The plural morpheme
in English is a sibilant suffixed
to the end of most nouns. Regular English plurals fall into three classes, depending upon the sound that ends the singular form:
In English, there are six sibilant
consonants, namely /s z ʃ ʒ tʃ dʒ/. Where a singular noun ends in a sibilant
sound, the plural is formed by adding /ɪz/ or /əz/ (in some transcription systems, this is abbreviated as /ᵻz/). The spelling adds -es
, or -s
if the singular already ends in -e
Other voiceless consonants
In most English varieties, there are five non-sibilant voiceless consonants that occur at the end of words, namely /p t k f θ/; some varieties also have /x/. When the singular form ends in a voiceless consonant
other than a sibilant, the plural is normally formed by adding /s/ (a voiceless sibilant). The spelling adds -s
Some that end in /f/ or /θ/, however, are "near-regular." See section below.
Other voiced phonemes
For a singular noun ending on a non-sibilant voiced consonant, the plural adds /z/ (a voiced sibilant) and the spelling adds -s:
In English, all vowels are voiced. Nouns ending in a vowel sound similarly add /z/ to form the plural. The spelling usually adds -s, but certain instances (detailed below) may add -es instead:
Plurals of nouns in -o preceded by a consonant
Singular nouns ending in o
preceded by a consonant
in many cases spell the plural by adding -es
However many nouns of foreign origin, including almost all Italian
loanwords, add only -s
Plurals of nouns in -y
Nouns ending in a vocalic y
(that is, used as a vowel
) preceded by a consonant usually drop the y
and add -ies
(pronounced /iz/, or /aiz/ in words where the y is pronounced /ai/):
Words ending in quy also follow this pattern, since in English qu is a digraph for two consonant sounds (/kw/) or sometimes one (/k/):
However, proper nouns
(particularly names of people) of this type usually form their plurals by simply adding -s
: the two Kennedys
, there are three Harrys in our office
. With place names this rule is not always adhered to: Sicilies
are the standard plurals of Sicily
, while Germanys
are both used.
Nor does the rule apply to words that are merely capitalized common nouns: P&O Ferries
Other exceptions include lay-bys
Words ending in a y preceded by a vowel form their plurals by adding -s:
However the plural form (rarely used) of money
is usually monies
, although moneys
is also found.
Also, the plural of trolley
can be either trolleys
, although the former is more common.
Plurals of nouns in -i
Nouns written with -i usually have plurals in -is but some in -ies are also found.
In Old and Middle English, voiceless fricatives
/f/ and /θ/ mutated
to voiced fricatives /v/ and /ð/ respectively before a voiced ending.
In some words this voicing survives in the modern English plural. In the case of /f/ changing to /v/, the mutation is indicated in the orthography as well; also, a silent e
is added in this case if the singular does not already end with -e
In addition, there is one word where /s/ is voiced in the plural:
Many nouns ending in /f/ or /θ/ (including all words where /f/ is represented orthographically by gh or ph) nevertheless retain the voiceless consonant:
Some can do either:
There are many other less regular ways of forming plurals, usually stemming from older forms of English or from foreign borrowings.
Nouns with identical singular and plural
Some nouns have identical singular and plural (zero
inflection). Many of these are the names of animals:
buffalo (or buffaloes)
deer (and all species in the deer family
such as moose
kakapo (and other Māori
As a general rule, game
or other animals are often referred to in the singular for the plural in a sporting context: "He shot six brace
of pheasant", "Carruthers bagged a dozen tiger last year", whereas in another context such as zoology or tourism the regular plural would be used. Eric Partridge
refers to these sporting terms as "snob plurals" and conjectures that they may have developed by analogy with the common English irregular plural animal words "deer", "sheep" and "trout".
Similarly, nearly all kinds of fish have no separate plural form (though there are exceptions—such as rays, sharks or lampreys). As to the word fish
itself, the plural is usually identical to the singular, although fishes
is sometimes used, especially when meaning "species of fish". Fishes
is also used in iconic contexts, such as the Bible
story of the loaves and fishes
, or the reference in The Godfather
, "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."
Other nouns that have identical singular and plural forms include:
the blues (referring to individual songs in the blues
musical style: "play me a blues"; "he sang three blues and a calypso")
cannon (sometimes cannons) ("Cannons" is more common in North America and Australia, while "cannon" as plural is more common in the United Kingdom.)
chassis (Only the spelling is identical; the singular is pronounced /(t)ʃæsi/ while the plural is /(t)ʃæsiz/.)
counsel (in the meaning of lawyer
head (referring, in the plural, to animals in a herd: "fifty head of cattle": cf brace above)
iris (usually irises, but iris can be the plural for multiple plants; in medical contexts irides is used)
series, species (and other words in -ies
, from the Latin fifth declension
) [The word specie
refers only to money, coins, from the Latin ablative singular form in the phrase in specie
. It has no plural form.]
