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The rule for countable ingredient pluralization appears to be:

If more than one countable ingredient is necessary to fill the required amount, then the ingredient is pluralized.

For example:

  • 2 cups watermelon
  • 2 watermelons
  • 2 barrels watermelons
  • 2 tsps egg yolk
  • 1 cup egg yolks

When writing a cookbook, what determines whether a countable ingredient should be pluralized (in the ingredient list)?

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In my experience (I work as a cookbook editor), the ingredient itself is singular if only one of them is required to fill the quantity. For example, only one watermelon is required to fill two cups, so you'd write "2 cups watermelon" (as in your example). On the other hand, you'd need more than one watermelon to fill two barrels (unless the barrels are super small, I guess), so you'd write "2 barrels watermelons" (also as in your example).

That's why you say "2 cups nuts"--you need more than one nut.

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    Would it be more precise to say that, if the measuring unit is smaller than a single instance of an ingredient, you pluralize only the unit; otherwise pluralize the ingredient and then specify how many units are needed? – Graph Theory Oct 2 '14 at 21:06
  • I'm not sure if that's necessarily "more precise," but it's certainly more comprehensive. (Unless I've misunderstood, you're not disagreeing with me.) Also, I'd remove "then" from the last part, as typically the unit still comes before the ingredient. But otherwise, yeah, I agree. – Justin Greer Oct 2 '14 at 21:13
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    I would interpret "two barrels of watermelons" as being the number of discrete whole watermelons that would fit in two barrels, while "two barrels of watermelon" would be the quantity of edible watermelon material that could be packed into two barrels, cutting as needed to fill the space. – supercat Oct 2 '14 at 22:10
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    Giants' cookbooks. I'd guess that '2 cups watermelon' or '64 cups watermelon' might be used because the watermelons would have to be diced etc to get them into the cups, so the notion of massness rather than discreteness prevails; having 25 or 26 watermelons in a barrel won't make a vast amount of difference. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 2 '14 at 23:07
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    I'd say that "Two cups watermelon" is really just a short for "Two cups' worth of watermelon". I personally think that for stuff that are measured not in their original counting method (that is, you use cups instead of just counting the whole body of the fruit itself), you use singular, primarily because the varying sizes of fruits will not allow you to reliably count whether one whole fruit is enough to fill a certain container – Raestloz Oct 3 '14 at 4:02

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