Wish (plural wishes). A will for something to happen.
Central Atlas Tamazight grammar
Plural form of words ending in -us
Central Atlas Tamazight (also referred to as just Tamazight) belongs to the Northern Berber family of Berber languages.
As a member of the Afro-Asiatic language macrofamily, Tamazight grammar has a two-gender (tawsit) system, VSO typology, emphatic consonants (realized in Tamazight as velarized), and a templatic morphology.
Tamazight has a verbo-nominal distinction, with adjectives being a subset of verbs.
Nouns may be masculine or feminine and singular or plural. Definiteness is not marked (even though many loanwords from Arabic contain what was originally the Arabic definite article). Normally plurals end in /-n/, singular masculines have the prefix /a-/ and plurals /i-/, and feminines have the circumfix in singular and in plural. In Ayt Seghrouchen initial /a/ is dropped in many singular nouns, though their plurals and construct states are similar to Ayt Ayache.
Plurals may either involve a regular change ("sound plurals"), internal vowel change ("broken plurals"), or a combination of the two. Some plurals are mixed, e.g. ('hand') ('hands').
Native masculine singular nouns usually start with in singular and in plural, and "sound plurals" (as opposed to "broken plurals" which also take the suffix in plural. This suffix undergoes the following assimilatory rules: > (in AA and AS), > (only AA), > ) (only AA).
Native feminine usually are surrounded by (or ) in the singular. "Sound" plurals usually take and "Broken" plurals .
Nouns may be put into the construct state (contrasting with free state][) to indicate possession, or when the subject of a verb follows the verb. This is also used for nouns following numerals and some prepositions (note that , 'to', only requires this for feminine nouns), as well as the word ('and'). The construct state is formed as follows: in masculines, initial becomes , initial becomes , and initial becomes . In feminines, initial becomes or rarely , initial becomes or rarely , and initial becomes .
Examples (in AA):
Tamazight's use of possessive suffixes mirrors that of many other Afro-Asiatic languages.
Ayt Seghrouchen also has a special set of suffixes for future transitive verbs (which combine with the future marker ):
Independent possessives are formed by attaching the possessive suffixes to (if the object possessed is masculine) or ' (for feminine), e.g. ('mine').
Special possessive suffixes are used with kinship terms.
Emphatics are formed with the word , e.g. ('I myself').
When / / is suffixed to a noun ending in or epenthetic is inserted, e.g. ('this pack-saddle').
Other deictic suffixes: ('this'), ('that'), e.g. ('this house'), ('that house').
Verbs are marked for tense, aspect, mode, voice, person, and polarity.
Satellite framing is accomplished with the proximate affix /d/ (/dː/ in AS) and remote /nː/, e.g. /dːu/ 'to go' yields /i-dːa/ 'he went', /i-dːa-d/ 'he came', /i-dːa-nː/ 'he went there' (in AS the verb /rˠaħ/ 'to go' is used instead)
Derived verb stems may be made from basic verb stems to create causatives, reciprocals, recipro-causatives, passives, or habituals.
Causatives are derived from unaugmented stems with the prefix /s(ː)-/.
Habituals are derived from unaugmented and reciprocal/recipro-causative stems with the prefix /tː-/ (sometimes with internal change), from causatives by an infixed vowel, and from passives by an optional infixed vowel: /fa/ 'yawn' > /tːfa/
Reciprocals are formed with the prefix /m(ː)-/, and recipro-causatives with /-m(ː)s-/, sometimes with internal change.
Passives are formed with the prefix /tːu-/: /ħnːa/ 'pity' > /tːuħnːa/
Tense, mode, and person
marks future tense, marks interrogative mode, and marks negative mode.
Pronominal complement markers cliticize to the verb, with the indirect object preceding the direct object, e.g. /izn-as-t/ "he sold it to him".
Central Atlas Tamazight uses a bipartate negative construction (e.g. /uriffiɣ ʃa/ 'he didn't go out') which apparently was modeled after proximate Arabic varieties, in a common development known as Jespersen's Cycle. This is a phenomenon where a postverbal item is reanalyzed as being an element of a discontinuous negation marker composed of it and the preverbal negation marker. It is present in multiple Berber varieties, and is argued to have originated in neighboring Arabic and been adopted by contact.
Standard negation is accompanied by a negative indefinite pronoun, walu.
Tamazight has a null copula. The words 'to be, to do' may function as a copula in Ayt Ayache and Ayt Seghrouchen respectively, especially in structures preceded by /aj/ 'who, which, what'.
Many Arabic loans have been integrated into the Tamazight verb lexicon. They adhere fully to patterns of native stems, and may even undergo ablaut.
In Ayt Ayache ablaut occurs only in affirmative and/or negative past (in applicable verb classes). Types of ablaut include Ø:i/a, Ø:i, and a:u, which may be accompanied by metathesis. In Ayt Seghrouchen types of ablaut include Ø:i (in negative), i/a, i/u, a-u, and a-i.
Adjectives come after the noun the modify, and inflect for number and gender:
Adjectives may also occur alone, in which case they become an NP.
Practically all adjectives also have a verbal form used for predicative purposes, which behaves just like a normal verb:
As such, adjectives may be classed as a subset of verbs which also have other non-verbal features. However Penchoen (1973:21) argues that they are actually nouns.
Prepositions include ('on'), ('before'), ('to'), and ('until'). These may take pronominal suffixes (see Pronouns).
Some prepositions require the following noun to be in the construct state, while others do not.
encliticizes onto the following word (which is put into construct state), and assimilates to some initial consonants: it becomes before a noun with initial , before initial , and before initial (note that this creates geminates rather than doubled phonemes, e.g. 'some milk'). Nouns with initial normally drop in when following 'some of', e.g. (< ||) 'some meat', but some don't, following the normal rules of construct state, e.g. (< ||) 'some tea'.
The conjunction 'and' requires construct state, and also assimilates to a following , e.g. 'the donkey and the cow'.