Exceptions include Algonquins
, Apaches, Aztecs, Chippewas, Hurons, Incas, Mohawks, Oneidas, and Seminoles.
English sometimes distinguishes between regular plural forms of demonyms
(e.g. "five Dutchmen", "several Irishmen"), and uncountable plurals used to refer to entire nationalities collectively (e.g. "the Dutch", "the Irish").
The plurals of a few nouns are formed from the singular by adding -n or -en, stemming from the Old English weak declension. Only the following three are commonly found:
As noted, the word "children" comes from an earlier form "childer". There were formerly a few other words like this: eyre/eyren (eggs), lamber/lambren (lambs), and calver/calveren (calves).
The following -(e)n plurals are found in dialectal, rare, or archaic usage:
The word box
, referring to a computer, is occasionally pluralized humorously to boxen
in the hacker subculture[clarification needed]
. In the same context, multiple VAX
computers are sometimes called Vaxen
particularly if operating as a cluster, but multiple Unix systems are usually Unices
along the Latin model
The plural is sometimes formed by simply changing the vowel sound of the singular (these are sometimes called mutated plurals):
This group consists of words that historically belong to the Old English consonant declension, see Germanic umlaut § I-mutation in Old English
. There are many compounds of man
that form their plurals in the same way: postmen
The plural of mongoose is mongooses. Mongeese is a back-formation by mistaken analogy to goose / geese and is often used in a jocular context. The form meese is sometimes also used humorously as the plural of moose—normally moose or mooses—or even of mouse.
Miscellaneous irregular plurals
Some words have irregular plurals that do not fit any of the types given here.
person—people (also persons
, in more formal - legal and technical - contexts; people
can also be a singular noun with plural peoples
die—dice (in the context of gaming, where dice
is also often used as the singular; and also in the semiconductor industry. Otherwise dies
penny—pence (in the context of an amount of money in Britain). The 1 p or 1-cent coins are called pennies
is abbreviated p
(also in speech, as "pee"). For 10 pences
see § Headless nouns
Irregular plurals from foreign languages
Irregular plurals from Latin and Greek
English has borrowed a great many words from Classical Latin
and Classical Greek
. Classical Latin has a very complex system of endings in which there are five categories or declensions
of nouns, adjectives, and pronouns (some with sub-categories). Usually, in borrowing words from Latin, the endings of the nominative are used: nouns whose nominative singular ends in -a
(first declension) have plurals in -ae
(anima, animae); nouns whose nominative singular ends in -m
(second declension neuter) have plurals in -a
(stadium, stadia; datum, data). (For a full treatment, see Latin declensions
.) Sometimes forms other than the nominative are seen: in partibus infidelium
("in the lands of the heathens") where partibus
is an ablative
plural and infidelium
is a genitive
Classical Greek had a simpler system, but still more complicated than that of English. Note that most loan words from Greek in English are from Attic Greek
(the Athenian Greek of Plato, Aristotle, and other "great" writers), not Demotic Greek
, Koine (Biblical) Greek
, or Modern Greek
. This is because Attic Greek is what is taught in classes in Greek in Western Europe, and therefore was the Greek that the word borrowers knew.
The general trend with loanwords
is toward what is called Anglicisation
, that is, the re-formation of the word and its inflections as normal English words. Many nouns have settled on, or acquired a modern form from the original (usually Latin). Other nouns have become Anglicised, taking on the normal "s" ending. In some cases, both forms are still competing.
The choice of a form can often depend on context: for a scholar, the plural of appendix
(following the original language); for some physicians, the plural of appendix
. Likewise, a radio
or radar engineer
works with antennas
, but an entomologist
deals with antennae
. The choice of form can also depend on the level of discourse: traditional Latin plurals are found more often in academic and scientific contexts, whereas in daily speech the Anglicised forms are more common. In the following table, the Latin plurals are listed, together with the Anglicised forms when these are more common.
