Commenting on developments in the English language
Author: Liz Walter
Liz Walter is a freelance lexicographer and writer, living in Cambridge, UK. She worked for many years on Cambridge University Press's range of ELT dictionaries and now works with Kate Woodford on dictionaries and other books about the English language. Her other interests include politics, growing vegetables and family holidays in her camper van. She tweets at @LizJWalter
Apparently, a lot of people who are either in lockdown or working from home because of the pandemic are using their extra time to do jobs in the home, so this post offers some words and phrases to talk about these tasks.
The words portion or servingindicates an amount sufficient for one person. We use mouthful for any food or drink. We also use sip, slurp, gulp and swig for amounts of liquid we swallow at one time:
There are four portions of stew in the pan.
The recipe makes four to six servings.
He ate a few mouthfuls of rice.
I only had a sip of tea.
With foods that consist of many very small parts, such as rice, sugar or salt we often use grain, while for liquids, we often use drop. Other words are more closely linked to specific liquids, for instance a dash (UK)/splash (US) of milk or a glug of oil:
Use a fork to separate the grains of rice.
I like a dash (UK)/splash (US) of milk in my tea.
Other words that are usually used with specific foods are a pinch of salt and a knob of butter:
Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water.
He fried the fish in a knob of butter.
Several words that make uncountable foods countable relate to the action you use with them. For example, we can talk about a squeeze of lemon juice, a grind of pepper, a sprinkling/dusting of icing sugar (UK)/confectioner’s sugar (US), cocoa powder, etc. and a drizzle of olive oil, honey, etc.
Give the risotto a few good grinds of pepper.
Serve the figs with a drizzle of honey.
Finally, there is a group of nouns that describe single parts of a type of food. For instance we talk about cloves of garlic, sweetcorn (UK)/corn (US) kernels, orange/grapefruit segments and coffee beans:
Chop two cloves of garlic.
The sweetcorn (UK)/corn (US) kernels add a lovely texture to the salad.
Food is such an enormous topic, there are probably many more ways of talking about amounts of it, but I hope this post has covered the main ones and helped to explain the idea of how we can use uncountable nouns in a countable way.