I am wondering especially when I travel internationally, some native speakers do not say "a cup of" or "a glass of", for example, "a cup of water” or "two cans of beers". Instead, they sometimes say, "two beers", so naturally I use that myself too because especially to say "a cup of" is, you know, somewhat awkward, so I abbreviate it. Am I correct to understand here? Except for the scenes when we have to emphasize the numbers of the things we would like to buy/want?

I think these "counting prepositions or nouns" (I don't know how I should call them) are the standard English, but personally, it looks like they are dying out.

For example, here in the famous Twin Peaks, Cooper always says, "two cups of coffee", "a cup of joe" (no matter what the size of the cup is, and in the video, he says, "Damn fine, a cup of coffee". Is this polite way to say?). I think after 90's the correct manner has started to die out. Am I right?

Thank you for your answers, people, now, could I summarize like the followings?

  1. These "counting prepositions or nouns or you can name it", are they standard way to express ah, especially ordering or counting things?

  2. Or, there is no consensus at all about this issue. Thus, as words change as time goes, just they are as they are so?

  • 1
    Could you add some more usage examples with some context? In polite speech I think you need them. Otherwise if the units are understood you don't need to say them. In the case of "2 cans of beer" vs. "2 bottles of beer" you have to say so.
    – user3169
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 21:13
  • ahm...for example, 2 glasses of waters? I think "pieces" may be the exception, but I heard many say 2 waters, 2 beers and even the shoppers in the airport say too!
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 21:16
  • I am sorry 2 glasses of water.
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 21:19
  • I suppose it is either understood in context, for example bottles vs. cans or glasses vs. cups Or it says so on the menu, therefore there would be no need to repeat it. But in other cases, let's say "five rolls of dimes",, "five dimes" won't work.
    – user3169
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 21:27
  • 1
    Not remotely dead, if you ask me. We do sometimes say "a beer" or "a fried rice" as a shorthand for "a particular unit or order of that thing" if the unit is understood from context, but we still have to use it everywhere else. "My boot had blood in it" or "My boot had a pint of blood in it" - not "a blood". "Please bring me some sand" or "a bucket of sand" or just "sand" if you don't want to specify any amount - but never "a sand".
    – stangdon
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 21:29

2 Answers 2


Units are not going away any time soon, it all depends on the context.

There are situations when the quantity of something can be correctly assumed. For example a cup of water. However, the size of the cup may differ depending on whom you are asking.

When ordering drinks at a restaurant, one might say "2 waters and 4 cokes" while pointing to show who gets what, and the unit size is assumed to be something like a glass maybe 8oz., maybe 10oz, maybe 12oz. Usually what will happen is if 16oz. comes the customer will feel happy and if 8oz. comes the customer will be less happy.

If you go to a pub in Britain and order 2 beers, the bartender will usually assume


However, a US bartender may assume two beers are

here Then there are Belgium beers which come in their own branded glasses of differing sizes


If you are in the US and ask for a coffee black, you will get


If you are in Paris or Rome and ask for coffee black, you will get

here http://weknowyourdreamz.com/images/espresso/espresso-01.jpg

Even when ordering coffee from the most ubiquitous coffee shop in the world, one must specify more than just "a cup of coffee"


A damn fine cup of coffee

is very informal since "damn" is considered to be a word not used in polite company.

A cup of joe
A cup of java

is slang for coffee.

  • Thank you for additional information. I know what you say, but isn't it a standard way in English to add "a cup of", "2 bottles of", "3 glasses of" etc, etc before something to drink?
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 22:20
  • For example, of you Starbucks' coffee's case, isn't 1 cup of Trenta the "standard"? If you say, that is because that is so, then I understand and am understanding.
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 22:23
  • Being a coffee drinker, I wish Trenta was their standard size. I think if you go to a Starbucks they will ask you the size if you do not specify it, as far as I know Grande would be the "standard" size since that's the one first one they always mention. The only case where they have an explicit size that is "standard" is with a child's hot chocolate, but then it's their only size. Most other coffee shops will have a "standard" size, whatever the size of their cup happens to be.
    – Peter
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 22:33
  • No, I am sorry, I am speaking about the "standard way" to express English, not the "standard size".....
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 22:35
  • 4
    I like your British bartender's interpretation of the word "two".
    – The Photon
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 1:56

When ordering in a restaurant, it is generally understood that you want to order according to the serving size provided by the restaurant. So if you order "two Heinekens" you'll get two servings of Heineken. Maybe they'll be bottles or maybe they'll be glasses, depending on what the restaurant has available.

But in many other circumstances it's entirely normal to use counting words (although they aren't as gramatically necessary in English as they are in Japanese):

We're going to be working late. I'll make a pot of coffee.

Winter's coming. I'll get 3 sacks of salt for the driveway next time I'm at the store.

I think I strained my back trying to carry two buckets of water at the same time.


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