Different paradigms of Latin pronunciation can lead to confusion as to the number or gender of the noun in question. As traditionally used in English, including scientific, medical, and legal contexts, Latin nouns retain the classical inflection with regard to spelling; however those inflections use an Anglicised pronunciation
: the entomologist pronounces antennae
as /ænˈtɛni/. This may cause confusion for those familiar with the Classical Latin pronunciation /ænˈtɛnaɪ/. The words alumni
(masculine plural) and alumnae
(feminine plural) are notorious in this regard, as alumni
in Anglicised pronunciation sounds the same as alumnae
in Italianate pronunciation
Because many of these plurals do not end in -s
, some of them have been reinterpreted as singular forms: particularly the words datum
(as in a "medium of communication"), where the original plurals data
are now, in many contexts, used by some as singular mass nouns: "The media is biased"; "This data shows us that ..." (although a number of scientists, especially of British origin, still say "These data show us that ..."). See below
for more information. Similarly, words such as criteria
are used as singular by some speakers, although this is still considered incorrect in standard usage (see below
Scientific abbreviations for words of Latin origin ending in -a, such as SN for supernova, can form a plural by adding -e, as SNe for supernovae.
Final ex or ix becomes -ices (pronounced /ᵻsiːz/), or just adds -es:
Final is becomes es (pronounced /iːz/):
except for words derived from Greek polis, which become poleis (pronounced /iːs/ or /iːz/):
(Some of these are Greek rather than Latin words, but the method of plural formation in English is the same.) Some people treat process
as if it belonged to this class, pronouncing processes
/ˈprɒsᵻsiːz/ instead of standard /ˈprɒsɛsᵻz/. Since the word comes from Latin processus
, whose plural in the fourth declension
with a long u
, this pronunciation is by analogy
, not etymology. Axes
(/ˈæksiːz/), the plural of axis
, is pronounced differently from axes
(/ˈæksᵻz/), the plural of ax(e)
Final ies remains unchanged:
Specie for a singular of species is considered nonstandard. It is standard meaning the form of money, where it derives from the Latin singular ablative in the phrase in specie.
Final um becomes -a, or just adds -s:
Final us remains unchanged in the plural (fourth declension—the plural has a long ū to differentiate it from the singular short ǔ):
Colloquial usages based in a humorous fashion on the second declension include Elvii
(better Latin would be Elvēs
or Elvidēs) to refer to multiple Elvis impersonators
, used by petrolheads
to refer to Lotus
automobiles in the plural.
Final on becomes -a:
Final as in one case changes to -antes:
Final ma in nouns of Greek origin can become -mata, although -s is usually also acceptable, and in many cases more common.
Such -ata plurals also occur in Latin words borrowed from Greek, e.g. poemata. The a is short in both languages.
Irregular plurals from other languages
Some nouns of French
origin add an -x
, which may be silent or pronounced /z/:
Italian nouns, notably technical terms in music and art, often retain the Italian plurals:
Foreign terms may take native plural forms, especially when the user is addressing an audience familiar with the language. In such cases, the conventionally formed English plural may sound awkward or be confusing.
Nouns of Slavic
origin add -a
according to native rules, or just -s
Nouns of Hebrew
origin add -im
(generally m/f) according to native rules, or just -s
is pronounced os
(with unvoiced s
) in the Ashkenazi
Many nouns of Japanese
origin have no plural form and do not change:
Other nouns such as kimonos, ninjas, futons, and tsunamis are more often seen with a regular English plural.
In New Zealand English
, nouns of Māori
origin can either take an -s
or have no separate plural form. Words more connected to Māori culture and used in that context tend to retain the same form, while names of flora and fauna may or may not take an -s
, depending on context. Many regard omission as more correct:
- ^ When referring to the bird, kiwi may or may not take an -s; when used as an informal term for a New Zealander, it always takes an -s.
- ^ Māori, when referring to a person of that ethnicity, does not usually take an -s. Many speakers avoid the use of Māori as a noun, and instead use it only as an adjective.
Some words borrowed from Inuktitut
and related languages spoken by the Inuit
in Canada, Greenland and Alaska, retain the original plurals. The word Inuit
itself almost always keeps the plural form in the singular (in English, the native Inuktitut singular Inuk
, although recommended by the government of Canada,
is in practice rarely used outside Inuit communities).
Nouns from languages other than the above generally form plurals as if they were native English words:
Plurals of compound nouns
The majority of English compound
nouns have one basic term, or head
, with which they end. These are nouns and are pluralized in typical fashion:
Some compounds have one head with which they begin. These heads are also nouns and the head usually pluralizes, leaving the second, usually a post-positive adjective
, term unchanged:
It is common in informal speech to pluralize the last word instead, like most English nouns, but in edited prose aimed at educated people, the forms given above are usually preferred.
