A list of food pluralizations?
October 1, 2014 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm involved with a project that involves a database of cooking ingredients. We have a great huge list of relevant nouns, so that's fine, but we're running into trouble with the differences in pluralizations of words.

For example, for watermelon, we'd have:
1 watermelon
2 watermelons
2 cups (of) watermelon

While for grapes, we'd want:
1 grape
2 grapes
2 cups (of) grapes

Further complicated by things like:
1 trout
2 trout
6 oz (of) trout

Short of categorizing everything by hand, which is the current plan, is there another way for us to get this information into our system? Surely someone must have done something like this already. Is there a database somewhere that has pluralization categories for nouns, particularly food nouns?
posted by bethnull to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You want the count vs. non-count (or mass) distinction; looks like this Stack Exchange question has some resources. You'll note, for example, in the linked learner's dictionary, that trout is listed as both count/non-count; grape is just count. Count nouns get pluralized in the cup of X constructions; non-count don't. So, trout gets 1 trout, 2 trout, cup of trout; grape gets 1 grape, 2 grapes, 2 cups of grapes.

But getting that information out in a usable form might be a bit tricky.
posted by damayanti at 6:51 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

It seems like the rule for count nouns is: don't pluralize if you are specifying less than a complete fish, watermelon etc. Thus : "2 cups of anchovies"; "1/2 cup of cauliflower"; "1 cup of peas" etc.
posted by monotreme at 7:58 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure the relative size of the amount measured is always going to give you the right result, though. If I were writing a massive food service recipe for cole slaw, I'm pretty sure I'd write "twenty pounds of cabbage" and not "twenty pounds of cabbages," even though twenty pounds is more than one complete cabbage's worth.

Or on the other end of the spectrum, you can say "a dash of cloves" even though that's less than one complete clove, or "a pinch of chives" even though that's less than one complete chive.

(These same examples show that the count/mass distinction won't give you the right results. "Cabbage" is normally a count noun, but in the context of a recipe you can treat it as mass. "Chives" is also normally a count noun, and you don't normally treat it as mass, even in the context of a recipe. Any rule based on the count/mass distinction will predict that "cabbage" and "chives" should behave the same, but they don't.)

Worst case, it may turn out that there is no logical basis for any of this — that this is an arbitrary lexical fact that English speakers have just memorized for common ingredients. Your best bet, in that case, might be to scrape a database of written recipes for examples of each noun in the different contexts you're interested in.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:19 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

It occurs to me that one place you might find a list like this pre-made is in a style guide for cookbook authors. It's possible that some publishers who deal with recipes a lot have official policies on e.g. when to pluralize "chive." A style guide probably won't tell you about the normal predictable cases, but it will give you a handy list of cases that behave weirdly. It's possible that a list of those weird cases plus lists of count and mass nouns will be enough to do this automatically.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:22 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, doing this by hand is probably the best way to ensure that your results are satisfactory—even if you do use an automated process, you'll probably have to copyedit everything by hand anyway, to smooth over the 1% of entries where the automated process didn't quite work right.

Having said that: If you do end up building this database by hand, please consider making the results open source! I know a lot of students and artists (and chefs?) who would love to be able to build projects with this information.
posted by aparrish at 6:50 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Perhaps the relative size issue is the size of the measurement unit relative to the size of the item? For example, 1 cup of cabbage; 1 bushel of cabbages.

Thus, a cup of anchovies, but not a cup of salmons.
But you could have 20 cups of cabbage, even though 20 cups is more than one cabbage's worth.
posted by telepanda at 3:02 PM on October 2, 2014

I think it might have to do with whether the item is chopped before or after measuring - and whether, therefore you're talking about the ingredient in it's quantified form (N items) or in its uncountable form (pieces of item which may come from one or many individuals, grammatically assumed to be one)

2 c. watermelon (presumably chopped up because a watermelon won't go into a cup)
3 apples, diced = about 2 c diced apple

Grapes, blueberries, anchovies, etc are an interesting case in that they are small enough to guarantee that you'll need more than one of them, and that they are whole items being measured
2 c. blueberries
2c grapes, halved (hmm, I guess it applies to items that are chopped before being measured)

In the case of the cole slaw, I'd say it's influenced by the fact that the cabbages can't be measured until they're chopped up.
1 c grated cabbage (about 1/4 cabbage)
200 c grated cabbage (about 50 cabbages)
10 lb cabbage (singular form of noun, because you're about to grate it up?)
5 lb potatoes, diced (okay, you're right, this makes no sense)
5 lb diced potato (it's not like they changes number or weight when you diced them, but diced potato is an ingredient, and potatoes are items that can be diced...)
posted by aimedwander at 7:34 AM on October 3, 2014

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