Other conjunctions include:
The first few (1-3 in Ayt Ayache, 1-2 in Ayt Seghrouchen) cardinal numerals have native Berber and borrowed Arabic forms. The Arabic numerals are only used for counting in order and for production of higher numbers when combined with the tens.
All higher cardinals are borrowed from Arabic. This is consistent with the linguistic universals that the numbers 1-3 are much more likely to be retained, and that a borrowed number generally implies that numbers greater than it are also borrowed. The retention of one is also motivated by the fact that Berber languages near-universally use unity as a determiner.
The numbers 3-9 have special apocopated forms, used before the words ('years'), ('100'), ('1,000'), and ('million'), e.g. ('7 years'; without the preposition ).
The numbers 11-19 only end in before the words ('year') and ('thousand'; without the preposition ).
is only used for '100' before ('1,000') or ('year'; without the preposition ). Also note the dual forms, and for '2,000,000'.
Cardinal numbers precede the modified noun, connected by the preposition (optional for the number 1).
The procliticization-triggered phonological change of may cause / and to become proclitics , , e.g. ('one boy'), ('one girl'), ('two rials').
When referring to money, ('minus') and ('except') may be used, for example: / ('90 [rials]'), ('180 [rials]'), ('195 [rials]').
Nouns following numerals require construct state.
The word for 'the first' is unique in that it is not derived from a cardinal stem and it inflects for number:
From 'the second' on, ordinals are formed by prefixing in the masculine and in the feminine (using the native Berber forms of 2 and 3).
There are unique words which may be used for some fractions, although male ordinals can be used for 1/4 on.
Word order is usually Verb + Subject [in construct state] but sometimes is Subject [in free state] + Verb, e.g. ( vs. 'the Berber went out'). Tamazight exhibits pro-drop behavior.
wh- questions are always clefts, and multiple wh-questions are not found. This means that Tamazight cannot grammatically express an equivalent to the English "who saw what?".
Tamazight's clefting, relativisation, and wh-interrogation cause what is called "anti-agreement effects", similarly to Shilha. This is when the verb doesn't agree with or agrees in a special way with wh-words. In Berber, the feminine singular prefix disappears when the subject is a wh- phrase, but only for affirmative verbs.
Most English words ending in -us, particularly those derived from Latin, replace the -us suffix with -i to form plurals. This is irregular, however: some words that end in -us do not pluralize with -i. Sometimes this is because they are not Latin words, and sometimes due to habit (e.g. campus, plural campuses, anus, plural anuses, are both Latin words that do not, in English, pluralize with -i). Conversely, some non-Latin words ending in -us or Latin words that would not have pluralized with -i in Latin are given an -i ending in English. Sometimes this plural becomes widely accepted (e.g. cactus, ubiquitously pluralized as cacti), and in other instances would sound unambiguously incorrect to a native speaker (e.g. *ani versus anuses).
In between these two extremes are words that, despite not supporting a Latin plural on etymological grounds, are nonetheless widely pluralized with -i and as such are not immediately heard as incorrect by a substantial number of native speakers (e.g. octopi as a plural for octopus). The question of whether or not these alternative plural forms can be considered incorrect or not touches on the on-going prescriptivism vs descriptivism debate in linguistics and language education.
The -us singular form with an -i plural comes from Latin. However, the morphology of Latin nouns is complex and not every Latin word ending in -us pluralized in -i. The ones that did largely were from the second declension masculine. Briefly, a declension is the way a noun changes to reflect facts about the object to which it refers (e.g., its gender or number) or the relationship that the noun has to other words in the sentence. Remnants of the Old English declension system can be seen in words like I, me, we, and us in modern English, as well as (more distantly) in the 's enclitic. In Latin, just as in many languages spoken today, a word having several forms is the rule rather than the exception. Most words indicate their declension (including their number, i.e. whether they are singular or plural) using an affix, much as we use 's today to indicate possession and (usually) -s to indicate plurality. Specifically, the nominative singular form of second declension masculine nouns is marked with -us, and the nominative plural with -i. More at Latin grammar. Confusion arises because some Latin words ending in -us would not have pluralized with -i. Examples of regularly declined nouns include third declension neuters, such as opus, with the plural opera, and fourth declension masculine and feminine, such as sinus and tribus, with plurals sinūs and tribūs. Some idiosyncratic instances are bus, a curtailed form of omnibus, a dative plural, and ignoramus, a verb.
The English plural of virus is viruses. In most speaking communities this is non-controversial and speakers would not attempt to use the non-standard plural in -i. However, in computer enthusiast circles in the late 20th century and early 21st, the non-standard viri form (sometimes even virii) was well-attested, generally in the context of computer viruses.
While the number of users employing these non-standard plural forms of virus was always a proportionally small percentage of the English-speaking population, the variation was notable because it coincided with the growth of the Internet, a medium on which users of viri were over-represented. As the distribution of Internet users shifted to be more representative of the population as a whole during the 2000s, the non-standard forms saw decline in usage. A tendency towards prescriptivism in the computer enthusiast community, combined with the growing awareness that viri and virii are not etymologically supported plural forms, also played a part.][
Nonetheless, the question of what the Latin plural of virus would have been turns out not to be straightforward, as no plural form is attested in extant Latin literature. Furthermore, its unusual status as a neuter noun ending in -us apparently not of Greek origin obscures its morphology, making guesses about how it should have been declined difficult.][
The Latin word vīrus (the ī indicates a long i) means "poison; venom", denoting the venom of a snake. This Latin word is probably related to the Greek (ios) meaning "venom" or "rust" and the Sanskrit word viṣam meaning "toxic, poison".
Since vīrus in antiquity denoted something uncountable, it was a mass noun. Mass nouns — such as air, rice, and helpfulness in English — pluralize only under special circumstances, hence the non-existence of plural forms in the texts.
