I recently got into an argument with someone who insists that

He brought drink to the party

is grammatically correct English and points to the phrase "food and drink" as justification. As a native English speaker, I consider that an obvious mistake and consider "food and drink" to be a fossilized phrase. Is this a regional difference, or are they just crazy? Is there any authoritative source I can point to on the matter?

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    Oscar Wilde famously said, "Work is the curse of the drinking class." What popular expression do you think he was parodying? May 17, 2016 at 19:02
  • You might hear it used along the lines of "How much drink do you have left?"
    – skeggse
    May 18, 2016 at 5:54
  • Another example is "turned to drink", generally meaning "resorted to drunkenness" - lots of British and American uses can be seen: google.com/search?q="turned+to+drink"
    – recognizer
    May 18, 2016 at 15:42
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    Can “drink” be used as an uncountable noun? That has always been my experience when I'm in the pub. May 18, 2016 at 17:45

9 Answers 9


I feel this should be a comment, but there wouldn't be enough room, and the formatting [slightly amended] would be impossible.

From Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary (perhaps the only US dictionary providing the breakdown):

drink noun; plural drinks

Learner's definition of DRINK

1: a liquid that you can drink : beverage

[count] We serve coffee, tea, and other hot drinks.

[noncount] Food and drink will be provided.

Though the example given is the 'fossilized phrase', the fact that this is not flagged as an unusual usage argues strongly that the non-count usage is considered acceptable in the US.

However, the fact that the Google Ngrams for 'ran out of drink' and 'we had no drink' for US usages flatline suggest strongly that the non-count usage is very rare there.

In summary, 'He brought drink to the party''is grammatically correct English' (so labels of 'ungrammatical' and 'incorrect' are unjustified); the usage is certainly idiomatic in the UK, but apparently not idiomatic in the US.

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    Anecdotal data: As a native US speaker, I've never heard drink used to mean more than one drink except when immediately following food and. May 17, 2016 at 20:19
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    Here is an example from the LA Session Assessment form: 'If food or drink was provided, please describe: ...'. And one from the Greenwood (Nebraska) Public Library Newsletter: 'The delicious cake and drink was provided by the Southeast Library System Board' (yes, 'cake' could be count here if not read alongside 'drink', but hardly 'drink'). May 17, 2016 at 22:59
  • @ToddWilcox Drink is a weakness.
    – Eric
    May 18, 2016 at 14:20
  • There's also the old phrase "Into the drink". See english.stackexchange.com/questions/119621/….
    – user45483
    May 19, 2016 at 5:33
  • And the drink is also used to refer to uncountable amounts of alcohol, as in He fell prey to the drink. (Used much more by my grandmother than myself.)
    – bib
    May 19, 2016 at 18:23

The "someone" you have been speaking to is RIGHT. The OED has numerous uncountable senses of the noun drink, some from as early as 888CE. In the English spoken in the United Kingdom you will hear He brought drink to the party used, every day of the week - well -er as often as there is a party, anyway. I am frankly astonished that it is rarely used as an uncountable noun in America.

Some of the senses are:

1.a. Liquid swallowed for assuaging thirst or taken into the system for nourishment. Also fig.

c1000 West Saxon Gospels: Matt. (Corpus Cambr.) xxv. 37 Þyrstendne & we ðe drinc sealdon.

c1220 Bestiary 206 Ðe godspel..is soule drink.

c1380 Wyclif Wks. (1880) 14 Þei ȝeuen not drenk to pore þristi men.

▸c1426 J. Audelay Poems (1931) 7 Þe þorste ȝif dryng.

1523 Ld. Berners tr. J. Froissart Cronycles I. xviii. 21 They dranke none other drynke, but the water of the ryuer.

1667 Milton Paradise Lost v. 344 For drink the Grape She crushes.

1875 B. Jowett tr. Plato Dialogues (ed. 2) III. 319 The thirsty one, in that he thirsts, desires only drink.

1.b. esp. as correlative to solid nourishment (meat, food, etc.). meat and drink: see meat n. 1.

examples from c950 but: 1855 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. IV. 516 The crews had better food and drink than they had ever had before.

1c. transf. Liquid absorbed or drunk in.

