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You don't need to specify the amount that you eat/drink for some things:

I drink cranberry juice.

I eat fried chicken.

I eat bread with butter.

You can't do this for other things:

I eat cheeseburger. (Wrong)

You need to specify the amount of cheeseburger(s) that you eat.

I eat a cheeseburger. (One)

I eat cheeseburgers. (More than one)

I eat half of a cheeseburger. (Specific amount less than a whole)

How can you not specify the amount of food/drink(s) that you consume for stuff like burgers for which the root form is invalid in this case?

  • 5
    Non-specific would be cheeseburgers. – Robusto Jul 17 '18 at 3:46
  • 2
    Related: “I like apples” vs “I like apple”? – Mari-Lou A Jul 17 '18 at 6:36
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    Jolly good, sag. Why not either explain what you meant by "The last sentence" or transpose your Question into useful English or preferably, both? Either way, please note "How to not specify the amount of food/drink(s) that you consume for stuff like burgers for which the root form is invalid in this case" will never work in English. – Robbie Goodwin Jul 30 '18 at 18:51
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    @RobbieGoodwin I'm not saying he wouldn't be better off at ELL but it's worth noting that, in China and several other countries, the ESL programs make an absolute hash of the distinction between the question form "how do you ~" and the noun form "how to ~" because their native language's grammar doesn't make a similar distinction. It's better to help OP rephrase (done) than to just complain that you don't see any possible intended question, which wasn't really the case. – lly Aug 7 '18 at 15:32
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    @JoshG I've refrained from responding because I was hoping someone else would in my place. But your interpretation of what the OP is asking is exactly that. It's your personal interpretation. Your username is not included in the edit, "I think the OP" which means if anyone else edits the question, the author of the clarification will be unknown unless someone looks at the edit history. – Mari-Lou A Aug 10 '18 at 5:17
3
+50

There isn't going to be a way of phrasing this in an expected way that fulfills what you're looking for. However, I believe I have an unexpected way of phrasing this that will serve the purpose.

When using the noun, it's either singular or plural.

Fractions can be taken into account in this way:

I sample a cheeseburger.
I sample some cheeseburgers.

But even though the actual amount eaten is now unknown, the sample size must still be specified as a singular or plural.

This is closer to what you're looking for, but not close enough.


The only way I can think of to truly accommodate an unknown amount eaten and an unknown sample size is by not using cheeseburger as a noun but as an adjective:

I engage in cheeseburger eating.

Adjectives are commonly used in singular form, even when referring to a plural number of objects. Therefore, the fact that it's cheeseburger here does not restrict the sample size to a single cheeseburger.

Not only do we not know how many cheeseburgers are involved in the process, we also don't know how many (in whole or part) are actually being consumed.

  • 1
    Jason, are you sure it's not "I engage in cheesburgerial eating"? :-) – JoshG Aug 7 '18 at 18:16
  • This is indeed an ingenious answer to the specific question posed by the OP (assuming JoshG's interpretation of the question is correct), but for the benefit of those who may be browsing this site with the aim of improving their English, it may be worthwhile to add that most people would look with considerable puzzlement at somebody who, in the course of everyday communication, spoke of engaging in cheeseburger eating. – jsw29 Aug 7 '18 at 18:21
  • @jsw29 Yes, of course. The short answer is that there's no way of saying it in a completely natural way that has the desired effect. This was the best I could come up with. :) – Jason Bassford Aug 7 '18 at 18:38
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The first thing to notice about this question is that it really isn't about quantifying objects. The second thing is that it's not about the verbs eat and drink. Instead, judging from the example sentences, it's about the generic use of verbs.

Notice that every example sentence is in the present tense, and involves an active verb. That makes it generic; i.e, it's not describing the present time (that's what the present progressive is for), and it's not describing the past or the future, except by implication -- instead, it's describing generic, habitual behavior. Generic use of an active predicate essentially converts it into a stative predicate referring to repeated (if possible, identical) events.

That changes all sorts of things, like the fact that if I say I eat meat, for instance, I may eat 10 grams at one time and 100 grams at a different time, without affecting the truth of the statement I eat meat. I may eat half a cheeseburger, or three at one meal, ditto.

And this is true not just of eating and drinking (though it's true we do talk generically a lot about eating and drinking -- the sense of these verbs used generically is to comment on personal or social tolerance of various food and drink).

If you say I eat yogurt you're indicating at least that you tolerate it. You're not really summing up all your yogurt for quantification. This lack of quantificational rigor is true of practically any transitive active verb used generically:

  • She knits sweaters for cats. (how many sweaters, how many cats? Who knows? Who cares?)
  • He reads science fiction. (A singular mass noun object)
  • He reads a lot of science fiction. (quantified = He reads science fiction a lot)
  • He reads science fiction novels. (a plural count noun object; plural because repeated)
  • He reads a lot of science fiction novels. (quantified = He reads science fiction novels a lot.)