It is unclear how a plural might have been formed under Latin grammar if the word had acquired a meaning requiring a plural form. In Latin vīrus is generally regarded as a neuter of the second declension, but neuter second declension nouns ending in -us (rather than -um) are so rare that there are no recorded plurals. Plural neuter nouns of other declensions always end in -a (in the nominative, accusative and vocative), but even if we were to apply this rule to vīrus, it would be conjecture whether this should give us vīra, vīrua, or something else. There simply is no known plural for this word in Classical Latin.
In Neo-Latin, a plural form is necessary in order to express the modern concept of ‘viruses’. Dictionaries such as Whitaker's Words therefore treat it as a second-declension noun with the following fairly ordinary forms:
If vīrus were a masculine second declension term like alumnus, it would be correct to use vīrī as its plural. However, it is not a masculine second declension term, as was explained.
There does exist a Latin word virī, meaning "men" (the plural of vir, a second declension masculine noun), but it has a short i in the first syllable. The difference in vowel quantity is reflected in the different pronunciations of the (Latin-derived) English words virile and viral.
The form vīriī is impossible as a plural of vīrus since we only find the ending -iī in the plural form of masculine and feminine words ending in -ius. For instance, radius is pluralized by removing -us, to isolate the stem radi, and then adding the plural suffix -ī. Thus the -iī ending of the resulting word radiī is not a suffix: it is simply the consequence of adding the actual suffix ī to a stem that has an i as its last letter. An example of this in English is adding the suffix ing to the word ski, resulting in skiing. Vīriī would be the plural form of the putative, nonexistent word vīrius.
Even if the Latin plural were known, English speakers would not be obliged to use it. Examples of Latin loanwords into English which have regular English plurals in -(e)s include campus, bonus, anus and cancer. These stand beside counterexamples such as radius (radii) and alumnus (alumni). Still other words are commonly used with either one: corpus (corpora, or sometimes corpuses), formula (formulae in technical contexts, formulas in more everyday ones).
As an indication of usage, viruses appears in the official Scrabble words list, but neither viri nor virii does. Similarly, the spellchecker built into the Mozilla Firefox browser accepts viruses but neither viri nor virii.
Usage of virii within Internet communities has met with some resistance, most notably by Tom Christiansen, a figure in the Perl community, who researched the issue and wrote what eventually became referred to in various online discussions as the authoritative essay on the subject, favoring viruses instead of virii. The impetus of this discussion was the potential irony that the use of virii could be construed as a claim of superior knowledge of language when in fact more detailed research finds the naive viruses is actually more appropriate. (See hypercorrection.)
In life sciences, "viruses" generally refers to several distinct strains or species of virus. "Virus" is used in the original way as an uncountable mass noun, e.g. "a vial of virus". Individual, physical particles are called "virions" or simply "virus particles".
There are three plural forms of octopus: octopuses , octopi , and octopodes . Currently, octopuses is the most common form in the UK as well as the US; octopodes is rare, and octopi is often objectionable.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order); it labels octopodes "rare", and notes that octopi derives from the mistaken assumption that is a second declension Latin noun, which it is not. Rather, it is (Latinized) Ancient Greek, from (), gender masculine, whose plural is (). If the word were native to Latin, it would be ('eight-foot') and the plural , analogous to and , as the plural form of ('foot') is . In modern Greek, it is called (), gender neuter, with plural form ().
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary and the Compact Oxford Dictionary list only octopuses, although the latter notes that octopodes is "still occasionally used"; the British National Corpus has 29 instances of octopuses, 11 of octopi and 4 of octopodes. Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary lists octopuses and octopi, in that order; Webster's New World College Dictionary lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order).
Fowler's Modern English Usage states that "the only acceptable plural in English is octopuses," and that octopi is misconceived and octopodes pedantic.
The term octopod (plural octopods or octopodes) is taken from the taxonomic order Octopoda but has no classical equivalent. The collective form octopus is usually reserved for animals consumed for food.
The situation with the word platypus is similar to that of octopus; the word is etymologically Greek despite its Latinized ending, and so pluralizing it as if it were Latin (i.e. as platypi) is ill-considered. As with octopus, importing Greek morphology into English would have platypodes as the plural, but in practice this form is not well-attested. In scientific contexts biologists often use platypus as both the singular and plural form of the word, in the tradition of sheep or fish, but laypersons and scientists alike often use the simple English plural platypuses. There is no consensus on which of these two is correct, with different dictionaries making different recommendations.
As a word in Botanical Latin (as distinct from Classical Latin), cactus follows standard Latin rules for pluralization and becomes cacti, which has become the prevalent usage in English. Regardless, cactus is popularly used as both singular and plural, and is cited as both singular and plural. Cactuses is also an acceptable plural in English.
Facetious mock-erudite plurals in -i or even -ii are sometimes found for words ending with a sound (vaguely) similar to -us. Examples are stewardi (supposed plural of stewardess) and Elvii (as a plural for Elvis imitators). The Toyota corporation has determined that their Prius model should have the plural form Prii, even though the Latin word prius has a plural priora, the Lada Priora having prior claim to that name — though the common plural is "Priuses". The Winklevoss twins are sometimes collectively referred to as "the Winklevii".
English nouns are inflected for grammatical number – that is, if they are of the countable type, they generally have different forms for singular and plural. This article discusses the variety of ways in which English plural nouns are formed from the corresponding singular forms, as well as various issues concerning the usage of singulars and plurals in English. For plurals of pronouns, see English personal pronouns.
Phonological transcriptions provided in this article are for Received Pronunciation and General American. For more information, see English phonology.
The plural morpheme in English is suffixed to the end of most nouns. Regular English plurals fall into three classes, depending upon the sound that ends the singular form:
Where a singular noun ends in a sibilant sound —, , , , or — the plural is formed by adding . The spelling adds -es, or -s if the singular already ends in -e:
When the singular form ends in a voiceless consonant (other than a sibilant) —, , , (sometimes) or — the plural is formed by adding . The spelling adds -s:
For all other words (i.e. words ending in vowels or voiced non-sibilants) the regular plural adds , represented orthographically by -s:
Phonologically, these rules are sufficient to describe most English plurals. However, certain complications arise in the spelling of certain plurals, as described below.
