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So, someone has told me that I should use the plural nouns when mentioning my favorite animals. Otherwise, it would sound like I wanted to eat them. For example, I like cats instead of I like cat.

If so, why do we use plural nouns when talking about our favorite food. Doesn't it mean we only like it instead of wanting to eat it?

I hope I explained myself clearly enough.

Thanks in advance!

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4 Answers 4

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It is an oddity of English that many nouns which are normally count nouns may also be used as mass nouns when talking about them as foodstuff. Example are chicken, egg, cake, pizza. (Unfortunately this does not apply to all foodstuffs, and I don't know any way to predict reliably which it does apply to. You can say I like cake/cakes or I like pizza/pizzas, but I like pancake or I like muffin sound very odd to me).

In the case of an animal, such as lamb, if we use it as a count noun, eg "I like lambs" we always mean those things jumping around in fields, whereas "I like lamb" unambiguously refers eating lamb-meat. (As others have pointed out, for some common animals, we have different words for the meat. If you say I want some cow, people will think that you must mean beef, but think you're deliberately using an odd word for it).

If we use animal names as mass nouns, it is almost always taken as food, even if they're not something we normally think of eating. So, for your example I like cat means eating the meat from cats. Similarly, I can (truthfully) say "My father was once given bear", meaning that he was served a dish of bear-meat.

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  • I knew that when we use animal names in uncountable, we are mentioning their meat. But why I like cats mean you don't like to eat cats, but I like bananas mean you like to eat bananas? Is it because of cultural differences that one doesn't interpret that as cat meat? I hope you understand what I mean. :(
    – neko sama
    Oct 20, 2022 at 15:55
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    No, I don't think it is cultural differences, I think it is the English language. I like cats/lambs/chickens/turkeys/snakes/camels almost certainly means the living animal. I like cat/lamb/chicken/turkey/snake/camel almost certainly means the meat, howver unfamiliar it is to us. I like bananas is a different case because we don't normally think of bananas in any context other than eating. If a fruit-grower or garden designer said I like bananas they might not be thinking about eating them.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 20, 2022 at 16:01
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"Cat" is both a singular noun (one cat, whom you might pet), and a mass noun (the substance that cats are made of, which some people eat).

Whereas "cats" is a plural noun (two or more cats, some of whom you might pet). In rare circumstances, it could be the plural of what different kinds of cats are made of (like if a person who eats cats was comparing the taste of bobcat to the taste of tiger).

Saying "I like that cat", or "I like my cat", or "I like the yellow cat", or "I like a Siamese cat" with a determiner makes it clear that you are talking about a single pettable cat.

Since the singular form is usually used with a determiner, saying "cat" without a determiner causes people to wonder if you mean the mass noun (cat-meat).

Whereas saying "I like cats" makes it clear that you are talking about pettable cats, not edible cat-meat.

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In English, to express generalities for countable nouns like some foods or animals or anything you like, we use the plural because you can't say: I like cat. And no, personally, since in my culture it is not right to eat cats, I would not interpret I like cat. as I like to eat them.

I like cats. I like donuts. BUT: uncountable I like cheese. I like coffee.

A cat I saw on the street was so funny. The cat is considered by some to be a noble animal.

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  • Thank you. I guess it's the cultural differences that decides how the listeners think.
    – neko sama
    Oct 20, 2022 at 15:34
  • @nekosama The cat example is really far out there. Please bear that in mind.
    – Lambie
    Oct 20, 2022 at 15:45
  • I'm not eating cat meat. I'm just asking the difference.
    – neko sama
    Oct 20, 2022 at 15:57
  • @nekosama I understand. :)
    – Lambie
    Oct 20, 2022 at 16:00
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Whether a word is plural or singular has nothing to do with whether you want to eat it or not. I think that person may have been messing with you when it comes to the food part.

For your example, you could say something like: "I like cats" or "I like my cat." They would both be correct because you are talking about all cats, or a specific cat.

Another interesting thing around the English language is that for almost all animals, there is another word that is used when discussing the animal as food. Chicken and fish are two of the few that is also known as "chicken" and "fish" when being discussed as food.

Examples:

  • Cow : beef
  • Pig : pork
  • Deer : venison
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    I wouldn't say 'almost all' animals have a different word for the meat. Just the singular word is quite normal. Lamb, turkey, chicken, cat. dog, monkey, snake, goose, partridge, pheasant, in fact just about any animal you can eat except cows, pigs and deer. OK mature sheep is called mutton. Oct 20, 2022 at 14:50
  • This is not true. It is about whether it is food or not. See my answer.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 20, 2022 at 15:34

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