I'm a Persian, and we consider bread countable in Persian language. I wonder why is bread considered uncountable in English language?

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    The noun bread is "countable" in contexts like I like "speciality" breads, such as ciabatta and focaccia. And some of us say things like I got a couple of French breads for the barbecue where others would say sticks of French bread. But it's "uncountable" in contexts like Bread is the primary carbohydrate foodstuff for many people. I don't think it's meaningful to ask why English differs from Persian in this respect. They're just different languages. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 17 at 18:08
  • Thank you Ms. Monica for your useful comment. I didn't ask why English differs from Persian, but I asked why English considers bread uncountable. I know they are two different languages and I respect English language as much as my own language, Persian. – Qàtrè Apr 19 at 5:24

In English, "bread" refers to the substance in general. You can "package" it in different forms, and those "packages" are countable. Usually we count bread in loaves or slices. So you can talk about "2 loaves of bread", or "2 slices of bread". But you can't just say "2 breads" because we don't know what unit of measure you are using.

It's like if someone said, "I have two waters", what does that mean? 2 glasses of water? 2 gallons? 2 barrels? You have to specify.

To make things more confusing, there are some substances like this where there's an assumed unit of measure. Like is you say, "I have 3 Cokes in the refrigerator", we understand you to mean 3 cans or 3 bottles of Coke.

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  • Ms./Mr. Jay, thank you very much for your useful response. Maybe in the Cokes example, they are considered as units because they have only one shape and that shape is somehow considered as a unit. But anyway, thanks to you, I got the answer of my question. – Qàtrè Apr 19 at 5:46
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    @Qàtrè Yes, Coke routinely comes in cans or bottles of approximately the same size, so there's an obvious "default". Whereas, say, milk is commonly bought by the quart, half gallon, or gallon, so "two milks" would be less clear what size you meant. Still, a can of soda pop is normally, maybe 8 ounces, I don't have any handy to check, but it's also common to buy in 2 liter bottles. But if someone said, "I have 2 Cokes in the refrigerator", I think most people would assume 2 cans and not 2 2-liter bottles. Whatever. – Jay Apr 19 at 18:06

At one point, it was grammatical to use bread countably (to mean “a loaf of bread”). For example, in the Coverdale Bible (1535):

At his heade there was a bred baken on the coles.

(This is Kings 19:6.)

However, this sense of the word is long obsolete. It’s difficult to say why this happened; my best guess would be because this sense of the word was less common than the main, uncountable sense.

In other words, it’s just not currently idiomatic.

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  • Thank you Ms./Mr. Laurel for your answer. That's interesting for me, that how does a word and its properties can change throughout the time. – Qàtrè Apr 19 at 5:37

Bread in most English speaking countries is formed in loaves. And here you see why bread is uncountable. There is another word that means the countable equivalent: loaf/loaves.

In Iran, much bread is flatbread, and so not in loaf form. It is not surprising that the equivalent word is countable if "bread" means "naan".

When talking about the various flatbread styles, the words are generally countable

Naans rotis chapatis pitas tortillas wraps etc.

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  • Thank you Mr. James K. for your useful answer. I appreciate your vast knowledge about languages, and that's interesting to me that you know the word for bread in my language. Sorry if I can't speak English well and have errors in my response. – Qàtrè Apr 19 at 5:44
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    naan is a perfectly common English word too – James K Apr 19 at 5:55
  • Really? #OMG #WoW! – Qàtrè Apr 19 at 6:04
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    I've actually entertained myself looking at the etymology of "naan". English gets it from Urdu/Hindi, from Persian. It is known in Old Persian, but it isn't from proto-indo-European. There is a sanskrit word that could be related (meaning yeast for making alcohol) but some think it is a borrowing from an extinct central Asian language from a people known only as BMAC. PIE didn't have a word for "bread" so each of the daughter languages developed its own: roti, naan, bread, loaf, panem etc. – James K Apr 19 at 17:16
  • Yes, etymology is very interesting to me, too. BMAC refers to a region between two ancient famous cities of the great ancient Iran, which are Bactria (in Persian: بَلْخْ) and Margiana (in Persian: مَرْوْ, or in its older pronunciation: مَرْغْ). I don't know very much about PIE, but it's somehow surprising to me, why they don't have a specific word for bread, considering the fact that the people in that era certainly knew bread very well, as a common daily food. – Qàtrè Apr 20 at 5:31

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