With nouns ending in o preceded by a consonant, the plural in many cases is spelled by adding -es (pronounced ):
However many nouns of foreign origin, including almost all Italian loanwords, add only -s:
Nouns ending in a y preceded by a consonant usually drop the y and add -ies (pronounced (or in words where the y is pronounced ):
Words ending in quy also follow this pattern:
However, nouns of this type which are proper nouns (particularly names of people) form their plurals by simply adding -s: the two Kennedys, there are three Harrys in our office. With place names this rule is not always adhered to: Germanys and Germanies are both used, and Sicilies and Scillies are the standard plurals of Sicily and Scilly. Nor does the rule apply to words that are merely capitalized common nouns: P&O Ferries (from ferry).
Other exceptions include lay-bys and stand-bys.
Words ending in a y preceded by a vowel form their plurals by adding -s:
However the plural form (rarely used) of money is usually monies, although moneys is also found.
In Old and Middle English voiceless fricatives , mutated to voiced fricatives before a voiced ending. In some words this voicing survives in the modern English plural. In the case of changing to , the mutation is indicated in the orthography as well; also, a silent e is added in this case if the singular does not already end with -e:
In addition, there is one word where is voiced in the plural:
Many nouns ending in or (including all words where is represented orthographically by gh or ph) nevertheless retain the voiceless consonant:
Some can do either:
There are many other less regular ways of forming plurals, usually stemming from older forms of English or from foreign borrowings.
Some nouns have identical singular and plural. Many of these are the names of animals:
The plural deers is listed in some dictionaries. As a general rule, game or other animals are often referred to in the singular for the plural in a sporting context: "He shot six brace of pheasant", "Carruthers bagged a dozen tiger last year", whereas in another context such as zoology or tourism the regular plural would be used. Eric Partridge refers to these sporting terms as "snob plurals" and conjectures that they may have developed by analogy with the common English irregular plural animal words "deer", "sheep" and "trout". Similarly, nearly all kinds of fish have no separate plural form (though there are exceptions—such as rays, sharks or lampreys). As to the word fish itself, the plural is usually identical to the singular, although fishes is sometimes used, especially when meaning "species of fish". Fishes is also used in iconic contexts, such as the Bible story of the loaves and fishes, or the reference in The Godfather, "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."
Other nouns that have or may have identical singular and plural forms include:
Certain names of peoples are not inflected for the plural:
This includes most names for Native American peoples, for example:
Some exceptions include Algonquins, Apaches, Aztecs, Black Hawks, Chippewas, Hurons, Incas, Mayans, Mohawks, Oneidas, and Seminoles.
Certain other words borrowed from foreign languages such as Japanese and Māori are not inflected in the plural; see Irregular plurals from other languages below.
The plural of a few nouns can also be formed from the singular by adding -n or -en, stemming from the Old English weak declension. Only the following three are commonly found:
The following -(e)n plurals are found in dialectal, rare, or archaic usage:
The word box, referring to a computer, may be pluralized semi-humorously to boxen in the hacker subculture. In the same context, multiple VAX computers are sometimes called Vaxen particularly if operating as a cluster, but multiple Unix systems are usually Unices along the Latin model.
The plural is sometimes formed by simply changing the vowel sound of the singular (these are sometimes called mutated plurals):
This group consists of words that historically belong to the Old English consonantal declension, see Germanic umlaut: I-mutation in Old English. There are many compounds of man and woman that form their plurals in the same way: postmen, policewomen, etc.
When referring to the computer mouse, both mouses and mice are accepted.
The plural of mongoose is mongooses. Mongeese is wrong, as it is a back-formation by mistaken analogy to goose / geese. It is often used in a jocular context.
Some words have irregular plurals that do not fit any of the types given here.
English has borrowed a great many words from Latin and Classical Greek. The general trend with loanwords is toward what is called Anglicization or naturalization, that is, the re-formation of the word and its inflections as normal English words. Many nouns (particularly ones from Latin) have retained their original plurals for some time after they are introduced. Other nouns have become Anglicized, taking on the normal "s" ending. In some cases, both forms are still competing.
The choice of a form can often depend on context: for a linguist, the plural of appendix is appendices (following the original language); for physicians, however, the plural of appendix is appendixes. Likewise, a radio or radar engineer works with antennas, but an entomologist deals with antennae. The choice of form can also depend on the level of discourse: traditional Latin plurals are found more often in academic and scientific contexts, whereas in daily speech the Anglicized forms are more common. In the following table, the Latin plurals are listed, together with the Anglicized forms when these are more common.
Different paradigms of Latin pronunciation can lead to confusion as to the number or gender of the noun in question. As traditionally used in English, including scientific, medical, and legal contexts, Latin nouns retain the classical inflection with regard to spelling; however the pronunciation of those inflections are anglicized. The entomologist may write antennae but pronounces it /ænˈtɛni/. This may cause confusion for those who have learned a more authentic model of Latin pronunciation. The word alumnus/a is notorious in this regard, as a given inflection according to the traditional Anglicized model of Latin pronunciation sounds the same as a different number or gender in the more authentic model of pronunciation.
The fact that many of these plurals do not end in -s has led some of them to be reinterpreted as singular forms. This is particularly the case with the words datum and medium (as in a "medium of communication"), where the original plurals data and media are now, in many contexts, used more commonly as singular mass nouns: "The media is biased"; "This data shows us that ..." (although a number of scientists, especially of British origin, still say "These data show us that ..."). See below for more information. A similar process is causing words such as criteria and phenomena to be used as singular by some speakers, although this is still considered incorrect in standard usage (see below).
Scientific abbreviations for words of Latin origin ending in -a, such as SN for supernova, can form a plural by adding -e, as SNe for supernovae.
Some people treat process as if it belonged to this class, pronouncing processes instead of standard . Since the word comes from Latin processus, whose plural in the fourth declension is processūs with a long u, this pronunciation is by analogy, not etymology.
Axes , the plural of axis, is pronounced differently from axes , the plural of ax(e).
