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.
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Last month I wrote about how to form comparatives and superlatives. However, there are many occasions when we don’t simply want to say that one person or thing has more or less of a particular quality than another: we want to say how much more or less they have. That is when we need to modify our comparisons.
The most common way to talk about big differences is by using the word much: My pizza’s much bigger than yours. This book is much more interesting. We use far or a lot in the same way: My new computer is far smaller than my old one. It’s a lot less expensive to travel by bus.Very much or a good deal are slightly more formal: He seems very much happier now. Her new job is a good deal more demanding.
We often need to compare one person or thing with another, and in this post I am going to look at how we do this. This is a fairly basic topic, but one where I find that intermediate students still often make mistakes.
We make comparatives by adding -er to the end of an adjective or by putting more in front of the adjective: Your hair is longer than mine. It is more stylish.
We make superlatives by adding -est to the end of an adjective and the in front of it or by putting the most in front of the adjective: Everest is the highest mountain in the world. It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
Many dictionaries for learners of English (including the one on this site) show whether nouns are ‘countable’ or ‘uncountable’, often using the abbreviations C and U. Countable nouns are things that you can count – one dog, two dogs, twenty dogs, etc. Uncountable nouns are things that you cannot count – water, sadness, plastic, etc.