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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Onesies and Twosies—getting plurals right

rogersgeorge on February 28th, 2010

Not just any old plurals, either. You know all about ordinary plurals. Several words tend to trip up the educated (read pretentious), especially those in the upper echelons of business.

Incident—an event, especially if it’s remarkable in some way. This word takes a perfectly ordinary plural: “incidents.” Do not burden your listener (or reader) with the Latinized and incorrect “incidences.”

Process—another one the boss lies to Latinize. The plural is perfectly ordinary: processes (‘pra-sess-uz), not procesese, or procesees (pra-sess-‘eeze), or however you spell it.

Phenomena— This is the plural! The singular is “phenomenon.”

Data—neither a robot nor a singular. The singular is datum. This distinction is disappearing, and you see it mainly in scientific literature, but figure on maintaining the distinction in any context where you need to refer to a single datum.

Some words tell you whether to use the singular or plural. “Every,” for example, always refers to a singular. I found this one in the wild: “…has crossed every t’s and dotted every i’s…” I leave the fixing of that one as an exercise for the reader.

Got any pet peeve plurals of your own? Do the curmudgeonly thing and comment.

P.S. The title of this post is an expression used in purchasing departments, referring to the purchase of small numbers of items rather than large lots.