Friday, March 20, 2015

Conversations on the Plurality of Words

On Wednesday, we looked at some of the confusing irregular plurals in English that don't follow the normal rules that tell us how to make a noun plural. Today we're having a look at certain nouns that struggle with the concept of being plural altogether.

While it can be tricky when the plural form of a word doesn't play by the rules, don't underestimate how tricky words can be when they have no singular, no plural, or look like one and are actually the other!

Nouns That Are Often Singular

Sand is uncountable.
In order to make something plural, you usually have to be able to count it, since the plural in English consists of two or more of any given thing. This means that uncountable nouns are often singular in English. Liquids and gases usually fall into this category, because it's not easy to cut air or water into two airs and two waters. Of course, the exception to this rule is when you're ordering things in a restaurant, since you can order two waters, two milks, etc.

Intangible things are often uncountable, too. Love, passion, and happiness, for example, are often considered singular entities. However, when used in reference to a person or an object, you can easily have a number of loves or passions.

While you can't have certain quantities of uncountable nouns, there are sometimes plural forms of uncountable nouns; just don't expect to see them often!

Nouns That Are Always Plurals

Certain things always are considered plurals. These are often things that have two major elements. Take trousers, for example. In English, trousers are always plural, supposedly because they have two legs. The same goes for shorts, pants, knickers, boxers, tights, stockings, suspenders, braces, and almost any item of clothing that requires you to have two legs. This rule also counts when it comes to eyewear as glasses and spectacles do not have a singular form.

Tools like scissors, which require two blades in order to work, are also plural. This rule also applies to shears and clippers.

Singular Nouns That Look Like Plurals

Athletics takes place on a track like this.
A number of academic disciplines end with an "s" but are still referred to as singular nouns. For example, mathematics is the abstract science of number, quantity, and space. Of course, when shortened in American English, the term math doesn't look much like a plural. However, the British English term maths still looks like a plural.

Other examples include economics, physics, and sporting disciplines such as gymnastics and athletics. News is another example.

Singular Nouns That Are Sometimes Plural

In my experience, some nouns are only treated as plurals in British English (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) and are definitely singular nouns when it comes to American English. They're all terms that refer to groups of people.

This really comes to my attention while watching sports. I have no issue with saying "the team are playing well" and would never replace the term "team" with the personal pronoun "it" as I refer to the members of a team as "they". This also comes into effect when referring to teams by their given names.

The same goes for other groups of people. The staff at the restaurant are friendly and the government are useless. The police were there to help and the audience have enjoyed the show. I'll stop giving examples now since I can sense the uncomfortable wincing from across the pond.