A local English teacher was recently told about a new English rule and I had to check it out. This rule is about lasagne. It claims that lasagne with an -e ending is the plural and lasagna with an -a ending is the singular.
First, what is lasagne? It is a favourite western food and is generally prepared with layers of noodle, tomato sauce and cheese. The correct recipe, meaning the way my mother taught me, is provided below.
The word, noodle and dish are originally from Italy. The word lasagne means a type of wide Italian durum wheat noodle and food made from these noodles. Originally they were uncommon in Hong Kong, but now increasingly found in local grocery stores. The word was first used in English in about 1760.
Which of the two spellings is correct, lasagne or lasagna? Some people prefer one or the other. Still other people claim that lasagne is the plural of lasagna. They are correct that lasagne is the plural, but not in English.
Italian female nouns ending in -a have an -e ending to make them plural. This is the origin of both spellings. Some people use this grammar point to explain both spellings, one being the plural and the other being singular. However it is not correct in English to follow what is being done in Italian grammar. Otherwise we would be referring to our lasagne dinner as 'her'. (In Italian, like most related languages, including Old English, nouns are divided up into male and female categories.) We borrowed the word and invention from Italy, and then can use it ourselves with an English plural.
The two different spellings were borrowed by British and American English separately. According to both Longman and Oxford dictionaries in English the -e ending is used in British English and the -a ending in American English. According to the British National Corpus, in Britain the spelling lasagne is used more often than lasagna at a rate of 7 to 1. According to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, in America the ratio is 1 to 9. We should stick to one spelling ourselves, but mention and accept both spellings from students. (As long as they use only one spelling.)
What English does not need is another way to write a plural. When words are borrowed it is better, and less confusing, to use a standard English plural (add -es or -s). Both British and American English add an -s to create the plural, lasagnes or lasagnas respectively. As a dish in a pan, lasagne is sometimes treated as uncountable. The plural refers to more than one pan of lasagne. When someone starts creating new rules that make English more difficult, it is best to check references.
My Mother's Lasagne:
She usually made four times this recipe and froze plastic wrapped pieces for future meals.
Brown in oil: ½kg ground beef, 2 cloves garlic
Add: a small can of tomato paste (170 g), 1 chopped green pepper, 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper and oregano
Simmer 20 minutes
Cook lasagne noodles according to the instructions on the package.
In a wide flat baking dish assemble the ingredients in alternate layers:
- cooked noodles, shredded mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese, meat sauce (3 to 5 repetitions)
Bake: for 20 to 30 minutes at 200°C
by John Larrysson
A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.