Colloquial usages based in a humorous fashion on the second declension include Elvii to refer to multiple Elvis impersonators and Loti, used by petrolheads to refer to Lotus automobiles in the plural.
Some Greek plurals are preserved in English (cf. Plurals of words of Greek origin):
See also French compounds below.
Foreign terms may take native plural forms, especially when the user is addressing an audience familiar with the language. In such cases, the conventionally formed English plural may sound awkward or be confusing.
Ot is pronounced os (with unvoiced s) in the Ashkenazi dialect.
Other nouns such as kimonos, ninjas, futons, and tsunamis are more often seen with a regular English plural.
The majority of English compound nouns have one basic term, or head, with which they end. These are nouns and are pluralized in typical fashion:
Some compounds have one head with which they begin. These heads are also nouns and the head usually pluralizes, leaving the second, adjectival, term unchanged:
It is common in informal speech to instead pluralize the last word in the manner typical of most English nouns, but in edited prose, the forms given above are preferred.
If a compound can be thought to have two heads, both of them tend to be pluralized when the first head has an irregular plural form:
Two-headed compounds in which the first head has a standard plural form, however, tend to pluralize only the final head:
In military usage, the term general, as part of an officer's title, is etymologically an adjective, but it has been adopted as a noun and thus a head, so compound titles employing it are pluralized at the end:
For compounds of three or more words that have a head (or a term functioning as a head) with an irregular plural form, only that term is pluralized:
For many other compounds of three or more words with a head at the front —especially in cases where the compound is ad hoc and/or the head is metaphorical— it is generally regarded as acceptable to pluralize either the first major term or the last (if open when singular, such compounds tend to take hyphens when plural in the latter case):
With a few extended compounds, both terms may be pluralized—again, with an alternative (which may be more prevalent, e.g., heads of state):
With extended compounds constructed around o', only the last term is pluralized (or left unchanged if it is already plural):
See also the Headless nouns section below.
Many English compounds have been borrowed directly from French, and these generally follow a somewhat different set of rules. French-loaned compounds with a head at the beginning tend to pluralize both words, according to French practice:
For compounds adopted directly from French where the head comes at the end, it is generally regarded as acceptable either to pluralize both words or only the last:
French-loaned compounds longer than two words tend to follow the rules of the original language, which usually involves pluralizing only the head at the beginning:
A distinctive case is the compound film noir. For this French-loaned artistic term, English-language texts variously use as the plural films noirs, films noir, and, most prevalently, film noirs. The 11th edition of the standard Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2006) lists film noirs as the preferred style. Three primary bases may be identified for this:
The plural of individual letters is normally written with -'s: there are two h's in this sentence; mind your p's and q's; dot the i's and cross the t's.
Some people extend this use of the apostrophe to other cases, such as plurals of numbers written in figures (e.g. "1990's"), words used as terms (e.g. "his writing uses a lot of but's"). However others prefer to avoid this method (which can lead to confusion with the possessive -'s), and write 1990s, buts; this is the style recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style.
Likewise, acronyms and initialisms are normally pluralized simply by adding (lowercase) -s, as in MPs, although the apostrophe is sometimes seen. Use of the apostrophe is more common in those cases where the letters are followed by periods (B.A.'s), or where the last letter is S (as in PS's and CAS's, although PSs and CASs are also acceptable; the ending -es is also sometimes seen).
English (like Latin and many other European languages) can form a plural of certain one-letter abbreviations by doubling the letter: p. ("page"), pp. ("pages"). Other examples include ll. ("lines"), ff. ("following lines/pages"), hh. ("hands", as a measure), PP. ("Popes"), ss. (or §§) ("sections"), vv. ("volumes"). Some multi-letter abbreviations can be treated the same way, by doubling the final letter: MS ("manuscript"), MSS ("manuscripts"); op. ("opus"), opp. ("opera" as plural of opus).
However often the abbreviation used for the singular is used also as the abbreviation for the plural; this is normal for most units of measurement and currency, as in 10 m ("10 metres").
In The Language Instinct, linguist Steven Pinker discusses what he calls "headless words", typically bahuvrihi compounds, like lowlife and flatfoot, in which life and foot are not heads semantically; that is, a lowlife is not a type of life, and a flatfoot is not a type of foot. When the common form of such a word is singular, it is treated as if it has a regular plural, even if the final constituent of the word is usually pluralized in a nonregular fashion. Thus the plural of lowlife is lowlifes, not "lowlives", according to Pinker. Other proposed examples include:
An exception is Blackfoot, of which the plural can be Blackfeet, though that form of the name is officially rejected by the Blackfoot First Nations of Canada.
Another analogous case is that of sport team names such as the Florida Marlins and Toronto Maple Leafs. For these, see Teams and their members below.
When a headless compound ends with an irregular plural noun, the compound may be pluralized by adding an -s to the irregular plural. An example is 10 pences, the plural of 10 pence meaning a 10-pence coin (also 10p's, pronounced "10 pees").
Some nouns have no singular form. Such a noun is called a plurale tantum. Examples include cattle, thanks, clothes (originally a plural of cloth).
A particular set of nouns, describing things having two parts, comprises the major group of pluralia tantum in modern English:
These words are interchangeable with a pair of scissors, a pair of trousers, and so forth. In the American fashion industry it is common to refer to a single pair of pants as a pant —though this is a back-formation, the English word (deriving from the French pantalon) was originally singular. In the same field, one half of a pair of scissors separated from the other half is, rather illogically, referred to as a half-scissor. Tweezers used to be part of this group, but tweezer has come into common usage only since the second half of the twentieth century.
There are also some plural nouns whose singular forms exist, though they are much more rarely encountered than the plurals:
Mass nouns (or uncountable nouns) do not represent distinct objects, so the singular and plural semantics do not apply in the same way. Some examples:
Some mass nouns can be pluralized, but the meaning in this case may change somewhat. For example, when I have two grains of sand, I do not have two sands; I have sand. There is more sand in your pile than in mine, not more sands. However, there could be the many "sands of Africa" — either many distinct stretches of sand, or distinct types of sand of interest to geologists or builders, or simply the allusive The Sands of Mars.