1603 Shakespeare Hamlet iv. vii. 153 Till that her clothes, being heauy with their drinke, Dragg'd the sweete wretch to death.

1691 J. Evelyn Kalendarium Hortense (ed. 8) 136 If they [plants] shrivel and fold up, give them drink.

a1800 W. Cowper Yardley-Oak in W. Hayley Life & Posthumous Writings Cowper (1804) III. 414 The scoop'd rind [of the oak], that seems A huge throat calling to the clouds for drink.

3.a. Intoxicating alcoholic beverage. Hence in various phrases: Indulgence to excess in intoxicating liquor; habits of intemperance, drunkenness. in drink: intoxicated, drunk.

1042 Anglo-Saxon Chron. Her gefor Harðacnut swa þæt he æt his drinc stod.

c1340 Cursor M. (Trin.) 2942 Ȝyue we our fadir [Lot] ynowȝe of drinke.

1553 J. Brende tr. Q. Curtius Rufus Hist. viii. f. 151v, Hauing then his sences ouercome wyth drink.

1598 Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 1 ii. v. 419, I do not speake to thee in drinke.

a1616 Shakespeare Macbeth (1623) iii. vi. 13 The two delinquents..That were the Slaues of drinke.

1659 D. Pell Πελαγος 79 Take heed that your Sea-men see not the least appearance of drink in your eyes.

1887 H. R. Tedder in Dict. National Biogr. IX. 330/2 With advancing years Caulfield took to drink.

1890 W. Besant Demoniac iv. 46 Not a drop of drink of any kind shall be put on board that boat.

1894 H. Caine Manxman 284 Heaving into the hall like a man in drink.

1897 N.E.D. at Drink, Mod. Drink's doings.

4. The action or habit of drinking (to excess); a time or occasion of drinking. rare exc. in colloq. phr. on the drink. Cf. drunk adj.

1865 Reader No. 148. 495/1 He has been out on the drink.

1887 H. R. Haggard Jess ii. 16 Her brute of a husband was away on the drink and gamble.

1894 R. S. Ferguson Charters Carlisle xxx, There was a great drink in Carlisle that night.

6. colloq. (orig. U.S.). A river or body of water. big drink n. the Mississippi; the Atlantic; the sea. Always preceded by the.

examples from 1832 - the most recent being:

1960 L. Meynell Bandaberry xiv. 183 [He] had fished us out of the drink just, and only just, in time.

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    I came to this page solely to see if someone had mentioned drink as a body of water. +1
    – tjd
    May 17, 2016 at 18:48
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    @tjd In that it tends to be used especially with very large bodies of water Many of the Titanic's passengers ended up in the drink, it is an example of the heavy use of irony in situations of danger.
    – WS2
    May 17, 2016 at 18:52
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    Really the only sense where noncount "drink" sounds correct to my (American) ears is the semi-piratical drink=ocean sense. There are a few fossilized phrases where it sounds OK - "food and drink will be provided" - but if you're bringing the libations to the party, you use the plural. "I will bring the drink" is wrong either because the noun and verb don't agree, or because you're not bringing enough to drink.
    – Marthaª
    May 17, 2016 at 19:57
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    @Marthaª What happens if you are bringing a barrel of beer? Or what about the barrels in the cellar of a pub, where the pints are pulled up with taps on the bar? The stuff in the cellar cannot possibly be regarded as drinks, because it is in bulk form. Don't Americans talk about the booze. Who's collecting the booze?
    – WS2
    May 17, 2016 at 20:04
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    @Marthaª But if it's my job to collect a barrel for some convivial affair or other, how can I say Oh, I've just remembered I have to collect the drinks. They only become drinks when poured into individual glasses. While it is in a bulk state it must be drink. At least that's what makes sense to me.
    – WS2
    May 17, 2016 at 20:35

Drink noun [C or U]

  • alcoholic liquid:

    • Do we have time for a quick drink?
    • Whose turn is it to buy the drinks?
    • UK - We ran out of drink at the party.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

