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 Apr 7 '17 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 Apr 7 '17 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. – Baard Kopperud Apr 7 '17 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 Apr 7 '17 at 21:36
  • 3
    @Baard Kopperud: In English that thing is called a "bubble level", "spirit level", or usually just "level" in conversation. – jamesqf Apr 7 '17 at 23:25

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. Apr 7 '17 at 15:25
  • This is an amazing answer beyond my expectations. Thank you very much. – JS.Kim. Apr 7 '17 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". – Michael Kay Apr 7 '17 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 Apr 7 '17 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... – AbraCadaver Apr 7 '17 at 21:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.