It is rare to pluralize furniture in this way and information is never pluralized.
There is only one class of atoms called oxygen, but there are several isotopes of oxygen, which might be referred to as different oxygens. In casual speech, oxygen might be used as shorthand for "oxygen atoms", but in this case, it is not a mass noun, so it is entirely sensible to refer to multiple oxygens in the same molecule.
One would interpret Bob's wisdoms as various pieces of Bob's wisdom (that is, don't run with scissors, defer to those with greater knowledge), deceits as a series of instances of deceitful behavior (lied on income tax, dated my wife), and the different idlenesses of the worker as plural distinct manifestations of the mass concept of idleness (or as different types of idleness, "bone lazy" versus "no work to do").
The pair specie and species both come from a Latin word meaning "kind", but they do not form a singular-plural pair. In Latin, specie is the ablative singular form, while species is the nominative form, which happens to be the same in both singular and plural. In English, species behaves similarly —as a noun with identical singular and plural— while specie is treated as a mass noun, referring to money in the form of coins (the idea is of "[payment] in kind").
Certain words which were originally plural in form have come to be used almost exclusively as singulars (usually uncountable); for example billiards, measles, news, mathematics, physics etc.
Some words of foreign origin are much better known in the plural; usage of the original singular may be considered pedantic or actually incorrect or worse by some speakers. In the examples below, the original plural is now commonly used as a singular, and in some cases a regular English plural (effectively a double plural) has been formed from it.
Magazine was derived from Arabic via French. It was originally plural, but in French and English, it is always regarded as singular.
Some other words whose plurals are sometimes misused as singulars include:
Some words have unusually formed singulars and plurals, but develop "normal" singular-plural pairs by back-formation. For example, pease (modern peas) was in origin a singular with plural peasen. However, pease came to be analysed as plural by analogy, from which a new singular pea was formed; the spelling of pease was also altered accordingly, surviving only in the name of the dish pease porridge or pease pudding. Similarly, termites was the three-syllable plural of termes; this singular was lost, however, and the plural form reduced to two syllables. Syringe is a back-formation from syringes, itself the plural of syrinx, a musical instrument. Cherry is from Norman French cherise. Phases was once the plural of phasis, but the singular is now phase.
Kudos is a singular Greek word meaning praise, but is often taken to be a plural. At present, however, kudo is considered an error, though the usage is becoming more common as kudos becomes better known. The name of the Greek sandwich style gyros is increasingly undergoing a similar transformation.
The term, from Latin, for the main upper arm flexor in the singular is the biceps muscle (from biceps brachii); however, many English speakers take it to be a plural and refer to the muscle of only one arm, by back-formation, as a bicep. The correct —although very seldom used— Latin plural would be bicipites.
The word sastrugi (hard ridges on deep snow) is of Russian origin and its singular is sastruga; but the imaginary Latin-type singular sastrugus has sometimes been used.
Geographical names may be treated as singular even if they are plural in form, if they are regarded as representing a single entity such as a country: The United States is a country in North America (similarly with the Netherlands, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, etc.) However if the sense is a group of geographical objects, such as islands or mountains, a plural-form name will be treated as plural: The Hebrides are a group of islands off the coast of Scotland.
A number of words like army, company, crowd, fleet, government, majority, mess, number, pack, and party may refer either to a single entity or the members of the set composing it. If the latter meaning is intended, the word (though singular in form) may be treated as if it were a plural, in that it may take a plural verb and be replaced with a plural pronoun: the government are considering their position (alternatively the government is considering its position). See synesis.
Thus, as H. W. Fowler describes, in British English they are "treated as singular or plural at discretion"; Fowler notes that occasionally a "delicate distinction" is made possible by discretionary plurals: "The Cabinet is divided is better, because in the order of thought a whole must precede division; and The Cabinet are agreed is better, because it takes two or more to agree."
Names of teams, including names of countries for national teams, can be treated the same way in British English, as in England are playing Germany tonight. In North American English, such words (if singular in form) are invariably treated as singular.
The following rules apply to the plurals of numerical terms such as dozen, score, hundred, thousand, million, and similar:
Nouns used attributively to qualify other nouns are generally in the singular, even though for example, a dog catcher catches more than one dog, and a department store has more than one department. This is true even for some binary nouns where the singular form is not found in isolation, such as a trouser mangle or the scissor kick. This is also true where the attribute noun is itself qualified with a number, such as a twenty-dollar bill, a ten-foot pole or a two-man tent. The plural is used for pluralia tantum nouns: a glasses case is for eyeglasses, while a glass case is made of glass (but compare eyeglass case); also an arms race versus arm wrestling. The plural may be used to emphasise the plurality of the attribute, especially in British English but very rarely in American English: a careers advisor, a languages expert. The plural is also more common with irregular plurals for various attributions: women killers are women who kill, whereas woman killers are those who kill women.
In the names of sports teams, sometimes a noun will be given a regular plural in -s even though that noun in normal use has an irregular plural form (a particular case of headless nouns as described above). For example, there are teams called the Florida Marlins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, even though the word marlin normally has its plural identical to the singular, and the plural of leaf is leaves. (This does not always apply; for example, there is the Minnesota Lynx, not *Lynxes.) Some teams use a non-standard plural spelling in their names, such as the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox.
When a sport team's name is plural, the corresponding singular is often used to denote a member of that team; for example a player for the Cincinnati Reds may be referred to as a (Cincinnati) Red. This also applies to the St. Louis Blues ice hockey team, even though it is named after the song the "St. Louis Blues", and thus blues was originally a singular identical to its plural.
When a team's name is plural in form but cannot be singularized by removing an -s, as in Boston Red Sox, the plural is sometimes used as a singular (a player may be referred to as "a Red Sox").
