The Toblerone Aggregation

Which is correct, “I ate three Toblerones” or “I ate three bars of Toblerone”?

Some argue that the latter is correct and the former is, of course, erroneous. Their reason? Food is a mass noun, and they do not have plural forms; you have to use adjectives to indicate their amount, quantity, or number. However, what they fail to realize is that Toblerone is an eponym, proper noun. So does that make their argument invalid?

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, states:

Proper nouns, names of persons, and other capitalized nouns normally form the plural by adding -s or -es. Rare exceptions are generally listed in Webster’s.

Tom, Dick, and Harry; pl. Toms, Dicks, and Harrys
the Jones family, pl. the Joneses
the Martinez family, pl. the Martinezes
the Bruno family, pl. the Brunos
Sunday, pl. Sundays
Germany, pl. Germanys

The word food is a mass noun, yes. Some food are mass nouns (soup, meat, rice), some are not (fruits, vegetables, chocolates [you can check Merriam-Webster if you doubt my use of chocolates]). Rice is a mass noun or a non-count noun; thus, we say three bowls of rice. However, Toblerone is an eponym, and eponyms form their plural forms based on the same principle with regular common nouns: we add –s or –es, whichever is appropriate. (It might also be nice to learn the difference between a mass noun and a collective noun, although they are remotely related. A mass noun is something uncountable regardless of its state, whether concrete or abstract; for example: water, power, love, shampoo, juice, electricity. A collective noun is an indeterminate aggregation of people or things, example: the faculty, the bourgeoisie, the clan, a flock of bird, a school of fish.)

Now comes another issue: the proper collective noun. A proper collective noun is simply a proper noun that pertains to an indeterminate aggregation of people or things. Here are some examples:

    • Pepsi Corporation (the entirety of people working for the corporation named Pepsi)
    • Moral Majority (the entire member of the majority)
    • US Navy or US Army, etc. (all the members of the navy or army are taken as one)
    • Red Plains High School (the students, the faculty, the staff taken as one)
    • US Senate (all the member of the senate counted as one body)
    • The Corrs (a group of musicians taken or counted as one)

What, then, do we make of it? Toblerone Corporation is a proper collective noun, which pertains to the business and all the stockholders and the employees, et al. Toblerone is the food, the bar of chocolate with a specific name that adheres to the rules of plural morphology. You cannot say three Toblerone Corporations because there is only one corporation for that, but you can say three Toblerones to indicate the number of that specific food.

What can we safely conclude, then? That Toblerone can have a plural form, which is Toblerones. So you should be safe saying, “I ate three Toblerones.” Note, however, that saying “I ate three bars of Toblerone” is still correct. And on a bigger note, it also applies to many other eponyms, not just Toblerone nor chocolates. You can say, “I drank five Fun Chums” or “I ordered ten regular Yums.”

____

In case you do not know what Chicago Manual of Style is a style guide for American English published since 1906 by the University of Chicago Press. Its sixteen editions have prescribed writing and citation styles widely used in publishing. It is one of the most widely used and respected style guides in the United States. It deals with aspects of editorial practice, from American English grammar and usage to document preparation. It the authority used by Americans to set guidelines when it comes to writing and editing formal English manuscripts. The formation of plurals and other syntactic and morphological rules of English are also outlined in this manual.

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