My friend corrected me that asking "Can I have a ketchup?" instead of "Can I get some ketchup?" It sounds wrong and not native.

I understand that ketchup is not countable, but since it's a fixed size, I thought it'll be okay to say it like that.

Like if you were to order a glass of Coke at a restaurant, which one sounds more native and are there any that sounds grammatically wrong?

Can I have a Coke?
Can I have some Coke?
Can I have a glass of Coke?
Can I have Coke?

And what if you were to pick a can of soda instead of a glass of soda?

And would you say "I want to order a drink" or "I want to order drink"?

  • 7
    If you say Can I have a ketchup?, you're effectively asking for a bottle (or a sachet, perhaps). Which is always possible, but in most contexts it might sound a little odd. Suppose you really like the stuff though, but the waitress only brings you one small sachet of ketchup. You could quite naturally say Can I have another ketchup?, because the context there makes it absolutely clear you're talking about what you want in terms of units, not just the uncountable mass noun. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 15:59
  • 2
    And a drink is correct, because drink is countable, because it's a single, discrete item.
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 16:19
  • 1
    Can I have a Coke? -> a glass or a can. Can I have some Coke? -> The Coke is in a bottle, and some of it goes in your glass.
    – njzk2
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 17:00
  • "ketchup" is not a countable noun, which is why "Can I have a ketchup" is grammatically incorrect.
    – bwDraco
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 19:34
  • 1
    This question was asked on EL&U, it's identical. Is this allowed? Do the mods know? english.stackexchange.com/questions/303727/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 23:17

5 Answers 5


Depending on the context, it could be fine or improper.

If you are at a fast food that has condiments in small packets, then "a ketchup" is fine as the "packet" is implied. For example:

Can I have a ketchup and a couple of mustards for my burger?

This sounds fine (at least in AE)

However, if you are at someone's house and the ketchup is in a bottle, then "a ketchup" would be incorrect.

When in doubt, I would use "some ketchup" over "a ketchup".

To go further, there is also a difference between "some ketchup" and "the ketchup".

"The ketchup" implies that existence of ketchup is not in doubt and is slightly more forceful than "some ketchup".

Examples: In your own home, and you know there is a bottle of ketchup in the cabinet:

Please get the ketchup.

A guest in someone else's house and the bottle of ketchup is at the other end of the table:

Please pass the ketchup.

A guest in someone else's house and the host asks if you'd like anything with your burger:

May I have some ketchup?

  • 3
    The conceptual grasp is strong with this one.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 16:54
  • 5
    "A ketchup" could also be a "bottle"... if you're at a restaurant and there's a collection of several bottles of ketchup. "Could you grab a ketchup from the counter?"
    – Catija
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 17:08
  • 2
    +1 Pretty much anything that comes in a packet (AmE) or sachet (BrE) works the same way, for example, "Would you hand me a sugar please?" is fine if there are sugar packets on the table, but not OK if there is a sugar bowl.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 19:30
  • If you are in someone's house, do you think "the ketchup" would be appropriate? As in, can I have the ketchup? Or maybe even - can I have the bottle of ketchup? Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 20:17
  • 4
    @Andrew Yes. If there's only one bottle, as at your own or a friends home, you would use "the".
    – Catija
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 20:47

Depending on the context, "ketchup" is a mass noun - any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets. If you take a puddle of ketchup and split it in half, you have two puddles, not two ketchups. The puddles are differentiated, but the ketchup itself is not.

There are some rarer edge cases where it may be okay to say what you did.

  • If there are multiple varieties of ketchup available, and you don't care which one they give you. This would be part of a longer conversation, and "Give me any ketchup" would be better than "give me a ketchup".
  • If you're talking about the small packages of ketchup. It would be informal but not too odd, if there was a known context that indicated you meant "Give me a ketchup packet."

As far as your Coke example goes, it's complicated by the number of ways beverages can be served. There's a lot of implied meaning, again based on context.

  • "Can I have a Coke?" - The container is implied; it could be a glass, bottle, or can. At the time you're asking, you only want one ("a") container full.
  • "Can I have some Coke?" - The quantity and container are implied. (Unless you're the kind of person that tries to drink directly from a soda fountain, but that makes you kind of odd anyway.)
  • "Can I have a glass of Coke?" - Nothing implied here; you're asking for Coke in a glass.
  • "Can I have Coke?" - This is the same as "some".
  • 2
    +1 Grab a glass, then add some rum (alcohol always first otherwise it just sits on top), then add some Coke and you have a Rum and Coke. Some used for quantity not how it is delivered. Can I have some coke is usually used for the other coke
    – Peter
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 16:29
  • @Peter Capitalization is important, and sadly unable to be properly conveyed when spoken. :)
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 20:23

In English we have "countable nouns" and "uncountable nouns".

Countable nouns are used with a number or an article. "I have two books." "There is a book on the shelf."

Uncountable nouns are used with no indication of quantity, or with general words like "some". "I have some water." "There is water on the floor."

Either can be used with possessives. "Give me my book." "Give me my water."

All that said, uncountable nouns are sometimes used with a number or article when we mean one container of this thing, or one standard quantity.

So for example if you're in a restaurant where they have little packets of ketchup, "please give me a ketchup" would be understood to mean one of those packets. But you wouldn't say, "I like a ketchup on my hamburger", you'd just say, "I like ketchup ...". Well, maybe if you were trying to say that you like exactly one packet of ketchup, but it would be a very odd sentence.

If the ketchup is in a bottle, you would normally say, "I would like ketchup" or "I would like some ketchup." You could say, "Pass me the ketchup", meaning, give me the bottle. But you wouldn't say, "I am putting the ketchup on my hamburger", but rather, "I am putting ketchup on ..."

Likewise, "Please give me a Coke" means one can or glass or bottle.

Arguably this is leaving out assumed words rather than an alternate use of uncountable nouns. What you really mean is, "Please give me a packet of ketchup" or "Please give me a can of Coke".

I think you mostly hear this talking about food, but it is sometimes used for other things. If you were buying cans of fuel, you might say, "Give me two kerosenes and a propane." Etc.


I think your error may be in comparing this to "Can I have a Coke".

"A Coke" is an abbreviated form of "a bottle of Coke" or "a can of Coke" or "a glass of Coke".

The reason the patron at the restaurant may use "a Coke" may not know how the restaurant serves Coke (do they serve it in a can or a glass or a bottle?), or they may be influenced by Coca-Cola advertising "I'd like to buy the world a Coke". In both instances, people will understand you, but it is not "proper" construction.

The most proper way to ask for an uncountable noun is to use "some" whether you are talking about Coke or ketchup, regardless if it comes in a fixed size. If you want to use "a", you should specify the fixed size (e.g. a bottle of ketchup, a cup of flour).


In English English, they all sound grammatically wrong if you are making a request to be given something, rather than asking if something if physically possible. The correct question should be:

'May I have some ketchup, please, my good man?'*

*last bit is optional.

  • The asker is concerned with sounding "not native", and "Can I have" is far more common colloquially than the more precise "May I have". Although I do personally try to use "may I" and "can I" appropriately, I don't blink an eye when someone else uses them interchangeably. Can I get an amen?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:55
  • @ColleenV growing up, whenever I used "can" instead of "may" I got the response "can denotes ability." Now I wince whenever I hear someone use them incorrectly.
    – Dragonrage
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 23:56

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