2

These are the grammar guidelines:

To say things in general,

we can use an uncount noun with no article.

Eg: I like cheese

or

we can use a plural count noun with no article.

Eg: I like dogs

So, what about a noun that has both countable & uncountable form. E.g.: Fruit

So, should we say: "I often buy fruit at the supermarket" or "I often buy fruits at the supermarket"

Most native speakers say that "I often buy fruit at the supermarket" sounds better and "I often buy fruits at the supermarket" sounds strange because of fruits.

But I did apply the above rule, "we can use a plural count noun with no article to say things in general."

Is it true that when talking about a noun in general and when that noun has both countable and uncountable forms, that the uncountable form has higher priority?

  • 2
    When nouns are both countable and uncountable, the different forms often have different meanings. Which form you should use to talk about the noun in general depends on what meaning you want to use. For fruit, the countable form means kinds of fruit. So you should say I often buy fruit at the supermarket, but you should say I eat apples only from my garden, but I often buy other fruits at the supermarket. – Peter Shor Jul 27 '17 at 16:25
  • The usage here is usually mass as it addresses 'the fruit category' of foodstuffs (as opposed to the meat, bread, cheese, fish categories). Because cakes are normally considered as individual items, the plural would usually be preferred. 'Buns' is mandatory. 'Yoghurt' is possibly a grey area. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 27 '17 at 16:29
  • @Edwin: great example: I often buy cakes at the supermarket. (Assuming you're buying whole cakes and not slices of cake. You could use the uncountable form here, but I don't think it's as good.) But I only eat chocolate cake. – Peter Shor Jul 27 '17 at 16:30
  • Yeah, whatever the explanation, 'fruits' sounds really weird here. – Mitch Jul 27 '17 at 18:59
  • 2
    @Drew: No; it would no doubt be logical if that were how it worked, but the way people actually use these words is not that simple. A great many speakers find it entirely acceptable to say things like "Apples and pears are fruit" and "trout and sole are fish", or "apples are fruits" and "trout are fishes". – sumelic Jul 28 '17 at 6:14
1

As @Peter Shor mentioned in his comment, when a noun has both a countable and an uncountable form, they usually have different meanings.

Fruit could mean a single piece of fruit or multiple of the same type of fruit. Fruits means multiple types of fruit.

An apple is a fruit. Apples are fruit. Apples and oranges are fruits.

This pattern is pretty common. Some other examples are fish and fishes, and people and peoples. In colloquial speech, it is very common for people to use the uncountable version of a noun in place of the countable version for brevity or simply because it sounds more natural.

EDIT: After doing some research, I concur with the commenters that fruit on its own to mean multiple species of fruit is considered proper grammar. The uncountable can be used in place of the countable, but not vice versa.

Apples and oranges are fruit.

  • True, but apples and oranges are also fruit. – Davo Jul 27 '17 at 17:01
  • Hence the last sentence in my answer – Elan Hamburger Jul 27 '17 at 17:08
  • Your sentence "In colloquial speech ... for brevity or simply because it sounds more natural" implies that this use is not proper. – Davo Jul 27 '17 at 17:16
  • But 'fruit' is never a grammatical plural, whereas 'two fish' and 'seven people' show that the words 'fish' and 'people' are invariant plural forms. 'Fishes' may be used in different circumstances than 'fish' (though this is largely a style choice and has been discussed here before); 'several people' and 'several peoples' use distinct senses. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 27 '17 at 19:38
  • Fruit can also mean multiple of different types of fruit. For example, the following is perfectly grammatical: If you're going to the grocery store, buy fruit. We need more apples, bananas, and mangoes. I don't think any native speaker of English would use fruits there. – Peter Shor Jul 27 '17 at 20:22
1

Actually, I think you need to deal with each case individually.

Even though many English nouns have count and non-count usages, it's rare for them to be equally common. Usually one use is clearly primary. Also, the different uses often have different meanings. "Fruit" is unusual in that it is commonly used as a plural form, and the mass and count meanings are pretty much the same.

For example, "chicken" has mass and count uses, but by default, the mass use is used to refer to meat, not living chickens. The count use is used to refer to living chickens, and could possibly refer to entire carcasses. People would normally say "I bought chicken at the store" but if you are buying an entire dead bird to cook, it is certainly acceptable to say "I bought a chicken at the store" to convey that information. The choice between mass and count doesn't really have to do with a general rule of "priority", but with the specific semantic point that meat is usually referred to with mass nouns.

In another context, it might make more sense to use a plural count noun. For example, "rock" can be used as a mass or count noun. When used as a mass noun, it tends to convey the idea of a continuous, or at least contiguous, mass. So in a sentence like "geologists study rocks", where you want to refer to many different kinds of rocks that don't constitute a continuous mass, the plural count noun is more appropriate.

  • This page (dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/about-noun‌​s/…) says "Some abstract nouns can be used uncountably or countably. The uncountable use has a more general meaning. The countable use has a more particular meaning.". "Rock" is both count & uncount noun. So, "geologists study rocks"--> "rocks" here has a more specific meaning while "geologists study rock"--> "rock" here has a more general meaning – Tom Jul 28 '17 at 10:32
  • 1
    @Tom: I would say that that page is just a general guideline. I don't agree with that characterization of the difference between "geologists study rock" and "geologists study rocks". – sumelic Jul 28 '17 at 10:34
  • Here is another link (google.com.vn/…). a mass noun denoting something that normally cannot be counted but that may be countable when it refers to different units or types, e.g., coffee, bread ( drank some coffee, ordered two coffees ; ate some bread, several different breads). So, "geologists study rocks"--> "rocks" here refer to different kinds of rock. SO, it is more specific. – Tom Jul 28 '17 at 10:50
  • @Tom: "rocks* does not always mean different kinds of rocks. If I have 13,000 pieces of white granite, I would refer to them as "a lot of rocks." Not "a lot of rock" nor "a lot of pieces of rock." Some mass nouns work that way. Some don't. – Peter Shor Jul 28 '17 at 18:51
  • But 13,000 apples would be "a lot of fruit." And 3,000 apples, 3,000 oranges, and 4,000 bananas would also be "a lot of fruit." Apples, oranges, bananas, cherries, grapes, mangoes, kiwis, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, cantaloupes, raspberries, kumquats, watermelons, and strawberries would be "a lot of fruits" (and it doesn't matter how many you have of each one). – Peter Shor Jul 28 '17 at 19:04
1

Check this dictionary:

Fruit is usually uncountable:

I love fruit.

✗Don’t say: I love fruits.

• Fruit is used as a countable noun when talking about particular types of fruit:

They grow mainly citrus fruits.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.