I could go on at some length. Fortunately, however, I already did, and for more than anyone sane could possibly want to know about English generics, see Studies in English Generics.

  • In the comments on this question, 1006a points out that there are two possible ways of interpreting it. This answer assumes the second of the two interpretations. Unfortunately, the OP has never responded to 1006a's comment, so there is no way of knowing which of the two was intended. – jsw29 Aug 10 '18 at 21:47
  • There is a context in which I eat fried chicken can simply refer to one event of eating, and that's when a series of actions is being listed in the present tense for a narrative: I get up in the morning, I go to work, I eat a sandwich for lunch, I go home, I eat fried chicken for supper, I watch TV, I go to bed. – John Lawler Aug 10 '18 at 21:55
  • Although all of the examples that appear in the question are in the present tense, it is not clear whether the tense is essential to the question. Suppose that I want to convey, in the past tense, that yesterday I had some cheeseburger-stuff for dinner, but I want to leave it unspecified whether that was two-thirds of a cheeseburger, or one, or one and a half, or two, etc. The OP's question could be (but doesn't have to be) interpreted to cover such cases as well. – jsw29 Aug 10 '18 at 22:34
2

How [can you] not specify the amount of food/drink(s) that you consume for stuff like burgers...?

By saying “cheeseburgers.”

The things that don't require articles are uncountable, either naturally (water) or because you're talking about the substance (beef) as a substance and not as a specific instance. “I eat fried chicken” is talking about the substance ‘fried chicken’ and not about specific pieces of fried chicken.

There is no ‘cheeseburger substance’ (it's called ‘beef’ or ‘hamburger’) so you must use an article.

However, saying “I eat cheeseburgers” doesn't necessary imply that you have ever actually eaten any particular number of cheeseburgers in your life. It's just the way of speaking vaguely that it's something that's acceptable for dinner.

If you really needed to underline that you're speaking hypothetically, you'd change the verb: “I could eat a cheeseburger” (right now, for this meal) or “I could eat cheeseburgers” (generally, whenever) would both get that idea across.

Edit: Per your comments, “I could eat some fractional amount of a cheeseburger but not possibly a complete cheeseburger” is not an idea actual humans ever need to express (in any language) so there's no easier way to get that idea across that saying it all explicitly.

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There are 2 different things going here, both are hidden implied subjects under discussion.

The subject will be made clear by the rest of the context of your communication and|or the modifiers you choose for certain words.

Your readers|audience must determine whether the implied subject is a SPECIFIC INSTANCE of an EVENT, or the implied subject describes what happens when the behavior or pattern takes place generally (what's the typical pattern that occurs?).

Specific Event Instance:

"I ate half of a cheesburger."

General Pattern:

"I eat half of a cheeseburger."  
(This is a correct but rare way to get your meaning across because your reader has to 
notice the tiny difference between "ate" and "eat".)  Be kinder to your reader: include 
more signals that the implied subject is "General Pattern".  

"I ONLY eat half of a cheeseburger AT A TIME."

A Specific Event Instance could take place in the past, present or future. The amount (and thus the plural or singular form of the object) needs to agree with the specific amount you discuss for that particular, individual, actual event:

"You ate 3 cheeseburgers for breakfast" == "You ate half of a cheeseburger for breakfast."
"You are eating 3 cheeseburgers for lunch" == "You are eating half of a cheeseburger for lunch."
"You will eat 3 cheeseburgers for dinner" == "You will eat half of a cheeseburger for dinner."

But the General Pattern (discussing the general pattern all events usually follow) uses the infinitive form of the verb, AND the singular or plural that matches the form of the CATEGORY that the object word belongs to:

"I eat cheeseburgers." == An individual cheeseburger is an instance of "cheesburgers", 
so we use the category.
"I drive trucks." == An individual truck falls within the "trucks" category.

"I eat bread with butter." == An individual LOAF of bread belongs to the "BREAD" category 
of food.

So first you have to identify whether the Subject is [Specific Event Instance] or [General Template For This Behavior-Occurrence Pattern], and then IF it is General Pattern, is the object's CATEGORY plural or singular?

  • It is unclear whether this is really an answer to the question, or effectively an elaborate comment, pointing out that the question is ambiguous, which has already been noted by 1006a. – jsw29 Aug 12 '18 at 17:24
  • That is not correct. I have informed the Original Poster that specifying the category for the General Pattern is why no specific amount is needed. One should not post useful answers as though they were merely comments. I invite you to stop griefing me, forever, jsw29. – Ace Frahm Aug 12 '18 at 23:09

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