Make Your Editor Cry: A Bunch of Awkward Plural Nouns

Make Your Editor Cry:  A Bunch of Awkward Plural Nouns

In terms of nouns at least, English is pretty regular. The vast majority of nouns in English form the plural by simply adding either –s or –es to the regular singular form of the noun.

There are exceptions.

A handful of nouns are completely irregular, such as “woman/women”, “man/men”, or “child/children”, but non-native English speakers usually learn pretty quickly not to use the –s or –es form in these cases.

What sometimes causes trouble are nouns that do not change at all in the plural so you just have to recognize the plural form strictly from the context. “Sheep,” “fish,” and “biceps” are notorious examples.

Examples:

There are two sheep in the meadow.

There are three fish in the pond.

The diameter of Lou's right biceps
exceeded the diameter of both my biceps
combined.

As you can see, we add neither the –s or –es to form the plural form in cases like these. A sheep can be a single sheep. You can also talk about a flock of sheep. A fish can be a single fish. You can also talk about a school of fish.

NOTE: For the nitpickers (you know who you are) yes I understand that there are allowances for spellings like fishes and bicepses. However, the spelling for plural fish as fishes is considered archaic, and the spelling for plural biceps as bicepses literally never appears in writing penned by knowledgeable professionals. In this article, I stick to the most common, contemporary, and accepted word forms, and therefore the most correct word forms. You are free to publicly disagree, but there’s really no need to email me some nasty private note about how I’m “harming writers” or whatever. Bless your heart. Now, back to the article.

Funny thing about fish is if the word describes an aquatic animal and ends in “-fish” it follows the same form as this noun, like catfish, goldfish, starfish, crayfish, rockfish, monkfish, bonefish, etc.

The singular of biceps is biceps. The plural of biceps is also biceps. Although “bicep” without the -s is often incorrectly and ignorantly used in casual speech, this spelling is not a thing because it should only ever be used to refer to a single branch of either the biceps brachii or the biceps femoris. Either major structure when whole is a biceps (or a pair of biceps in the plural). This one is especially tricky because it ends in S. It is not a possessive biceps’ nor is it bicepses though Webster allows for the latter (just as Webster allows for fishes).

So, here are a whole bunch of non-conforming irregular nouns that follow a similar pattern.

Examples:

aircraft, hovercraft, spacecraft, and other “-craft” vehicles

There are two aircraft prepared for landing.
The Apollo 11 spacecraft capsule is on display at the Smithsonian.

bison/bovine

The herd of bison were grazing in the distance beside the herd of bovine.
A bison bull and a bovine cow can successfully interbreed and produce a hybrid beefalo offspring.

cod

The cod are known to migrate in large numbers.
He only caught one cod but three catfish.

deer

Deer, especially young does, make easy prey for wolves.
Because it was early in the season, I could not determine if the deer was a buck or a doe.
The small herd of deer consisted of a single buck, three does, and two fawns.

fish

Three fish swim in the fish tank.
I only caught one fish that morning.

moose

Moose actually belong to the deer family.
The moose walked right in the front door then slowly backed out.

offspring

The vixen gave birth to a litter of five offspring pups.
The dog fox isolated one of the offspring.

pike

Pike are big freshwater predatory fish.
I only caught one pike that afternoon.

salmon

Salmon are often seen jumping over dangerous waterfalls.
I only caught one salmon that evening.

sheep

One sheep, five sheep, black sheep, white sheep…

shrimp

Shrimp are among the most commonly eaten animals.
My shrimp cocktail only had one shrimp.

swine

Swine are reared extensively in Europe and northern Africa.
The swine pulled on his leash and went for the truffle.

trout

The trout are fish related to the salmon.
I only caught one trout that night.

Some nouns can take either regular or irregular plural forms. All of the below sentences are correct.

Examples:

boar (boar/boar/boars):

He saw a boar in the woods.
He saw several boar in the woods.
He saw several boars in the woods.

buffalo (buffalo, buffalo, buffaloes, [rarely] buffalos)

I hope there isn’t a single buffalo outside.
I hope there aren’t too many buffalo outside.
I hope there aren’t too many buffaloes outside.
I hope there aren’t too many buffalos outside.

beefalo are a composite cattle breed intertwining bison and bovine (beefalo, beefalo, beefaloes, [rarely] beefalos)

I hope there isn’t a single beefalo outside.
I hope there aren’t too many beefalo outside.
I hope there aren’t too many beefaloes outside.
I hope there aren’t too many beefalos outside.

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