As a non-native English speaker, I have a bit of trouble finding the plural of the word 'lettuce'. In my own language (Dutch) it doesn't have a plural at all, and 'lettuces' simply sounds funny to me. Is that just a feeling, or is this word actually not really being used? Would there be another way of expressing the same thing (i.e. bunches/pieces of lettuce), what would be the word of quantity for lettuce?

  • There are only so many times one can read the word "lettuce" without becoming convinved that it's mis-spelled. – David Richerby Sep 26 '14 at 8:34
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    @DavidRicherby: that's why mathematicians use a different spelling for "Lettuce theory". – Steve Jessop Sep 26 '14 at 9:03
up vote 15 down vote accepted

In British English, to say lettuces (and to speak of cabbages and kings and so forth) is entirely conventional. whereas in American English, lettuce is typically uncountable, and lettuces only used when referring to different types of lettuce, in the same way we can say peoples or cereals.

For natural units of lettuce, we would say

  • heads of lettuce — for multiple specimens of an entire (iceberg or Romaine-type) lettuce plant.
  • leaves of lettuce or simply pieces of lettuce — for the leaves pulled off of the head.

[aside: despite BrE being okay with pluralizing lettuce, it seems that what Americans know as mashed potatoes is called mashed potato, and, n.b. to the marketing director, to see it advertised as such in the hotel restaurant's Thanksgiving Day special makes the Yankee visitor more homesick, not less].


For many fruits and vegetables, the name for the food as a mass noun corresponds to the name for an individual example of it. A recipe might instruct you to add one grated carrot or to add 100cc of grated carrot. You can slice up half a pineapple to add more pineapple to a fruit salad.

For vegetables where only the leaves (lettuce, kale, arugula, broccoli, watercress, endive, collard greens, spinach, chard, cauliflower, escarole, cabbage, mustard greens, etc.) or stalks (asparagus, celery, rhubarb) or other sub-components are consumed, however, there is no such correspondence. We ask for bunches of bibb lettuce or watercress (a conventional supermarket bunch measuring around 1 pound) or heads of cabbage or broccoli; and ears of corn (maize) as Gary's Student has noted.

Where the consumed specimens are granular and consumed en masse, the foodstuff is pluralized— an individual pea, but two cups of peas, not pea, and the same for foods like lentils and beans, berries, scallions, leeks, and smaller mushrooms.

This may be analogized to meat; meat, seafood, and poultry are generally mass nouns (lamb, squid, pheasant) unless speaking of an entire animal (ten oxen, six octopuses, fifty quail).

Garlic is one exception (I am sure there are others). It is sold in bulbs consisting of cloves, but neither unit would be pluralized as garlics.

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    From Britain, I concur with most of this, but I do say a cabbage. I've never heard of an ear of corn referring to maize here: I would say a corn cob; and I'd say a head of garlic. – Colin Fine Sep 25 '14 at 19:37
  • @ColinFine I would say corn cobs but ears of corn, never corn ears, though the presentation is invariably known here as corn on the cob. Head of garlic is also conventional here. – choster Sep 25 '14 at 20:00
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    @ColinFine: You don't make clear that ear of corn is very common in non-US English, just referring to wheat rather than maize. – TimLymington Sep 25 '14 at 20:35
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    Since here in America we call it "Corn on the cob", saying a cob of corn makes me think of a core--what you'd have left after eating all the kernels from around the outside.. i.e. those things they used to leave in outhouses before TP became popular. – Bill K Sep 25 '14 at 23:59
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    In the UK we would certainly say "lettuces, cauliflowers, cabbages", but we'd agree with Americans in not normally saying any of the others (including we wouldn't say "broccolis", despite an apparent structural similarity to cauliflower). I guess it's just a question of whether you (collectively as users of a dialect over a long period) want to refer to a "head of X" frequently enough and concisely enough that it's worth calling it "an X" despite thereby using X as both a count noun and a mass noun. – Steve Jessop Sep 26 '14 at 8:53

The usual way (US) of indicating more than one plant:

"There are five heads of lettuce on the table."

In a similar fashion:

"There are five ears of corn on the table."

  • Ha, never heard of that one before. Both sound just as funny to me as 'lettuces', but in a good way. :-) – Yellow Sep 25 '14 at 17:51
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    These are common US usage; I don't know if they are used in the UK. – Gary's Student Sep 25 '14 at 17:53
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    No. In Britain we would say 'there are five lettuces on the table'. I can think of circumstances where growers might talk of 'lettuce' as though it were not a count noun - 'we have raised more lettuce than we did last year'. Or even caterers might say 'we will need a lot of lettuce for the salad'. But generally it is 'lettuces'. – WS2 Sep 25 '14 at 18:00
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    @WS2 Thank you very much!! If you don't mind posting this information as an ANSWER, readers will gain from a different perspective. – Gary's Student Sep 25 '14 at 18:03

In Britain we would say 'there are five lettuces on the table'.

I can think of circumstances where growers might talk of 'lettuce' as though it were not a count noun - 'we have raised more lettuce than we did last year'. Or even caterers might say 'we will need a lot of lettuce for the salad'.

But generally it is 'lettuces'.

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    A caterer might say either that they would need a lot of lettuce or a lot of lettuces. The former would mean literally a large quantity of lettuce leaves; the latter would mean a large number of lettuce plants. Both statements would have largely the same effect, but "a lot of lettuce" could be obtained by buying a large number of bags of pre-prepared lettuce. – David Richerby Sep 26 '14 at 8:32
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    What David says, and I'd add that (as a domestic user of lettuce with no background in catering), "a lot of lettuce" is likely to be considerably less lettuce than "a lot of lettuces". In fact "a lot of lettuce" might still be less than one lettuce in the right context, such as a single portion. – Steve Jessop Sep 26 '14 at 9:00
  • @DavidRicherby And with lettuce increasingly being sold pre-washed in bags we may one day forget what individual lettuces look like and stop using the plural! – WS2 Sep 26 '14 at 10:13
  • @WS2 Nah, we'll just start referring to that bag of leaves as "a lettuce"! – David Richerby Sep 26 '14 at 10:29
  • @DavidRicherby In our house my wife says 'a salad packet' and I call it 'a bag of leaves'. But you have given me an idea, I will raise it as a question. – WS2 Sep 26 '14 at 10:48

This is just like fish and fishes, deer and deers, etc.

The word lettuce is an uncountable quantity - measured and not counted:

  • Have some lettuce. Johnny has more lettuce. (Not Have another lettuce or Johnny has 3 lettuces and I have only 2.)

  • Joe Hunter shot 14 deer today. (Not He shot 14 deers today.)

However, the word lettuces exists, and refers to multiple kinds of lettuce.

  • Romaine lettuce, bib lettuce, red-leaf lettuce, and butter lettuce are all lettuces.

  • Wapiti, moose, and white-tailed deer are all deers. (They are all members of the deer family.)

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