If a compound can be thought to have two heads, both of them tend to be pluralized when the first head has an irregular plural form:
Two-headed compounds in which the first head has a standard plural form, however, tend to pluralize only the final head:
In military usage, the term general, as part of an officer's title, is etymologically an adjective, but it has been adopted as a noun and thus a head, so compound titles employing it are pluralized at the end:
For compounds of three or more words that have a head (or a term functioning as a head) with an irregular plural form, only that term is pluralized:
For many other compounds of three or more words with a head at the front—especially in cases where the compound is ad hoc or the head is metaphorical—it is generally regarded as acceptable to pluralize either the first major term or the last (if open when singular, such compounds tend to take hyphens when plural in the latter case):
With a few extended compounds, both terms may be pluralized—again, with an alternative (which may be more prevalent, e.g. heads of state):
In some extended compounds constructed around o, only the last term is pluralized (or left unchanged if it is already plural):
Many English compounds have been borrowed
directly from French
, and these generally follow a somewhat different set of rules. In French loaned compounds with a noun as head and a qualifying adjective, it is correct to pluralize both words, in common with French practice. Usually in French, the noun precedes the adjective:
In some expressions, the adjective precedes the noun, in which case it is still correct to pluralize both words, in common with French practice, although in the English form sometimes only the noun is pluralized:
However, if the adjectives beau "beautiful/handsome", nouveau "new", or vieux "old" precede a singular noun beginning with a vowel or a mute h (such as homme), they are changed to bel (as in the example below), nouvel, or vieil (to facilitate pronunciation in French). In these cases, both the noun and the adjective are pluralized in the English form as in French:
In other French compound expressions, only the head noun is pluralized:
A distinctive case is the compound film noir
. For this French-loaned artistic term, English-language texts variously use as the plural films noirs
, films noir
and, most prevalently, film noirs
. The form films noir
has no basis in either French usage or anglicization of French compounds. The 11th edition of the standard Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
(2006) lists the anglicized version film noirs
as the preferred style. Three primary bases may be identified for this:[opinion]
- Unlike other compounds borrowed directly from French, film noir is used to refer primarily to English-language cultural artifacts; a typically English-style plural is thus unusually appropriate.
- Again, unlike other foreign-loaned compounds, film noir refers specifically to the products of popular culture; consequently, popular usage holds more orthographical authority than is usual.
- English has adopted noir as a stand-alone adjective in artistic contexts, leading it to serve as the lone head in a variety of compounds (e.g. psycho-noir, sci-fi noir).
Plurals of letters and abbreviations
The plural of individual letters is usually written with -'s
: there are two h's in this sentence
; mind your p's and q's
; dot the i's and cross the t's
Some people extend this use of the apostrophe
to other cases, such as plurals of numbers written in figures (e.g. "1990's"), words used as terms (e.g. "his writing uses a lot of but's
"). However others prefer to avoid this method (which can lead to confusion with the possessive-'s
), and write 1990s
; this is the style recommended by The Chicago Manual of Style
and initialisms are normally pluralized simply by adding (lowercase) -s
, as in MPs
, although the apostrophe is sometimes seen. Use of the apostrophe is more common in those cases where the letters are followed by periods (B.A.'s
), or where the last letter is S (as in PS's
, although PSs
are also acceptable; the ending -es
is also sometimes seen).
English (like Latin and certain other European languages) can form a plural of certain one-letter abbreviations by doubling the letter: p. ("page"), pp. ("pages"). Other examples include ll. ("lines"), ff. ("following lines/pages"), hh. ("hands", as a measure), PP. ("Popes"), SS. ("Saints"), ss. (or §§) ("sections"), vv. ("volumes"). Some multi-letter abbreviations can be treated the same way, by doubling the final letter: MS ("manuscript"), MSS ("manuscripts"); op. ("opus"), opp. ("opera" as plural of opus).
However, often the abbreviation used for the singular is used also as the abbreviation for the plural; this is normal for most units of measurement and currency. The SI
unit symbols are officially not considered abbreviations and not pluralized, as in 10 m ("10 metres").
