A grain of rice and a clove of garlic: making uncountable nouns countable (1)

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by Liz Walter

You probably already know that you can use many uncountable nouns in a countable way with words such as piece or bit:

I ate a small piece of cheese.

Why don’t you add a bit of cream?

However, we can also use more interesting and specific words. Today’s post will look at how we do this with food and my next post will look at other topics such as weather and emotions.

We often use the names of containers when we talk about amounts of food. These might be items of crockery or cutlery, for example bowl, plate, cup, glass, tablespoon or teaspoon, or items of packaging such as packet, bottle, can, carton, tub or tube:

I ordered a bowl of soup.

Add a teaspoon of salt.

She ate a whole tub of ice cream.

It is also common to use words that indicate the shape of an amount of food, for instance slice, sliver, hunk, chunk, lump or slab:

The soup contained large chunks of beef.

I used a whole slab of chocolate in the dessert.

The words portion or serving indicates 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.

Rome wasn’t built in a day: Phrases with place names

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by Liz Walter

At the end of last year, I wrote a post about phrases containing people’s names, which generated quite a lot of interest. I hope you will also enjoy this post about phrases based on place names.

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I’ve brought you a little something: The language of gifts


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by Liz Walter

Many of us will have given and received gifts over the holiday period. This post looks at some of the language around this custom.

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It’s as good as new: Phrases with ‘new’

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by Liz Walter

As we head into a new year (which I’m sure everyone hopes will be better than the old one!), I thought it would be nice to look at some useful phrases containing the word ‘new’.

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I don’t know him from Adam: phrases containing names

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by Liz Walter

Today’s post focuses on phrases that contain general personal names – there are a surprising number of them!

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I can’t hear myself think: more interesting ways of saying ‘noisy’

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by Liz Walter

At the beginning of the month I wrote about words and phrases connected with being quiet. In this post, I’ll be looking at the opposite: how to talk about noise.

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You could hear a pin drop: more interesting ways of saying ‘quiet’

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by Liz Walter

Quiet is a word that English students learn early in their studies. Today we are going to look at some more specific and subtle ways of talking about quietness and silence.

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It makes my flesh crawl: idioms for Halloween

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by Liz Walter

The evening of October 31st usually sees hordes of children dressed up as ghosts, skeletons or other scary figures, excitedly collecting mountains of sweets on their ‘trick-or-treat’ expeditions. Covid-19 has paused many of these activities, but I hope you will still enjoy this post on spooky idioms! Continue reading “It makes my flesh crawl: idioms for Halloween”

Between you, me and the gatepost: idioms connected with secrets

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by Liz Walter

Everyone has secrets, and if someone confides their secret to you, that is a real sign of trust. Conversely, giving away someone’s secret is an act that can range from being a minor annoyance to a friendship-breaking betrayal. No wonder, then, that there are so many colourful and widely-used idioms and phrases that refer to this topic.

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Permanent, temporary, fulfilling and dead-end jobs: collocations for work (2)

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by Liz Walter

My last post looked at collocations for starting and leaving jobs. This one will look at collocations that describe the experience of having a job.

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