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In Russian, we use some fruit and vegetable names as mass nouns and don't form plural for them:

  • Салат с луком / капустой / клубникой

while the others do form plural:

  • Салат с огурцами / кабачками / артишоками / помидорами

Also, if you ask someone:

Что у тебя в сумке?

then the answer:

У меня в сумке огурец / кабачок / баклажан / артишок

would unequivocally mean there's exactly one vegetable in the bag, while this answer:

У меня в сумке лук / капуста / клубника

may mean any quantity.

What makes some vegetable names form the plural and the others not?

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    It's pretty possible to say Салат с огурцом / кабачком / артишоком / помидором. Капуста, клубника, картошка have their plural forms, I think their usage in the singular is like ловить рыбу / карася / карпа, бить зверя / белку / зайца - the choice of the singular form is due to the semantic classes of the words, "names of fruits, vegetables, fishes, animals", and not because of the specific properties of this or that vegetable name. – Yellow Sky May 6 '13 at 13:44
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    @YellowSky: yes it is possible to say so. But салат с огурцом sounds peculiar and салат с капустами is just wrong (unless it's a mix of different kinds of cabbages). – Quassnoi May 6 '13 at 13:51
  • Yes, that's what I mean, it looks like the singular form is the most typical here. – Yellow Sky May 6 '13 at 13:59
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    Why is crayfish a mass noun whereas prawn is not? I'm afraid, the answer is — because! – Avi Gordon Mar 6 '17 at 0:35
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It appears that all berries are mass nouns:

  • с клубникой
  • с малиной
  • с черникой
  • с кизилом
  • с крыжовником

So at least there is a pattern there. I don't know what the deal is with onions, cabbage, and potatoes vs. cucumbers and squash. Could it be that things that grow under ground are mass nowns?

  • с картошкой
  • с морковью
  • с редиской
  • с луком
  • с чесноком

Капуста grows above ground, but there is rarely more than one head of cabbage in a salad. :)

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Your question is very interesting.

  1. So, салат с луком / капустой / клубникой. Unlikely you will cook a salad whith a lot of onion (it's too bitter) or (God forbid!) a cabbage because it's too large. Strawberry here is a category, type. Unlike a cabbage a strawberry is small. You should use many berries for a salad. But there are no such words as "клубничинки" or "клубники" as plural form or strawberry as English word "strawberries". So, because of this "клубника" in this context is used as a type. You also can say: "Салат из ягод клубники", it is plural form for this context.

  2. Салат с огурцами / кабачками / артишоками / помидорами. You easy can say: "Салат с огурцом/ кабачком/ артишоком / помидором" if you put only one piese of these vegetables.

  3. У меня в сумке лук / капуста / клубника. You can say луковицы, кочаны капусты, ягоды. Лук and клубника here are also a type. You don't buy one onion or one berry, because of this we use these terms in a single form.

Imagine a situation: how many vegetables you can put in a dish, this is a class or a single product. It is a problem of semantic.

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  • So you think it's semantics which defines whether the noun is mass or not? What would be the properties of a fruit making its name a mass noun? – Quassnoi May 7 '13 at 20:45
  • Yes. Ананас, арбуз, дыня are large fruits, people usually buy them on one piece. Салат из дыни, мусс из арбуза, пирог с ананасом. – Clever Masha May 13 '13 at 14:59
  • Пирог с ананасами is much more widespead, though both are used. – Quassnoi May 13 '13 at 15:48
  • You are right. I think, пирог с ананасами is used because a lot of people use not fresh fruit, but canned slices. – Clever Masha May 14 '13 at 1:50
  • I still don't get it. There is hardly the whole pumpkin in пирог с тыквой as well. Also it's interesting that фасоль is a mass noun while бобы is not: I can't think of a single semantic difference which could possibly be crucial for such a distinction. – Quassnoi May 14 '13 at 10:02
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This is because one onion is луковица, one cabbage is кочан and one strawberry is ягода.

Thus you can say "салат с луковицами/кочанами капусты/ягодами клубники

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    This is circular reasoning. The question was why some vegetable nouns are mass while the others are not. – Quassnoi May 6 '13 at 14:18
  • @Quassnoi - But they are not mass (собирательные), they are just singular used in the plural meaning. Mass nouns cannot mean 1 item of the kind, 1 лист cannot be named "листва", but лук can mean both 1 bulb or many bulbs. – Yellow Sky May 6 '13 at 15:27
  • let us continue this discussion in chat – Quassnoi May 6 '13 at 19:45
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    I'm not able to edit only 2 characters in this post, but "качан" in Russian drives my inner grammarian crazy. Sure, you mean "кочан". – default locale May 8 '13 at 19:52
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    "Салат с кочанами капусты" способен съесть разве что бегемот. – КуЪ May 13 '13 at 9:36
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Berries are always used with a singular form (at least I can't remember any usage of plural form). The reason I assume because one berry has little value and we usally speak about many, then there is no need for both singulars and plurals:

  • в ведре клубника (There are strawberries in the bucket)
  • пирог с вишней

Nevertheless with diminuitive you can use plural form:

  • вишня → вишенка (singular) → вишенки (plural)

Assuming there are 5 cherries on the plate, you can say:
Съешь эти вишенки! == Съешь эту вишню!

Greengroceries and roots is also used in singular form, but it is also possible to use plural for diminuitives:

  • лук (dual name for root and herb)
  • укроп: пучок укропа
  • салат (letucce)
  • капуста (considered as greengrocery)
  • картофель: в ведре котрофель, but в ведре картофелины
  • морковь: в сумке морковь, but в сумке морковки

NB! Картошка === картофель, though картофель from german Kartoffel, but картошка is more russian word.

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Some nouns including vegetables and berries may be used to designate both specific objects (у меня в сумке огурцы) and materials (салат с огурцом). Material (mass) nouns are only used in singular form, except for special uses like масла́ ([kinds of] oils).

So, strictly speaking, салат с огурцами is incorrect. Colloquially, however, some mass nouns (only fruits and vegetables, it seems) are often used in plural form (пирог с яблоками). Note that if whole apples are used, they must be plural (утка с яблоками).

As for лук and капуста -- they are just never used in plural, even when one refers to a collection of vegetables.

Now there are cases when some nouns act as normal and the others as mass (ведро кабачков vs. ведро черники), and even more weird ones (лежат арбузы / бананы vs. любишь арбуз / бананы). I believe you cannot come up with a rule for those so you need to learn it by heart.

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Probably because you only add some лук (and it is often less than 1 луковица), so you usually count лук by mass (volume, rings, small pieces). And because of this лук, чеснок, капуста have special count words for them, while огурец doesn't.

More interesting is why редиска is a mass noun.

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У меня в сумке огурец / кабачок / баклажан / артишок I would use plural if you asked: У меня в сумке огурцы / кабачки / баклажаны / артишоки

Also you can say: Купи картошку, морковку, лук, укроп, петрушку, салат или Купи картошки и морковки. пучок укропа (this one sounds funny because it means ukrainian fan due to former events in the ukraine)

More interesting is why редиска is a mass noun. Если хочешь съесть пару штук, то можно сказать "дай мне пару редисок" или "дай мне несколько штук", но если покупаешь, тогда нужно сказать "взвесьте полкилограмма редиски".

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