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I learned that we should say

How much gravel do you have now?

since "gravel" is an uncountable noun, but it's also okay to say

How many pieces of gravel do you have now?

Then, how about garlic, which is another uncountable noun? I know I can say two cloves of garlic, but what should I say if it's a whole piece of garlic?

How much garlic do you want?

How many pieces of garlic do you want?

Are both okay?

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7 Answers 7

14

A "whole piece" of garlic is called a head of garlic. Hence,

How much garlic do you want?
How many heads of garlic do you want?

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  • 17
    For me a "piece" of garlic is a single clove, not the whole head.
    – Kreiri
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:13
  • 8
    @Kreiri yet another reason to use "cloves of garlic" and "heads of garlic", not pieces.
    – Mołot
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:13
  • 3
    A single clove, is right, but you could also say piece. Few recipes call for an entire head of garlic. They call for x number of cloves.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:34
  • 1
    Then is it same for ginger, which is another uncountable noun? Can I use both "How much ginger do you want?" and "How many pieces of ginger" do you want?". For uncountable nouns, can I say both "much(uncountable) ~", and also "many(countable) pieces(heads stc) of ~" ?
    – dbwlsld
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 1:14
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    @dbwlsld: For ginger, given that it tends to come in chunks of highly variable size, you should definitely use "how much" (and answer by weight or volume). "A piece of ginger" is a pretty useless measure, since your "piece" might be 10 times bigger than mine. There is a reason why it's generally considered an uncountable noun, after all. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 9:25
11

“Garlic” is an uncountable noun. So you should say "How much garlic do you want?", not "How many garlic(s) do you want?" The whole garlic consisting of cloves is called a “head” or “bulb”. So you can also say:

How many heads/bulbs of garlic do you want?
How many cloves of garlic do you want?

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6

Garlic is a bulb, and referred to as such. When shopping you can ask for "three bulbs of garlic". You can also say "garlic head" or "head of garlic". For example, "Wrap each garlic head in foil and roast for 30 minutes".

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    Note that this answer from ELU says, formally, it is called a "compound bulb" because the cloves themselves are actually bulbs, too. Nevertheless, "bulb" will do just fine.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:54
  • 5
    @MrLister That sounds more like the technical term a biologist or horticulturist would use to describe the type of bulb that garlic has, not a typical person buying or cooking garlic.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:36
  • Head of garlic and garlic cloves are used in cooking. Garlic bulbs are what you get when you plant garlic.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:36
  • beg to differ. Head is correct, and I know what it means, but I'd use "bulb" for shopping, and those rare cases when whole bulbs are used in cooking. I think you are finding a distinction that doesn't exist. You can use either head or bulb both are correct and mean the same, I tend to use the latter. There may be regional variation.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 0:40
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A garlic bulb (or head) is made up of multiple cloves.

Most recipes call for one or more cloves of garlic, but you typically buy garlic by the head or bulb.

So - I may buy three heads of garlic, and use four cloves from one head in a recipe.

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  • ... or just a pinch of garlic:) Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:26
  • @HagenvonEitzen If a recipe called for a pinch of garlic, I'd expect it to specify garlic powder, garlic salt, crushed garlic, or minced garlic. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:24
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Not all English speakers agree on whether "one piece of garlic" means a clove or a head. That's the real problem here.

You can observe this cultural disagreement playing out in some of the other answers.

Your question:

"How many pieces of garlic?"

is technically a correctly-formed English sentence, but is ambiguous and open to misinterpretation.

It is best to always ask "How many cloves?" or "How many heads?" to avoid the ambiguity.

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  • 1
    If cooking, a piece of garlic is a clove. But cooks do say cloves.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:37
  • Professional jargon is more well-defined than general English, but that doesn't mean the jargon is the perfect universal correct way. It's just the correct way within that profession. Using professional jargon also doesn't make you any more likely to be understood by non-professionals who don't know the jargon. If you're trying to be understood by the general public, then you'll need to be more specific to avoid ambiguity. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 22:36
  • People who don't know cloves will say pieces to mean cloves, in my experience.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 22:49
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...but it's also okay to say

How many pieces of gravel do you have now?

Yes and no. You wouldn't say that to someone who just had a load of gravel delivered, you'd stick to "how much gravel" (and they'd probably reply with X number of tons or loads or bags or similar); "how many pieces" would be unanswerable. But if you were asking about the number of pieces of gravel someone had in their hand, for instance, it would be fine.

Then, how about garlic, which is another uncountable noun? I know I can say two cloves of garlic, but what should I say if it's a whole piece of garlic?

The "whole piece" of garlic is called a "head" or "bulb," so you'd use one of those terms instead of "piece," which could be ambiguous.

This will be situation-dependent. If you're going the shopping and are asking how much garlic someone wants you to buy, you'd ask "how much" or "how many heads/bulbs" because you're not going to closely examine each head as you buy it to try to figure out how many cloves it has in it. But if you're helping someone cook and they ask you to peel the garlic for the recipe, you'd probably ask "how much" or "how many cloves" they want you to peel (and even if you ask "how much," they'll likely answer in cloves).

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I think the appropriate form is dependent on context. If the answer is expected to be a whole number:

I'm going shopping, how many pieces of garlic do we need?

versus:

I usually make this dish pretty garlicky when I'm cooking it for myself, but how much garlic would you like me to use?

if the answer might be a lot, a little, or less than last Tuesday, thanks.

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    I'd say the answer to the second could be 1 clove as well.
    – Stian
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:36
  • 1
    Makes me wonder what happened last Tuesday ... Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:26

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