When a team's name is singular, as in Miami Heat and Colorado Avalanche, the same singular word may also sometimes be used to denote a player (a Heat, an Avalanche). When referring to more than one player, it is normal to use Heat players or Avalanche players (although in the latter case the team's plural-form nickname Avs is also available).
For the (especially British) treatment of teams as plural even if they have singular names, see Singulars with collective meaning treated as plural above.
Certain adjectives can be used, uninflected, as plurals denoting people of the designated type. For example unemployed and homeless can be used to mean "unemployed people" and "homeless people", as in There are two million unemployed. Such usage is common with the definite article, to denote people of a certain type generally: the unemployed, the homeless.
This is common with certain nationalities: the British, the Dutch, the English, the French, the Irish, the Spanish, the Welsh, and those where the adjective and noun singular and plural are identical anyway, including the Swiss and those in -ese (the Chinese etc.). In the case of most nationalities, however, the plural of the demonym noun is used for this purpose: (the) Americans, (the) Poles. Cases where the adjective formation is possible, but the noun provides a commonly used alternative, include the Scottish (or more commonly (the) Scots), the Danish (or (the) Danes), the Finnish (or (the) Finns), the Swedish (or (the) Swedes).
The noun is normally used anyway when referring to specific sets of people (five Frenchmen, a few Spaniards), although the adjective may be used especially in case of a group of mixed or unspecified sex, if the demonym nouns are gender-specific: there were five French (or French people) in the bar (if neither Frenchmen or Frenchwomen would be appropriate).
A double plural is a plural form to which an extra suffix has been added, mainly because the original plural suffix had become unproductive and therefore irregular. So the form as a whole was no longer seen as a plural (this is an instance of morphological leveling).
Examples of this can be seen in the history of English and Dutch. Historically, the general English plural markers were not only -s or -en but also (in certain specific declensions) -ra/-ru (which is still rather general today in German under the form -er). The ancient plural of child was "cildra/cildru", to which an -en suffix was later added when the -ra/-ru became unproductive; the Dutch plural form kind-er-en and the corresponding Zeelandic form kind-er-s are also double plurals which were formed in the same way as the English double plurals, while for example German and Limburgian have (historically conservative) single plurals such as Kind-er.
The plural, in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical category of number. Plural forms of nouns typically denote a quantity other than the default quantity represented by a noun, which is generally one (the form that represents this default quantity is said to be of singular number). Most commonly, therefore, plurals are used to denote two or more of something, although they may also denote fractional, zero or negative amounts. An example of a plural is the English word cats, which corresponds to the singular cat.
Plurality is a linguistic universal][, represented variously among the languages as a separate word, an affix, or by other morphological indications such as stress or implicit markers/context.
Words of other types, such as verbs, adjectives and pronouns, also frequently have distinct plural forms, which are used in agreement with the number of their associated nouns.
Some languages also have a dual (denoting exactly two of something) or other systems of number categories. However in English and many other languages, singular and plural are the only grammatical numbers, except for possible remnants of the dual in pronouns such as both and either.
In many languages, there is also a dual number (used for indicating two objects). Some other grammatical numbers present in various languages include trial (for three objects) and paucal (for an imprecise but small number of objects). In languages with dual, trial, or paucal numbers, plural refers to numbers higher than those. However, numbers besides singular, plural, and (to a lesser extent) dual are extremely rare. Languages with measure words such as Chinese and Japanese lack any significant grammatical number at all, though they are likely to have plural personal pronouns.
Some languages (like Mele-Fila) distinguish between a plural and a greater plural. A greater plural refers to an abnormally large number for the object of discussion. It should also be noted that the distinction between the paucal, the plural, and the greater plural is often relative to the type of object under discussion. For example, in discussing oranges, the paucal number might imply fewer than ten, whereas for the population of a country, it might be used for a few hundred thousand.
The Austronesian languages of Sursurunga and Lihir have extremely complex grammatical number systems, with singular, dual, paucal, greater paucal, and plural.
Traces of the dual and paucal can be found in some Slavic and Baltic languages (apart from those that preserve the dual number, such as Slovene). For example, Polish and Russian use different forms of nouns with the numerals 2, 3 or 4 (and higher numbers ending with these) than with the numerals 5, 6, etc. (genitive singular in Russian and nominative plural in Polish in the former case, genitive plural in the latter case).
Certain nouns in some languages have the unmarked form referring to multiple items, with an inflected form referring to a single item. These cases are described with the terms collective number and singulative number.
A given language may make plural forms of nouns by various types of inflection, including the addition of affixes, like the English -(e)s ending, and ablaut, as in the derivation of the plural geese from goose. It may be that some nouns are not marked for plural, like sheep and series in English. In languages which also have a case system, such as Latin and Russian, nouns can have not just one plural form but several, corresponding to the various cases. The inflection might affect multiple words, not just the noun; and the noun itself need not become plural as such, other parts of the expression indicate the plurality.
For details on the formation of plurals in Modern English, see English plural. For other languages, see the respective articles on those languages and their grammars.
In many languages, words other than nouns may take plural forms, these being used by way of grammatical agreement with plural nouns (or noun phrases). Such a word may in fact have a number of plural forms, to allow for simultaneous agreement within other categories such as case, person and gender, as well as marking of categories belonging to of the word itself (such as tense of verbs, degree of comparison of adjectives, etc.)
Verbs often agree with their subject in number (as well as in person and sometimes gender). Examples of plural forms are the French mangeons, mangez, mangent – respectively the first-, second- and third-person plural of the present tense of the verb manger. In English a distinction is made in the third person between forms such as eats (singular) and eat (plural).
Adjectives may agree with the noun they modify; examples of plural forms are the French petits and petites (the masculine plural and feminine plural respectively of petit). The same applies to some determiners – examples are the French plural definite article les, and the English demonstratives these and those.
It is common for pronouns, particularly personal pronouns, to have distinct plural forms. Examples in English are we (us, etc.) and they (them etc.; see English personal pronouns), and again these and those (when used as demonstrative pronouns).
There are also nouns found exclusively or almost exclusively in the plural, such as the English scissors. There are referred to with the term plurale tantum.
