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In my sci­en­tific ar­ti­cle manuscript, I used tomato to re­fer to the plant in gen­eral. But af­ter I sent the manuscript to the El­se­vier English Cor­rec­tion Ser­vice, they changed all tomato into toma­toes. For ex­am­ple this sen­tence:

This sug­gests that an in­ter­ac­tion among many genes is as­so­ci­ated with the mech­a­nism in toma­toes.

I am quite con­flicted about this. I only want to re­fer to the tomato plant in gen­eral, not to em­pha­size dif­fer­ent types of toma­toes. What is the cor­rect choice in this case? When should I use tomato and when toma­toes?

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  • You cannot say "with the mechanism in tomato." It's ungrammatical.
    – tchrist
    Jan 11 at 2:38
  • If you want to use it generically, it needs to be *the tomato.”
    – Xanne
    Jan 11 at 2:38
  • @tchrist Can you explain more? Why is it incorrect?
    – MD P
    Jan 12 at 4:35
  • @MDP Because there is no such thing as tomato unadorned by some determiner or an inflected plural marker. It is not a substance, a mass noun. It is a count noun in tomatoes, and it is an attributive noun in tomato plant. So you cannot say I don't like tomato as a general thing; it really must be I don't like tomatoes. A native speaker might be able to rope it into service by asking Is there any tomato in this? I’m deathly allergic! But I strongly recommend against attempting it as an ESL learner; it will not come off right. The correction service made the right call here.
    – tchrist
    Jan 12 at 4:45
  • @tchrist That's new to me. I rarely see scientific articles using this plural "tomatoes". I did a search on Nature and the number of articles using "tomato" (as a noun by itself, not an attributive noun) is like 10 times the number of those using "tomatoes". Granted, articles by native English authors seem to use "tomatoes" more often, but it's not hard to find articles by someone from UK or US that use "tomato", like this one: nature.com/articles/ng.3345.
    – MD P
    Jan 12 at 5:14
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Formal and precise (i.e. scientific):

This suggests that an interaction among many genes is associated with the mechanism in the tomato.

Here "the tomato" is a species. Substitute "elk":

This suggests that an interaction among many genes is associated with the mechanism in the elk.

However, if you wish to sound more casual - or more colloquial - or more populist - you should go with:

This suggests that an interaction among many genes is associated with the mechanism in tomatoes.

Now, if your goal is to refer to an entity that is uncountable, you might consider going with:

This suggests that an interaction among many genes is associated with the mechanism in whatever amount of tomato you might view as a good sample size.

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  • So is it the same for all other species, like "the pepper"/"peppers", "the potato"/"potatoes", or is/are (this feels weird) tomatoes the special case? This kind of pluralization seems new to me. I don't remember encountering many scientific articles writing this way.
    – MD P
    Jan 12 at 4:30
  • Yes, rather, especially if formal is what rocks your boat. There are, however, exceptions, such as "the deer/deer."
    – Ricky
    Jan 12 at 7:03

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