The Curious Case of Pizza

English, like many languages, has two types of nouns: countable and uncountable. At least, this is what we are told. What if I said there was another type of noun. A noun that is both countable, AND uncountable?

I found just such a noun with “pizza.” Let me explain:

Countable nouns can be used with the article a/an, or with numbers that explain how many there are. Here are some simple examples:

  • a drink
  • an apple
  • two boys
  • three oranges

Uncountable nouns either are too numerous to practically count, or they might have no form at all which can be counted:

  • water
  • rice
  • air
  • music

It is incorrect to use a/an or a number in front of an uncountable noun. It is also incorrect to make an uncountable noun plural.

  • an air
  • two sands
  • a flour

To quantify these kinds of nouns we usually use a number with a secondary noun that is attached to it, or to modify it with a special adjective called a quantifier.

  • a grain of rice
  • a cup of tea
  • three bowls of cereal
  • some pasta (any, lots of, etc.)

Pizza is a different kind of noun altogether. Pizza is uncountable in the fact that we quantify it in slices or pieces.

  • Would you like a piece of pizza?
  • I am so full. I ate four slices of pizza.
  • They must have liked the pizza. There isn’t one slice left.

Pizza is also countable if we use the word to describe the whole of one prepared dish.

  • I would like to eat a pepperoni pizza.
  • We’ll need at least ten pizzas for the teenager’s birthday party.
  • Are you hungry? Would you like some pizza?

These words shouldn’t be confused with uncountable nouns that are commonly used incorrectly.

  • Can I have a water? (a glass of water, a bottle of water, a drink of water)
  • Go to the store and get a milk for tomorrow. (get some milk, get a carton of milk)
  • Three coffees, please. (three cups of coffee)

This strange “pizza” phenomenon exists only with nouns that exist as a whole, and also when describing portions of it. Here are some examples.

  • cake
    • Would you like a piece of cake with your coffee?
    • My favorite dessert is chocolate cake.
    • She blew out the candles and we all had some birthday cake.
  • pie
    • My brother loves to eat apple pie.
    • Shall I bring you a piece of pie with ice cream?
    • I was busy all weekend baking pie. I baked three apple pies, two cherry, and a pecan pie.
  • hair
    • She has such beautiful hair.
    • Every hair on his head has been meticulously groomed.
    • I lost my appetite when I found a hair in my food.

What other words can you think of that are both countable and uncountable?

Glossary:

quantify /ˈkwɑːntəˌfaɪ/ (verb): to count – to show the number of.

phenomenon /fiˈnɑːməˌnɑːn/ (noun): a situation or a fact that can be studied. It is usually something difficult to understand or unusual.

meticulous /məˈtɪkjələs/ (adjective): something done with great care and precision.

groom /ˈgruːm/ (verb): to make orderly or neat, and to make something (an animal, person or oneself) look good.

8 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Pizza

  1. Great! If we hadn’t made the lesson on countables and uncountables, that article would have enlightened a lot! But still, the part on pizza was very helpful

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