In The Language Instinct
, linguist Steven Pinker
discusses what he calls "headless words", typically bahuvrihi
compounds, such as lowlife
, in which life
are not heads
semantically; that is, a lowlife is not a type of life, and a flatfoot is not a type of foot. When the common form of such a word is singular, it is treated as if it has a regular plural, even if the final constituent of the word is usually pluralized in an irregular fashion. Thus the plural of lowlife
, not "lowlives", according to Pinker. Other proposed examples include:
An exception is Blackfoot
, of which the plural can be Blackfeet
, though that form of the name is officially rejected by the Blackfoot First Nations
Plurals without singulars
Some nouns have no singular form. Such a noun is called a plurale tantum
. Examples include cattle
(originally a plural of cloth
A particular set of nouns, describing things having two parts, comprises the major group of pluralia tantum in modern English:
glasses (a pair of spectacles
(metalworking & cooking), trousers
These words are interchangeable with a pair of scissors
, a pair of trousers
, and so forth. In the American fashion industry it is common to refer to a single pair of pants as a pant
—though this is a back-formation
, the English word (deriving from the French pantalon
) was originally singular. In the same field, one half of a pair of scissors separated from the other half is, rather illogically, referred to as a half-scissor
used to be part of this group, but tweezer
has come into common usage since the second half of the 20th century.
Nouns describing things having two parts are expressed in the singular when used as adjectives. Other pluralia tantum remain unchanged as adjectives.
There are also some plural nouns whose singular forms exist, though they are much more rarely encountered than the plurals:
In medical terminology, a phalanx
is any bone of the finger or toe. A military phalanx
is pluralized phalanxes
Singulars without plurals
(or uncountable nouns) do not represent distinct objects, so the singular and plural semantics do not apply in the same way. Some examples:
deceit, information, cunning, and nouns derived from adjectives, such as honesty, wisdom, beauty, intelligence, poverty, stupidity, curiosity, and words ending with "-ness
", such as goodness, freshness, laziness, and nouns which are homonyms of adjectives with a similar meaning, such as good, bad (can also use goodness and badness), hot, and cold.
In the arts and sciences
chemistry, geometry, surgery, the blues,[e 1]
jazz, rock and roll, impressionism, surrealism. This includes those that look plural but function as grammatically singular in English, e.g., "Mathematics is
fun" and "thermodynamics is
the science of heat": mathematics
(and in British English the shortened form 'maths'), physics, mechanics, dynamics, statics, thermodynamics
, hydrodynamics, robotics
, acoustics, optics, computer graphics, ethics
Chemical elements and other physical entities:
aluminum (U.S.) / aluminium (U.K.), copper, gold, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, equipment, furniture, traffic, air and water
Referring to the musical style as a whole.
Some mass nouns can be pluralized, but the meaning in this case may change somewhat. For example, when I have two grains of sand, I do not have two sands; I have sand. There is less sand in your pile than in mine, not fewer sands. However, there could be the many "sands of Africa"—either many distinct stretches of sand, or distinct types of sand of interest to geologists
or builders, or simply the allusive The Sands of Mars
It is rare to pluralize furniture in this way (though it was formerly more common) and information is never pluralized.
There are several isotopes of oxygen, which might be referred to as different oxygens. In casual speech, oxygen might be used as shorthand for "an oxygen atom", but in this case, it is not a mass noun, so one can refer to "multiple oxygens in the same molecule".
One would interpret Bob's wisdoms as various pieces of Bob's wisdom (that is, don't run with scissors, defer to those with greater knowledge), deceits as a series of instances of deceitful behaviour (lied on income tax, dated my wife), and the different idlenesses of the worker as plural distinct manifestations of the mass concept of idleness (or as different types of idleness, "bone lazy" versus "no work to do").
The pair specie
both come from a Latin word meaning "kind", but they do not form a singular-plural pair. In Latin, specie
is the ablative
singular form, while species
is the nominative
form, which happens to be the same in both singular and plural. In English, species
behaves similarly—as a noun with identical singular and plural—while specie
is treated as a mass noun, referring to money in the form of coins (the idea is of "[payment] in kind").
Singulars as plural and plurals as singular
Plural words becoming singular
Plural in form but singular in construction
Certain words which were originally plural in form have come to be used almost exclusively as singulars (usually uncountable); for example billiards
, etc. Some of these words, such as news
, are strongly and consistently felt as singular by fluent speakers. These words are usually marked in dictionaries with the phrase "plural in form but singular in construction" (or similar wording). Others, such as aesthetics
, are less strongly or consistently felt as singular; for the latter type, the dictionary phrase "plural in form but singular or plural in construction" recognizes variable usage
Plural form became a singular form
Some words of foreign origin are much better known in their (foreign-morphology
) plural form, and are often not even recognized by English speakers as having plural form; descriptively
, in English morphology many of these simply are not in plural form, because English has naturalized the foreign plural as the English singular. Usage of the original singular may be considered pedantic, hypercorrective
, or incorrect.
In the examples below, the original plural is now commonly used as a singular, and in some cases a regular English plural (effectively a double plural
) has been formed from it.
