English is an old language. It’s been spoken in one form or another for over 1000 years. During that time, it has picked up many irregularities and idiosyncrasies. The interaction between the plural forms of words and countability is one of these phenomenon. Words can be either countable or uncountable. Usually, countable nouns have plural forms and uncountable nouns do not. However, there are instances where the opposite can be true. The plural for food is one of these instances.
The plural for food is ‘food’. However, both ‘food’ and ‘foods’ is correct. Regularly, ‘food’ is an uncountable noun, so it doesn’t have a plural form in most cases. You can use the word ‘foods’ when you are talking about multiple types of food. The same is similar for the words ‘fish’ and ‘people’.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
In English, the two categories of nouns are countable and uncountable nouns. You may also hear uncountable nouns referred to as mass nouns.
As you may have guessed, the main difference between these two categories of nouns is whether they can be counted or not. You may be saying to yourself, “That doesn’t make any sense! Why can’t I count everything?” But if you think about it, it actually makes perfect sense. Let me show you what I mean.
The fundamental difference between a countable and uncountable noun lies in whether it can be divided into distinct individuals or not. It’s easy to split a group of pencils or books into separate pieces. You can count these things.
- One pencil, two pencils, three pencils, etc.
- One book, two books, three books, etc.
The same is not true for nouns that refer to a single grouped (or mass) object. It isn’t as easy to split air or electricity into individual pieces, so it isn’t possible to count these nouns.
- One air, two airs, three airs.
- One electricity, two electricities, three electricities.
You can quickly tell the difference between countable and uncountable nouns if you think about the divisibility of the object in question. If you can separate a group of objects into several individual, distinct pieces, then there is a good chance that you are dealing with a countable noun. On the other hand, if it is difficult or impossible to separate a group into individual pieces, then you are dealing with an uncountable noun.
This was a very quick overview of countable and uncountable nouns. If you would like more information on the subject, you can check out my in-depth article on countable and uncountable nouns here.
Is Food Countable or Uncountable?
So that brings us to the word ‘food’. What is the status of this word?
Most frequently, the word ‘food’ is an uncountable noun. When we usually talk about food, we are referring to it as a mass entity. Whether that is a single type of food or several types grouped into a single meal, each of these ideas frames food as a single entity. Food is a nondescript word that refers to any substance that can be consumed by a living being to sustain its life.
As such, we can treat the word like any other uncountable noun.
- some food
- many food
- less food
- fewer food
- I ate some food this morning.
- I ate two foods this morning.
So What About Foods?
However, there have probably been situations where you have seen the word ‘foods’ used. Believe it or not, this is actually a correct usage too, but it is only used in a specific case.
This case is when you are talking about different types of food. For example:
- Cookies are a food made from sugar.
You may be asking yourself, “Kyle, what gives? You didn’t use ‘foods‘! You only used ‘food‘!” Look a little closer. You’ll notice that I used the indefinite article ‘a’ as well. You can only use the indefinite article with countable nouns because the indefinite article only refers to a single object.
- a cat (one cat)
- a lion ( one lion)
- a cookie (one cookie)
- a food (one type of food)
We can further build upon our example above like so:
- Italian cuisine has of many different foods: pasta, pizza, gabagool, among others.
In the example above, we can finally see our plural form of food used in the correct context. We are talking about multiple types of Italian meals. In cases like these, we pluralize food to become foods.
‘Food’ isn’t the only word this happens with. There are a handful of other nouns in English which normally do not have a plural form, but we make use of one in cases where we are talking about multiple types of something. Here are examples of a few:
- You can see many different fishes at the aquarium.
- The various peoples of Africa all have unique cultures.
- You can buy many different meats from the butcher.
For the words above (besides fish), their fundamental uses are uncountable. However, this changes when we use them in the situations detailed above.
The differences between countable and uncountable nouns, along with their exceptions and irregularities can make your head spin! We just took a quick look at the word ‘food’ and its various forms. While you’re studying English, you may come across words that are only used as plurals occasionally. In these situations, the writer or speaker is referring to multiple types of that object. Whereas, regularly, the word has a mass, or grouped, sense about it.
If you’re ever stuck trying to decide whether you should use ‘food’ or ‘foods’, keep what you’re trying to say in mind. If you’re talking about eating food, that’s uncountable. However, if you’re talking about multiple types of food, that’s countable.