would not say, "I used a pound of ... apple": I would say, "I used a pound of ... apples". We commonly buy cabbage, melons, watermelons, etc. by the 'item', altho' sometimes they are sold by weight. – TrevorD Aug 12 '13 at 13:43
  • @TrevorD For apples (and radishes, but probably not cabbages), a pound could take either singular or plural in US cooking. It probably goes back to whether you consume at least whole X or only a part of X. Also whether you are dispensing in its unit form or in smaller broken down units. – bib Aug 12 '13 at 14:00

Of all the examples you give, both usages are commonly heard, in my experience. Don't worry about it too much.


One way to easily find out whether a noun is a countable or an uncountable noun, is by asking yourself the question:

Do I have many lettuce left, or do I have much lettuce left?

Here you replace lettuce with any noun which you have any doubts about.

If your answer is many, it is a countable noun. And if your answer is much, it is an uncountable noun.

  • Have amended my answer in the light of this answer. – TrevorD Aug 12 '13 at 14:36
  • I know the difference between many and much. What I don't know is if it is correct to say in everyday speech: "much lettuce" as well as "many lettuces". – Peter Aug 13 '13 at 10:09
  • This is just one of the tests mentioned in the reference I give above. Sadly, they're not infallible - we don't even seem to be able to agree on their outcomes. I'd be happy with 'I didn't have many lettuces left after the rabbit escaped' (note the plural form) as well as 'I haven't much lettuce left on my plate'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 13 '13 at 20:47

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