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    If you are saying that it is only in the UK that drink is a non-count noun, I am amazed. Do Americans not say things like the worse for drink, or drink killed him, or how much drink has he had?, or I'll bring the food, you bring the drink or he has gone without drink for a whole day?
    – WS2
    May 17, 2016 at 14:55
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    @WS2 I would phrase those as "drinking killed him", "how many drinks has he had", "I'll bring the food, you bring the drinks", and "he has gone without drinking/a drink for a whole day" respectively. The only one I might consider is "the worse for drink".
    – Antimony
    May 17, 2016 at 15:02
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    @WS2: I think occasionally we use drink uncountably ... I'll see if I can think of a good example. He has gone without drink for a whole day is clearly ungrammatical, as drink needs to be countable there. May 17, 2016 at 15:02
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    We use took to drink and worse for drink (See Ngram), but these are more common in the UK. And the rest of @WS2's phrases sound wrong to me. May 17, 2016 at 15:10
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    @PeterShor If you keep kidding me about my peg leg and mouthing off to my parrot, I'll toss you in the drink.
    – Dan Bron
    May 17, 2016 at 15:18

I am a canadian who has lived in England for decades, and I can say with certainty that uncountable use of 'drink' is standard in England and sounds foreign in Canada. There are other countability or singlular/plural differences including 'on a tuesday' (GB) = 'on tuesdays' (Canada), and referring to companies in the plural (GB) vs singular (Canada).


Looking at the last half of the twentieth century in Google Ngram, it appears "bring drink" and "bring drinks" are similar in frequency in British English, Google Ngram Viewer graph of bring drink vs bring drinks between 1950 and 2000 from the corpus British English with a smoothing of 0

but the uncountable is less common in American English, with a notable exception for 1986 alone.

Google Ngram Viewer graph of bring drink vs bring drinks between 1950 and 2000 from the corpus American English with a smoothing of 0


Articles are required only before discrete (countable) quantities. Drink is or can be a continuous quantity, like fish, sheep, grain, water, and anything else that can be measured and sold by weight or volume.

Some things are inherently continuous, like liquids and powders: he bought flour. Continuous things can be packaged. Packages are countable. He bought a bag [of flour]. The flour is continuous, but the sentence refers to the package, and "of flour" is a qualifier.

You can go to a wharf and buy fish. Whether you ought to pluralise depends on whether you wish to draw attention to individual fishes or treat them as a continuous quantity.

The last sentence is jarring because it switches from continuous to discrete. This is extremely poor style but unavoidable when comparing and contrasting the two.

If you buy a tonne of fish you will have it (the fish) delivered but if you buy two fishes for dinner you might have them wrapped separately.

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    "Fish" is a different situation entirely: the plural of fish is fish (just as the plural of deer is deer, or of moose) except when we are dealing with different kinds of fish (rather like "people" vs "peoples"). It is still countable ("I caught three fish.") May 18, 2016 at 15:04
  • Dealing with different kinds is the motivation for calling out individuality. I'll agree that fish was perhaps a poor choice since it has so many subtle permutations. I know people say "the fish are biting" but they also say "Liverpool are playing Manchester United" which is just plain wrong because Liverpool in this context is a football team, singular. I have often wondered whether nouns like fish and deer became their own plural forms through widespread incompetent use of number agreement with global singular.
    – Peter Wone
    May 18, 2016 at 23:48

To my English ears, most of the examples given acquire an Irish accent when I read them. I've frequently heard Irish friends say things like "He's a great one for the drink", so maybe it's more common among native Irish people.

Oscar Wilde (quoted by Malvolio) was Irish, and Father Jack famously used to just shout "Drink!"


Like others, I've never heard "drink" used as an uncountable noun except when following "food and." The other examples given seem rare, highly specialized or colloquial, or anachronistic to the point where I'm inclined to say that in the U.S. (at least), "drink" is not uncountable save for a very small number of idiomatic exceptions. In other words, it's not "generally uncountable;" one wouldn't say "I'm thirsty; I could use some drink," or "Do you have any drink?"

From another angle... Just because we can say "The journey had its ups and downs" doesn't mean that we can excise one of the nouns joined by "and" and otherwise use the phrase in the same way, i.e., "The journey had its ups."


If a golf player's shot ends up in a water hazard, the feat is sometimes referred to -- with a heavy undertone of exasperation -- as "the shot having found the drink".

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