4

I came across an example in the book Oxford Discover by Emma Wilkinson.

What was in the pie?
Apples and sugar.

I have learnt that when we can no longer count an ingredient, or when the amount of end product is not specified, native speakers use the non-count, singular form. However, I sometimes find examples were the plural form is used. Which form should learners use?

6
  • This might help Does “he is eating apples” make sense? although your question if far too broad to answer completely in this format. Also Is “bananas is” possible by any chance?
    – ColleenV
    May 27, 2021 at 14:51
  • 1
    I venture to suggest that this is a poor example. I'd be prepared to bet any money that if a properly-conducted study could be carried out, it would show that most people would echo the same "mass / uncountable noun" usage for both "apple" and "sugar". Not that there's anything syntactically wrong with the version as cited. Just sayin'. May 27, 2021 at 15:23
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I'll take your bet. (AmE) May 28, 2021 at 3:29
  • 1
    @alephzero, chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic: Whether they're explicitly taught it or not, every native Anglophone has an intuitive understanding of the fact that English supports both count nouns and mass nouns. And whether they're consciously aware of it or not, most "competent" native speakers tend to repeat & reflect "parallel" forms. I maintain that most native speakers are "competent", and they will therefore tend to go for the parallel forms apple and sugar here (as ingredients). (It's not like we're comparing apples and oranges! :) May 28, 2021 at 13:19
  • 1
    Sometimes you have to go beyond language rules. In this case, most native speakers would probably say "apples" because the typical apple pie recipe requires you to use more than one apple.
    – John Bode
    May 28, 2021 at 15:02

2 Answers 2

10

There's a distinction between "apples" (countable) and "apple" (uncountable).

I'd say that there's a distinction between "apples" and "apple" in this context: if you say that the pie was made from apples, you're specifying that it was made from multiple apples - there's a pile of apples, and you used them to make the pie. If you're saying that it's made from apple, you're saying that it's made from the material that apples are made from - you've diced some unknown or unspecified number of apples into pieces, and used those pieces to make the pie.

If it's made from one apple, you could say that it's made from "an apple", which would be distinct from just saying that it's made from "apple".

6
  • 1
    And if it was a pumpkin pie, it would have to be huge for you to say "pumpkins and sugar". Even then I reckon the uncountable form would be used, both out of habit and because the pumpkin is pureed and the apples diced (usually)
    – Chris H
    May 28, 2021 at 15:18
  • @ChrisH But you might say "I made it from a pumpkin".
    – Barmar
    May 28, 2021 at 15:20
  • @Barmar you might. I would, because when I've made pumpkin pie I grew the pumpkin in my garden. If you buy puree in a tin I suspect you would say just "made form pumpkin" (though really you should say made from squash!)
    – Chris H
    May 28, 2021 at 15:24
  • 1
    @ChrisH So you'd say "I made it from that pumpkin/squash", pointing to the Jack-o-Lantern you made from the remains.
    – Barmar
    May 28, 2021 at 15:43
  • @Barmar I quite likely would have done, if they were in the same place. I probably did with the several other meals I got out of it.
    – Chris H
    May 28, 2021 at 15:46
9

The dish is always called “apple pie“, and the main ingredients are: apple OR apples and sugar. Both the singular and the plural form are acceptable.

4
  • 3
    I'm reminded of the fact that everything "little boys" are supposed to be made of is countable (snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails). But little girls are made of uncountable "stuff" (sugar and spice, not spices :) May 27, 2021 at 15:29
  • 2
    "Apple" in "apple pie" is an adjective, not a noun. Just like "banana bread" or "carrot cake". A pie recipe that said "chop 1kg of apple into small pieces" would look weird in British English.
    – alephzero
    May 28, 2021 at 13:00
  • 1
    @alephzero The word apple in apple pie is a noun adjunct that modifies another noun. If it was an adjective we would say this is "apple" but that is "more apple" and that is the "most apple" of them all. We could modify apple and say it is "very apple", and maybe some native speakers do, maybe in some dialects it is used, but I'd wager to say it is highly unusual. The fruit "apple" is a noun, which is why we can add the plural suffix -s, i.e. "apples".
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 28, 2021 at 17:47
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers The nursery rhyme ends with "…sugar and spice and all things nice” The plural noun spices with the adjective nice are not a perfect match. They'd probably get along quite well though :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 28, 2021 at 18:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .