I learned that sometimes I can count uncountable things in such a sentence like this:

"I like this coffee much more than other coffees."

Then, can I count pieces of chicken saying like this?

"One small juice and one chicken, please."

Pieces of packed boiled chicken are often sold around me. Can I say like this omitting "piece of"?

"I bought a chicken."

2 Answers 2


Some non-countable nouns can become countable in certain contexts, although this can often depend on how the noun is used idiomatically.

'Water' is the go-to example for non-countable nouns. As a mass noun, it can describe water in general. For example, if you said "water is comprised of hydrogen and oxygen" that is true of all water anywhere. But as soon as you break water up into quantities, you can count it. For example, you could ask for "three glasses of water", and idiomatically you may also hear someone order "three waters" (meaning 3 glasses, or bottles, or whatever quantity the water is served in).

With your example of chicken - the word can describe the bird, which is definitely countable. One chicken, two chickens, etc. But when it describes the meat from that bird, it can be non-countable, for example, "I like chicken" would mean you like it in general.

It isn't good English grammar to use the mass-noun 'chicken' as countable, ie ordering "two chickens". It would nearly always be suffixed with another word like 'pieces', 'meal', or 'dinner', in which case you are pluralising and counting the second noun, not the word 'chicken'. That said, some food service in native English-speaking countries is provided by non-native speakers, so for this and other reasons there are some idiosyncratic uses that you may hear.

  • I think using "one chicken" as short for "one chicken item" is pretty similar as using "one water" as short for "one standard container of water". It's not about being a non-native, it's just about using a synecdoche. And this synecdoche only works when it's clear what exactly is referred to by "chicken" or "water"; for instance, asking for "one water" will only make sense in a store that sells only one kind of water bottle; if the store sells both 33cL and 1L bottles, then asking for "one water" doesn't make much sense.
    – Stef
    Jun 12, 2023 at 16:05
  • Likewise, if there is more than one type of item made of chicken, asking for "one chicken" doesn't make sense. But for instance, if you're at a cafeteria and there are only two kinds of main dish today, one vegetarian and one with chicken, then asking for "one chicken" will be a very good synecdoche for "one plate of the non-vegetarian dish". And this has nothing to do with being a native or non-native speaker.
    – Stef
    Jun 12, 2023 at 16:07

I bought a chicken indicates that you purchased a whole bird. If you bought a pack of chicken pieces, or a single portion in a package, it's some chicken, a pack of chicken, a chicken joint/leg/portion.

However, if you ask for 'one chicken' at a restaurant or food stall, you are asking for one serving of whatever chicken dish is on the menu.

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