Beware of False Plurals!

rogersgeorge on November 30th, 2017

Ordinarily we make a plural in English by adding an “-s” at the end.

Almost immediately, though, things begin to get complicated. Sometimes you have to add “-es” (remember fourth grade?). Then some words don’t change at all to become plural, such as “fish” and “moose.” Some words change a vowel to make a plural, such as “mice.” I remember Tom the cat saying “I hate those meeses to pieces,” in Tom and Jerry cartoons, exaggerating the plural for comic effect.

And don’t get me started on all those Latin endings, “genera,” “alumni,” and “alumnae” for example. Some words don’t even have a plural! If you say “informations,” you betray that English is not your first language. “Lego,” by the way, doesn’t have a plural. No such word as “Legos.” It’s “pieces of Lego,” but I digress.

Finally, some words look like plurals but they aren’t. We call them false plurals. Sciences that end in “-ics” are all singular. Physics, cybernetics, fluidics, and finally, which leads to today’s comic, genetics. Can you tell what the verb should be?

Michael Cavna, the cartoonist, is a respected writer, enough to make me suspect this was deliberate. This misuse of “don’t” is often associated with being undereducated. He wouldn’t be insinuating that football fans are undereducated, would he??? Nah…

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Beware False Plurals

rogersgeorge on May 31st, 2016

I wrote about false plurals before, but it was several years back, and I just ran into a nice example of someone falling into that trap, so I thought I’d mention this little pothole again. Here’s the sentence:

However, that effort has been going about as well as Tennessee politics have been going, which is to say, not very well.

This is from a newsletter sent occasionally by the excellent cartoonist Hilary Price, who writes the comic Rhymes with Orange, and whom I recommend to all of you.

The sentence says “…politics have been going…” Looks like “politics” is a plural, doesn’t it? It’s not! That “-ics” is a noun suffix meaning that it’s a field of study, like physics, fluidics, and phonics. (Beware of words that happen to already end in “-ic” such as “picnic.” They’re different.)

It works the other way sometimes, too, mostly with words originating in languages (such as Latin) that don’t necessarily use “-s” to indicate the plural. “Apocrypha,” for example, is actually the plural of “apocryphon,” but we consider it a singular now, especially since the most common usage is the single collection of spurious books in the Bible. I mentioned recently that the word “media” is headed that way now.

And don’t get me started on “the hoi polloi.”

Remember, get rid of the “-ics” when you use the word as another part of speech: Do your mathematizing in math class. It was an athletic tour-de-force.

Yes, the first sentence in this post contains a mixed metaphor, but that’s a topic for another day.

False plurals

rogersgeorge on January 16th, 2014

Some words end in “s” that aren’t plurals. I’m not referring to well-known suffixes such as -ness, either. Neither do I refer to words that end in the ess sound, such as porpoise, or familiar s-ending words with well-known plurals such as glass, grass, pass, and gas.

Some words used to end in -s that we removed the ess sound from to make them sound singular. The most famous, perhaps, is pease, now singularized to pea and a new plural, peas.

I’ll let the comic explain about the rest:

Why Politics Are Boring

I have seen “physic” in print (it’s now obsolete), and “gymnastic” as an adjective. But the point of this Candorville comic from Oct 12, 2013 is correct: fields of study (-ics) such as physics and mathematics are singulars, and they should get singular verbs.