Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Beginner's Guide to Irregular English Plurals

Whether you're a native speaker or are just beginning to learn the English language, you've probably had at least one moment when you've wondered what the plural form of a particular word is. A prime example is "roof": when speaking, you know to pronounce a word that sounds like rooves, but in fact, the word you should write is "roofs", since "rooves" is considered to be archaic. Today we're going to introduce you to some of the many irregular English plurals. You might be surprised to find out that you've been getting a few of them wrong!

There are quite a few animals which require the use of the same term for both singular and plural. The most commonly cited examples are deer, sheep, fish, and moose. You can actually use fishes in certain contexts, such as when you're talking about multiple species of fish, but someone will probably correct you anyway. Speaking of fishes, most species, such as salmon and trout, follow the same rule. Other tricky animals include bison, buffalo, and squid.

There are a couple more odd animal plurals we can name: oxen and children. Long ago, someone decided it would be a good idea to have a few random words which became plural with the addition of the suffix -en. Another example is brethren, an archaic plural form of brother, which is still occasionally used by groups like religious fraternities.

There's an especially annoying group of plurals known as "apophonic plurals" or "mutated plurals", which originated when certain Germanic vowels in Old English changed long ago. A few of the resulting plurals that confuse children throughout their early years are:

mouse - mice     |     goose - geese     |     louse - lice     |     foot - feet     |     tooth - teeth

The yellow mongoose, which lives in Africa.
That said, mongoose becomes mongooses instead of "mongeese" because it's not related to the word goose - a mongoose is actually a small carnivore. Additionally, the plural of moose is not meese, as is often said jokingly, though it would make sense.

In terms of plurals, you probably can't find a more confusing term than person. Its plural is people, right? Kind of... except that you can use persons in certain formal contexts, plus there's the fact that occasionally people is used as a singular term, in which case you can then use its plural, peoples. I rest my case.

Finally, words of Latin and Greek origin can cause a lot of headaches when it comes to plurals. Here are some prime examples:

crisis - crises |     radius - radii      |     millennium - millennia     |     matrix - matrices     
octopus - octopuses     |     phenomenon - phenomena     |     platypus - platypuses

You might be surprised by octopuses and platypuses, because many native English speakers learned that the correct plurals were "octupi" and "platypi" when they grew up. Sadly, this is not true. You could use the technically correct and even more exciting sounding terms octopodes and platypodes as well, but only if you enjoy getting strange looks.