Magazine was derived from Arabic via French. It was originally plural, but in French and English it is always regarded as singular.
Other words whose plurals are sometimes used as singulars include:
- ^ An agenda commonly is used to mean a list of agenda.
- ^ A single piece of data is sometimes referred to as a data point. In engineering, drafting, surveying, and geodesy, and in weight and balance calculations for aircraft, a datum (plural datums or data) is a reference point, surface, or axis on an object or the Earth's surface against which measurements are made.
- ^ Retained for the opus numbering system for systematical naming musical works by the same composer
Some words have unusually formed singulars and plurals, but develop "normal" singular-plural pairs by back-formation
. For example, pease
) was in origin a singular with plural peasen
. However, pease
came to be analysed as plural by analogy, from which a new singular pea
was formed; the spelling of pease
was also altered accordingly, surviving only in the name of the dish pease porridge
or pease pudding
. Similarly, termites
was the three-syllable plural of termes
; this singular was lost, however, and the plural form reduced to two syllables. Syringe
is a back-formation from syringes
, itself the plural of syrinx
, a musical instrument. Cherry
is from Norman French cherise
was once the plural of phasis
, but the singular is now phase
. The nonstandard, offensive, and now obsolete Chinee
singulars are back-formations from the standard Chinese
is a singular Greek word meaning praise, but is often taken to be a plural. At present, however, kudo
is considered an error, though the usage is becoming more common
becomes better known. The name of the Greek sandwich style gyros
is increasingly undergoing a similar transformation.
The term, from Latin, for the main upper arm flexor in the singular is the biceps muscle
(from biceps brachii
); however, many English speakers take it to be a plural and refer to the muscle of only one arm, by back-formation, as a bicep
. The correct—although very seldom used—Latin plural is bicipites
The word sastrugi
(hard ridges on deep snow) is of Russian origin and its singular is sastruga
; but the imagined Latin-type singular sastrugus
has sometimes been used.
Geographical plurals used as singular
Geographical names may be treated as singular even if they are plural in form, if they are regarded as representing a single entity such as a country: The United States is a country in North America (similarly with the Netherlands, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Nations, etc.). However, if the sense is a group of geographical objects, such as islands or mountains, a plural-form name will be treated as plural: The Hebrides are a group of islands off the coast of Scotland.
Singulars with collective meaning treated as plural
Words such as army
may refer either to a single entity or the members of the set composing it. If the latter meaning is intended, the word (though singular in form) may be treated as if it were a plural, in that it may take a plural verb and be replaced with a plural pronoun: (in British English) the government are considering their position
(alternatively the government is considering its position
). See synesis
Thus, as H. W. Fowler
describes, in British English
they are "treated as singular or plural at discretion"; Fowler notes that occasionally a "delicate distinction" is made possible by discretionary plurals: "The Cabinet
is better, because in the order of thought a whole must precede division; and The Cabinet
is better, because it takes two or more to agree."
Plurals of numbers
The following rules apply to the plurals of numerical terms such as dozen, score, hundred, thousand, million, and similar:
- When modified by a number, the plural is not inflected, that is, has no -s added. Hence one hundred, two million, four score, etc. (The resulting quantitative expressions are treated as numbers, in that they can modify nouns directly: three dozen eggs, although of is used before pronouns or definite noun phrases: three dozen of them/of those eggs.)
- When not modified by a number, the plural takes -s as usual, and the resulting expression is not a number (it requires of if modifying a noun): I have hundreds, dozens of complaints, the thousands of people affected.
- When the modifier is a vaguer expression of number, either pattern may be followed: several hundred (people) or several hundreds (of people).
- When the word has a specific meaning rather than being a simple expression of quantity, it is pluralized as an ordinary noun: Last season he scored eight hundreds [=scores of at least 100 runs in cricket]. The same applies to other numbers: My phone number consists of three fives and four sixes.
- Note the expressions by the dozen etc. (singular); in threes [=in groups of three] etc. (plural); eight sevens are fifty-six etc.
Usage and number agreement
Nouns used attributively to qualify other nouns are generally in the singular, even though for example, a dog catcher
catches more than one dog, and a department store
has more than one department. This is true even for some binary nouns
where the singular form is not found in isolation, such as a trouser mangle
or the scissor kick
. This is also true where the attribute noun is itself qualified with a number, such as a twenty-dollar bill
, a ten-foot pole
or a two-man tent
. The plural is used for pluralia tantum
nouns: a glasses case
is for eyeglasses, while a glass case
is made of glass (but compare eyeglass case
); also an arms race
versus arm wrestling
. The plural may be used to emphasise the plurality of the attribute, especially in British English
but very rarely in American English
: a careers advisor
, a languages expert
. The plural is also more common with irregular plurals for various attributions: women killers
are women who kill, whereas woman killers
are those who kill women.
