I know that "water" or "a glass(cup) of water" is the right expression.

But I'm wondering.

If someone says to you that "Give me a water, please.", what would you think that means?

  • 3
    At a bar, this is commonly used a concise way of ordering a drink. For multiple drinks you might just say "Two waters/juices/beers/whiskies please." Note that you would probably not say it with a drink where the size is not obvious, e.g. "Two wines please." is uncommon, it would more likely be "Two glasses of wine please" or "Two bottles of wine please".
    – SteveES
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 15:59
  • "A water" can also be an event. For example, you might give your flowers a water from your watering can. If you're trying to ask someone to pour water on you, "give me a water" is a reasonable way to do it.
    – Veedrac
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 19:07
  • Not sure if it's called that in English-speaking countries, but the measuring instrument - containing a couple of glass vials with water and an air-bubble in a metal or plastic frame - used to see if something (like a floor) is level (ie. completely horizontal) is called "water" - so "give me a water" would be a perfectly good way to ask for one. Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 20:34
  • 2
    This is an increasingly common way to refer to "a bottle of water". If there are bottles of water in the room, you might say: "hand me a water". It works just like 'beer' as in it doesn't make sense to say "hand me beer". You'd say "hand me a beer"
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 21:36
  • 3
    @Baard Kopperud: In English that thing is called a "bubble level", "spirit level", or usually just "level" in conversation.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


In your example, "a water" probably means a single serving of water.

If we use the indefinite article a with a normally uncountable noun, we usually do it to mean one of two things:

  1. A certain kind of that noun.

  2. A single instance or serving of that noun, such as a packaged container of it from a shop or a serving at a restaurant.

Here's an example for each case, respectively:

In Mexico I tasted a water unlike any I'd drunk before.

(To clarify, that's the past perfect used to mean that when I drank it, I had never drunk a water like that before.)

I was thirsty so I stopped at a store and bought a water.

You might also hear something like this:

I'm thirsty. I think I'll buy some juice. How much is a juice?

Again, that's referring to a single packaged juice, usually a single serving. If I'm talking about buying a large container of juice to keep in my fridge, I'll probably just refer to it as "juice" or "some juice". But if I were telling my wife (if I had one) to buy two large containers of juice, I might say: "When you're at the store, buy two juices." I could say "some juice", but it's understood when I say "two" that I want to units/containers, and this is using "juice" in a countable way.

  • 6
    One more comment about "buy two juices" vs. "buy some juice": The latter ("buy some juice") says nothing about how much juice to buy, whereas the former allows us to specify a quantity. (As you say in your answer, it's assumed that the person you are talking to will know what kind of container we are talking about – either through previous experience, or prior conversation.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 15:25
  • This is an amazing answer beyond my expectations. Thank you very much.
    – JS.Kim.
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 15:45
  • 1
    But of course, in "they stock three juices, buy the pineapple", the sense is not "a portion of", but "a kind of". Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 17:28
  • Yes, that's an example of the first reason, "A certain kind of that noun". All fishes are fish, all fish are fish of a fish, and all fish contain fish.
    – Epanoui
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 17:37
  • 1
    Be careful of "a Coke" in Texas. Ask for a Coke and then they'll ask what kind and you can reply with Mr Pibb, Mountain Dew etc... Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 21:57

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