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English as a Second Language/Follow-up (countable and uncountable)



You say the writer is free. But wouldn't it be better balancing if we use all words either in the plural form or the uncountable form, instead of plural plus uncountable?

Dear Jed,

"Many salad crops are eproduced in this area. These include tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and strawbetrries".

I wonder why the writer did not put an "s" to lettuce, which (like the others) can be countable and uncountable.

By the why, can I say " I like tomato, cucumber, lettuce, apple, lemon", instead of "I like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, apples and lemons. I am not sure especially for 'cucumber' and "apple" because the Longman dictionary does not say whether 'apple' can be both countable and uncountable but says 'cucumber'  can be countable only.

Best regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

Dear Antoine,

In your first sentence, the speaker has completely free choice between uncountable 'lettuce' and plural 'lettuces'.  However, it is more common to use the uncountable version. We generally think of the salad food rather than the individual plants. For the other three, which we usually think of as individual fruits/vegetables, the plural form is more likely.

In your second sentence, we can use either the plural or the uncountable form for 'tomato'. We are more likely to use the uncountable form for 'cucumber'; when we are speaking of what we like, we think of the slices we eat rather than of the individual cucumbers. For the others, we would probably use the plural form. We use uncountable 'apple' mainly for the cooked version, and uncountable 'lemon' mainly for the flavour.

Note my use of the words 'generally', 'mainly', 'usually' 'likely' and 'probably'. There are no hard and fast rules here.

With best wishes,

ANSWER: Dear Antoine,

That's a matter of style rather than grammar.

Personally,I would stick with the original. It would appear to be more consistent to have all of them plural or all uncountable, but the writer has used them in what to me is the most natural way.

Best wishes,


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Also, the others (tomatoes and cucumbers) are parts of the salad food. so why the writer used the plural form?

Dear Antoine,

If we have to choose between 'better balancing'  and natural writing, we really do have free choice. Certain styles are 'better' only in the opinion of self-appointed writers of style guides.  We speakers of British English tend to prefer what is natural to what some self-appointed 'expert' tells us we ought to use.



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Jed Webb


I can assist with questions about English grammar (syntax, morphology, pronunciation and spelling)from learners taking such examinations as TOEFL, IELTS, FCE and CAE and other internationally recognised tests.


I have over forty years of experience in the teaching of modern languages, twenty-four of them in the Teaching of English as a Second Language. I have been an examiner for FCE, BEC and IELTS examinations, and a teacher trainer on courses leading to the Trinity College Certificate in TESOL.

The Philological Society The International Phonetic Association The College of Teachers The International Association of Teachers of EFL The Royal Society of Arts (Fellow)

British Journal of Language Teaching, Vol XIX Nos I and II Education Today, Vol 41, Nos 1 and 3 Co-Author: Nix and Webb (1984) 'Creative English', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Contributor: Nix and Riederer (1973), 'Bottoms Up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Rosenau and Nix, (1979), 'Look it up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Nix and Ringholz, 'English in Projects', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen

BA (English), University of Durham. Qualified Teacher Status, UK Department of Education and Science Further and Adult Education Teacher's Certificate, City and Guilds of London Institute ACP(TESOL), College of Preceptors Dip TESOL, Trinity College, London Dip Ed (ELT), Exeter University ACP (Management Studies in Education), College of Teachers Certificate of Proficiency in the Phonetics of English, International Phonetic Association

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I have taught: General and Business English classes for: Alcan, Allianz Versicherung, Robert Bosch, Daimler-Benz, Ford, Hewlett Packard, Kodak, Mövenpick, Radiomobil (O2), Siemens, Unilever. TOEFL and FCE classes for: eská Spoitelna,SOB, Czech Ministry of Trade, Czech Statistics Office.

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