The singular and plural forms of loanwords from other languages where countable nouns used attributively are, unlike English, plural and come at the end of the word are sometimes modified when entering English usage. For example, in Spanish, nouns composed of a verb and its plural object usually have the verb first and noun object last (e.g. the legendary monster chupacabras
, literally "sucks-goats", or in a more natural English formation "goatsucker") and the plural form of the object noun is retained in both the singular and plural forms of the compound (i.e. singular el chupacabras
, plural los chupacabras
). However, when entering English, the final s of chupacabras
was treated as a plural of the compound (i.e. the monster) rather than of the object of the verb (i.e. the goats), and so "chupacabra" without an s is the singular in English, even though in Spanish chupacabra
could literally be construed as a creature that sucks only one single goat.
Teams and their members
In the names of sports teams, sometimes a noun will be given a regular plural in -s
even though that noun in normal use has an irregular plural form (a particular case of headless nouns
as described above). For example, there are teams called the Miami Marlins
and the Toronto Maple Leafs
, even though the word marlin
normally has its plural identical to the singular and the plural of leaf
. (This does not always apply; for example, there is the Minnesota Lynx
, not *Lynxes
.) Some teams use a non-standard plural spelling in their names, such as the Boston Red Sox
and Chicago White Sox
When a sport team's name is plural, the corresponding singular is often used to denote a member of that team; for example a player for the Cincinnati Reds
may be referred to as a (Cincinnati) Red
. This also applies to the St. Louis Blues
ice hockey team, even though it is named after the song the "St. Louis Blues
" and thus blues
was originally a singular identical to its plural.
When a team's name is plural in form but cannot be singularized by removing an -s, as in Boston Red Sox, the plural is sometimes used as a singular (a player may be referred to as "a Red Sox"). Oftentimes, the singular "Red Sox" will be pronounced as if it were "Red Sock", even though the spelling suggests otherwise.
When a team's name is singular, as in Miami Heat
and Colorado Avalanche
, the same singular word may also sometimes be used to denote a player (a Heat
, an Avalanche
). When referring to more than one player, it is normal to use Heat players
or Avalanche players
(although in the latter case the team's plural-form nickname Avs
is also available).
Adjectives as collective plurals
Certain adjectives can be used, uninflected, as plurals denoting people of the designated type. For example, unemployed and homeless can be used to mean "unemployed people" and "homeless people", as in There are two million unemployed. Such usage is common with the definite article, to denote people of a certain type generally: the unemployed, the homeless.
This is common with certain nationalities: the British
, the Dutch
, the English
, the French
, the Irish
, the Spanish
, the Welsh
, and those where the adjective and noun singular and plural are identical anyway, including the Swiss
and those in -ese
etc.). In the case of most nationalities, however, the plural of the demonym
noun is used for this purpose: (the) Americans
, (the) Poles
. Cases where the adjective formation is possible, but the noun provides a commonly used alternative, include the Scottish
(or more commonly (the) Scots
), the Danish
(or (the) Danes
), the Finnish
(or (the) Finns
), the Swedish
(or (the) Swedes
The noun is normally used anyway when referring to specific sets of people (five Frenchmen, a few Spaniards), although the adjective may be used especially in case of a group of mixed or unspecified sex, if the demonym nouns are gender-specific: there were five French (or French people) in the bar (if neither Frenchmen or Frenchwomen would be appropriate).
In common parlance, plural simply means "more than one". A quantity of one may sometimes be grammatically inflected as plural.
Decimals are always plural
Any quantity that includes decimal precision is plural. This includes 1 followed by any number of zeros. It is normal to say 1.0 gallons per flush, for instance, 0.6 units, or 3.3 children per couple, not *1.0 gallon, *0.6 unit, or *3.3 child per couple.
Fractions are themselves singular or plural depending on the numerator
(e.g. one eighth
vs two eighths
), and whatever they apply to can be singular or plural (e.g., three-quarters of the apple(s)
), depending on whether it refers to a fraction of a single item or many items.
Equivalent to zero is usually plural
Any zero quantity can be plural or singular, though plural is the default. So the following plurals are standard.
- We have no bananas.
- We have zero bananas.
- We don't have any bananas.
However, if it has already been established that one item was in question, one can use no to deny that such an item exists in the singular:
"Can you pass me the banana on your desk?" "There's no banana on my desk."
