My friend corrected me that asking "can I have a ketchup?" Instead of " can have some ketchup?" Sounds wrong and not native.

I understand that because ketchup is not countable but since it was a fixed amount, I thought it'll be okay.

Like some people say "can I have a Coke?/I'll have a Coke" when ordering a glass of Coke at a restaurant. Coke is not countable either but why is it okay to use a before coke?

Which one is correct/sounds more native?

Can I have a Coke?

Can I have Coke?

Can I have a glass of Coke?

Can I have some Coke?

What about when you're ordering a can of coke? Would it be any different if you were to say Coca Cola instead of coke?

And would you say "can I order a drink?" Or "can I order drink?"

closed as off-topic by Mari-Lou A, user140086, Hot Licks, dwjohnston, tchrist Feb 2 '16 at 2:21

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    Were these ketchup packets? Or were you asking to have some ketchup from their bottle? Context is everything here. ;) – Tim Ward Feb 1 '16 at 16:27
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    Can I have a ketchup isn't idiomatic because no one consumes an entire bottle of ketchup at a restaurant. At a Mcdonalds, I think it would be ok because you would be talking about packets. – CDM Feb 1 '16 at 16:28
  • Related question, Why is liquid a countable noun?. – user140086 Feb 1 '16 at 16:30
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    Asked earlier at ELL. – choster Feb 1 '16 at 19:59
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a duplicate of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/80384/… The OP should explain why the answers they received on ELL do not satisfy him/her. – Mari-Lou A Feb 1 '16 at 23:20

The comments shown provide good guidance. In the expressions you describe, the indefinite article implies "a serving" or "a portion" of the otherwise uncountable product. Thus "May I have a Coke" - as the mythical English teacher, Mrs. Jawbone, used to say is better than "Can I..." - is acceptable to the native English speaker, just as "a glass of Coke," "a can of Coke," or a bucket of Coke."

Although the Coca Cola company of Atlanta, Georgia would be thrilled to hear you order their product by its full name, they are just as happy when you order it by its trademarked nickname.

As an aside, it might be noted that in some parts of the southern United States, the word "coke" is used generically for any carbonated, sweetened beverage. I have heard servers ask restaurant patrons "What kind of coke do you want?" expecting that the requested beverage might be ginger ale, root beer, Orange Crush, Grape Nehi or, naturally, Coke.

Coca Cola's principal competitor, Pepsi, commands no similar colloquial preeminence.


Saying "can I have a ketchup?" implies you face a number of choices of which ketchup is one - but it's hard to imagine which choices those would be. Perhaps the problem is with the article, since it's perfectly possible, when the bottle is sitting on the table, to say "can I have the ketchup?" And asking a waitress or waiter "can I have some ketchup with my French fries?" is perfectly fine.

Saying "can I have a Coke?" in a restaurant works better: you have a number of drinks to choose from, and the restaurant may or may not have this one.

Can I have a Coke? You can ask your mother this when you come home from school, hot and tired, and she offers you a lemonade. You are saying: can I have this particular alternative to what you offer? But saying a Coke suggests that what you will get will be in a countable form - a glass of Coke or a can of Coke.

Can I have Coke? A little different: am I permitted, Mom, to have Coke instead of lemonade? I'll take it in whatever form you give it to me!

Can I have a glass of Coke? Sure, my dear child, drink up!

Can I have some Coke? Sure, but make sure you don't drink too much of it: you know how much sweetener Coke puts in it.

In other words, all these are possible - but the context of the question matters and that means these different responses are not randomly interchangeable.

As for using Coca Cola instead of Coke, you'd show yourself as being a little too formal, or not from around here - the way non-Californians refer to San Francisco as Frisco. Understandable, but you're clearly not native.

Say "can I order a drink?" (as long as you're of legal drinking age!). If you say "can I order drink?" you're also showing that you're not a native English speaker.

  • Ketchup as a counted noun seems to refer to those little ketchups in to-go bags in fast food restaurants. – Joshua Feb 12 at 22:46

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