I wonder why "fat" "carbohydrate" and "protein" can have the plural form as in the following quotes. Aren't those nouns uncountable?

  1. The Russian consumer protection agency said Friday it is taking McDonald's to court for selling foods that contain more fats and carbohydrates than are allowed by national regulations.

  2. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats supply 90% of the dry weight of the diet and 100% of its energy.

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    Related: When can you pluralise uncountable nouns? That question could probably do with a more general answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 30, 2014 at 9:54
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    Have you checked a dictionary for "carbohydrate," "protein," and "fat?"
    – Kris
    Jul 30, 2014 at 12:07
  • I would say context is key. Think about the last time you were at Starbucks and you put a little or a lot of "cream" in your coffee. But then someone asks "how many "creams" did you put in your coffee? Oct 6, 2015 at 21:04

2 Answers 2


It is very common for uncountable nouns to have countable senses. In particular, if an uncountable noun describes a substance, the countable sense often indicates multiple kinds of that substance.

There are many kinds of carbohydrate and fat in your diet, or in a McDonald's meal, so this usage is appropriate.


Nouns may be used as either count or mass. Different constructions distinguish between them.

If a noun is normally of one type, using it in a construction limited to the other type signals a different kind of meaning for the noun.

It's a mistake to think of a noun as being "a mass noun" or "a count noun", as if it were fixed.
It's not fixed. It's a matter of whether whatever is being referred to occurs in individual parts.

In fact there are lots of things that don't individuate, or only individuate under some conditions:
rock, like dirt, sand, or clay, is normally mass, but it can occur as individual rocks, unlike the others. Plural dirts, sands, and clays, however, refer to different types of dirt, sand, or clay.

That's what happens to fats and carbohydrates -- they mean different kinds, not individuals.

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