The interrogative pronouns who
generally take singular agreement,
Who works there?
In some cases, a plural verb can be used when the answer is expected to be plural
What have big ears and trunks?
When followed by a plural predicative complement, a plural verb must be used:
What are the main reasons?
*What is the main reasons?
, a singular verb suggests a singular answer, and a plural verb suggests a plural answer:
- Which of these answers is correct? (single choice)
- Which of these answers are correct? (multiple choice)
When asking How many?, plural is standard (e.g. How many bananas? not *How many banana?), even if the expected answer is only one.
- ^ a b c In a Canadian accent, the mutation to a voiced consonant produces a change in the sound of the preceding diphthong (/aʊ/ or /aɪ/).
- ^ The Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team is a special case; see Teams and their members § Notes below.
- ^ For dwarf, the common form of the plural was dwarfs—as, for example, in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—until J. R. R. Tolkien popularized dwarves; he intended the changed spelling to differentiate the "dwarf" fantasy race in his novels from the cuter and simpler beings common in fairy tales, but his usage has since spread. Multiple astronomical dwarf stars and multiple non-mythological short human beings, however, remain dwarfs.
- ^ For staff (/stæf/ or /stɑːf/) in the sense of "a body of employees", the plural is always staff; otherwise, both staffs and staves (/steɪvz/) are acceptable, except in compounds, such as flagstaffs. Staves is rare in North America except in the sense of "magic rod", or the musical notation tool; stave of a barrel or cask is a back-formation from staves, which is its plural. (See the Plural to singular by back-formation section below.)
- ^ English Irregular Plural Nouns Archived 30 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- ^ UNIT S4: YS OR IES? Archived 17 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- ^ Book titles include Mary Fulbrook, The Two Germanies. 1945-1990 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996); Henry Ashby Turner, The two Germanies since 1945 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1987).
- ^ "the definition of money". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- ^ a b Emerson, Oliver Farrar (1921). The history of the English language. Macmillan. p. 299. OCLC 317104.
- ^ Partridge, Eric, Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English, revised by Janet Whitcut (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1997), pp. 238–39.
- ^ "Counsel". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 26 August 2017. 4a plural counsel (1) : a lawyer ...
- ^ Dictionary.com entry for "brother".
- ^ Raymond, Eric (1993). "How Jargon Works". The New Hacker's Dictionary. p. 12. Bibcode:1993nhsd.book.....R. But note that 'Unixen' and 'Twenexen' are never used. It has been suggested that this is because '-ix' and '-ex' are sometimes Latin singular endings that attract a Latinate plural.
- ^ "Sometimes scientists think of data as plural, as in These data do not support the conclusions. But more often scientists and researchers think of data as a singular mass entity like information, and most people now follow this in general usage." "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 November 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2007.
- ^ "...of the 136 distinguished consultants on usage polled for the 1975 Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, 49% responded that they use "The data is..." in writing. Also, in casual speech, 65% use data as singular. Those who defend "The data is..." often point to the fact that agenda is also, strictly, a plural, but is nearly always regarded as a single list and takes a singular verb. You'll probably never hear anyone ask: "Are the agenda interesting?" http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF3/334.html
- ^ "Summary of dictionary sources and scholarly usage". harvard.edu. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- ^ New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1999
- ^ "...in educated everyday usage as represented by the Guardian newspaper, it is nowadays most often used as a singular." "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
- ^ "Oxford Dictionaries - The World's Most Trusted Dictionary Provider". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
- ^ UoN Style Book – Singular or plural – Media and Public Relations Office – The University of Nottingham Archived 26 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine
- ^ "Open Learning - OpenLearn - Open University". openlearn.open.ac.uk. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- ^ "What are the plurals of 'octopus', 'h... - Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries - English. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- ^ TERMIUM®, Government of Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Translation Bureau. "Inuit, Inuk (Linguistic recommendation from the Translation Bureau)". www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- ^ "Plural problems". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
- ^ Fowler, H. W. (2015). Butterfield, Jeremy (ed.). Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. p. 633. ISBN 978-0-19-966135-0.
- ^ Harper, Douglas. "Specie". Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
- ^ "The word agenda, for example, was originally plural (from agendum: 'something to be acted on') but is nowadays used only as a singular, and nobody in their right mind would insist that it should be used as a plural." "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
- ^ Fowler, H. W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2nd ed., revised by Sir Ernest Gowers (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 403.
- ^ a b c d Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 505–506. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
Last edited on 14 July 2021, at 20:52
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