So I was listening to: "Story of Human Language - John McWhorter" and I stumbled upon an example of errors foreigners could do while speaking English (at least the American variant), mainly:

This supermarket has a lot of vegetables and fruitS.

The correct version of this sentece is:

This supermarket has a lot of vegetables and fruit.

I am foreigner and I would definitely commit this error. Not for the first time though! I made this error many times while learning Italian, since you can't say:

Ho molte frutte.

One should use:

Ho molta frutta.

It's particularly interesting for me as both a Spaniard and a French would use frutaS and fruitS in the sentences above without any hesitations.

Here is the question: what is the origin of this similarity between English and Italian in this respect? Is this something reaching the Latin or something as far-fetched as possibility of Italian Diaspora in the United States having influenced the use of the word "Fruit"?

I do know that in case of being something abstract both frutta and fruit are pluralized in Italian and English respectively, like in "fruits of my work".

  • 2
    It is quite natural to have a collective noun for fruit. In German, the collective noun is Obst "fruit". German also has a cognate loan word Frucht "fruit" that is not collective (plural Früchte). Feb 28, 2017 at 12:49

2 Answers 2


As a native Spanish speaker I might use fruta or frutas according to the occasion. The difference might be small enough that I might doubt which one is correct, though. I suspect that nouns shifting from mass to countable and vice versa is extremely common; it is, indeed, in Spanish, and probably in all Romance languages, more than in English. (Maybe it's telling that I only learned of the difference between mass and countable nouns when I was studying English as a teenager; it was only after that that I began noticing there was such a distinction in my native Spanish.)

Maybe some contrasting examples are in order.

  1. There are a lot of fruits in this supermarket suggests to me, in order of decreasing likelihood:
    1. that there are many types of fruit available in the supermarket;
    2. that there are a lot of fruits (apples, pears, bananas, etc.) strewn about the place.
  2. There are many kinds of fruit in this supermarket makes the point clear that the meaning is as in 1.1.
  3. There is a lot of fruit in this supermarket suggests to me that the supermarket is well-stocked with fruit (in general); variety of fruit is implied but not emphasized.

I don't think the first English sentence is a mistake, as you were told; it is a bit odd, because people would rather say kinds of fruit (example 2) for the intended meaning. And it is a mistake if you're referring to the sheer volume of fruit available in the supermarket (example 3).

These same connotations apply if I think about the Spanish translations:

  1. Hay muchas frutas en este supermercado.
  2. Hay muchos tipos de fruta en este supermercado.
  3. Hay mucha fruta en este supermercado.

Now I don't speak Italian or French but I doubt a different logic applies.


I don't know enough Spanish to comment on why Spanish decided not to go this route, but Italian usage is certainly derived with Latin usage, and it has no relation to English uncountable nouns

What might be confusing you is that Italian has two similar words: frutto and frutta.

Frutto is the name for a single fruit. Un frutto could be an apple, an orange, etc. It derives from the Latin word fructus, it is masculin and it regularly forms the plural as frutti. From what I can tell this is the equivalent of Spanish fruta.

Frutta, instead, is a descendent of the late Latin neuter plural frutta (note that fructus was masculine, frutta is the plural of fructum, a medieval word constructed by analogy with pomum). In Latin neuter plural nouns were often used as collective nouns, to denote a mass of things. In Italian they went through various developments: some of them became feminine plurals (e.g. ossa, bones), but in some cases they got recasted as feminine singular nouns, and sometimes even endowed with their own plural. This is the case of frutta.

So frutta was originally a neuter plural which became, as many neuter plurals did, the collective name for fruit. So, in Italian you can say either

Ho molta frutta


Ho molti frutti

Although the latter is slightly unidiomatic. But be careful: frutta only refers to the biological entity. if you want to talk about the "fruits of your labour" you need to speak of "i frutti del tuo lavoro".

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