The plural is used, as a rule, for quantities other than one (and other than those quantities represented by other grammatical numbers, such as dual, which a language may possess). Thus it is frequently used with numbers higher than one (two cats, 101 dogs, four and a half hours) and for unspecified amounts of countable things (some men, several cakes, how many lumps?, birds have feathers). The precise rules for the use of plurals, however, depend on language – for example Russian uses the genitive singular rather than the plural after certain numbers (see above).
Treatments differ in expressions of zero quantity: English often uses the plural in such expressions as no injuries and zero points, although no (and zero in some contexts) may also take a singular. In French, the singular form is used after zéro.
English also tends to use the plural with decimal fractions, even if less than one, as in 0.3 metres, 0.9 children. Common fractions less than one tend to be used with singular expressions: half (of) a loaf, two-thirds of a mile. Negative numbers are usually treated the same as the corresponding positive ones: minus one degree, minus two degrees. Again, rules on such matters differ between languages.
In some languages, including English, expressions that appear to be singular in form may be treated as plural if they are used with a plural sense, as in the government are agreed. The reverse is also possible: the United States is a powerful country. See synesis, and also English plural: Singulars as plural and plurals as singular.
In part-of-speech tagging notation is used to distinguish different types of plurals based on the grammatical and semantic context. Resolution varies, for example the Penn-Treebank tagset (~36 tags) has two tags: NNS - noun, plural, and NPS - Proper noun, plural, while the CLAWS 7 tagset (~149 tags) uses six: NN2 - plural common noun, NNL2 - plural locative noun, NNO2 - numeral noun, plural, NNT2 - temporal noun, plural, NNU2 - plural unit of measurement, NP2 - plural proper noun.
A reduplicated plural is a grammatical form achieved by the superfluous use of a second plural ending.
In English the plural is usually formed with the addition of 's': e.g. one cat, two cats; one chair, two chairs. In the Sussex dialect, however, until relatively recently there existed a reduplicated plural: e.g. one ghost, two ghostes/ghostesses; one post, two postes/postesses (note that here the Sussex pluralisation instead of adding just 's' after 'st', adds either 'es' as its usual plural, or a reduplicated 'esses'. Kipling in Puck of Pook's Hill uses the Sussex reduplicated plural, employing for example 'pharisees' for fairies.
For the case when two different plural endings have historically been added on to a word (but one of them is no longer synchronically felt to have to have plural force, or even to be a distinct morpheme), see Double plural.
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions (such as "one", "two", or "three or more"). In many languages including English, the number categories are singular and plural. Some languages also have a dual number or other arrangements.
The count distinctions typically, but not always, correspond to the actual count of the referents of the marked noun or pronoun.
The word "number" is also used in linguistics to describe the distinction between certain grammatical aspects that indicate the number of times an event occurs, such as the semelfactive aspect, the iterative aspect, etc. For that use of the term, see "Grammatical aspect".
Most languages of the world have formal means to express differences of number. One widespread distinction, found in English and many other languages, involves a simple two-way number contrast between singular and plural (car/cars, child/children, etc.). Discussion of other more elaborate systems of number appears below.
Grammatical number is a morphological category characterized by the expression of quantity through inflection or agreement. As an example, consider the English sentences below:
The number of apples is marked on the noun—"apple" singular number (one item) vs. "apples" plural number (more than one item)—on the demonstrative, "that/those", and on the verb, "is/are". Note that, especially in the second sentence, all this information can seem redundant, since quantity is already indicated by the numeral "two".
A language has grammatical number when its nouns are subdivided into morphological classes according to the quantity they express, such that:
This is the case in English: every noun is either singular or plural (a few, such as "fish", can be either, according to context), and at least some modifiers of nouns—namely the demonstratives, the personal pronouns, the articles, and verbs—are inflected to agree with the number of the nouns to which they refer: "this car" and "these cars" are correct, while "*this cars" or "*these car" are ungrammatical and, therefore, incorrect. Only count nouns can be freely used in the singular and in the plural. Mass nouns, like "wine", "silverware", and "wisdom", are normally used in only the singular. Many languages distinguish between count nouns and mass nouns.
Not all languages have number as a grammatical category. In those that do not, quantity must be expressed either directly, with numerals, or indirectly, through optional quantifiers. However, many of these languages compensate for the lack of grammatical number with an extensive system of measure words.
There is a hierarchy among number categories: no language distinguishes a trial unless having a dual, and no language has dual without a plural.
Obligatory plural marking of all nouns is found throughout western and northern Eurasia and in most parts of Africa. The rest of the world presents a heterogeneous picture. Optional plural marking is particularly common in Southeast and East Asia and Australia, and complete lack of plural marking is particularly found in New Guinea and Australia. In addition to the areal correlations, there also seems to be at least one correlation with morphological typology: Isolating languages appear to favor no or non-obligatory plural marking. This can be seen particularly in Africa, where optionality or absence of plural marking is found particularly in the isolating languages of West Africa.
English is typical of most world languages, in distinguishing only between singular and plural number. The plural form of a noun is usually created by adding the suffix -(e)s. The pronouns have irregular plurals, as in "I" versus "we", because they are ancient and frequently used words. English verbs distinguish singular from plural number in the third person ("He goes" versus "They go").
Swedish inflects nouns in singular and plural. The plural of the noun is usually obtained by adding a suffix, according to the noun's declension. The suffixes are as follows: -or in the 1st declension (e.g. flicka - flickor), -ar in the 2nd (e.g. bil - bilar), -er in the 3rd (e.g. katt - katter), -n in the 4th (e.g. äpple - äpplen) and no inflectional suffix is added for the nouns in the 5th declension (e.g. bord - bord). Verbs in Swedish do not distinguish singular from plural number.
In modern Romance languages, nouns, adjectives and articles are declined according to number (singular or plural only). Verbs are conjugated for number as well as person.
In its written form, French declines nouns for number (singular or plural). In speech, however, the majority of nouns (and adjectives) are not for the most part declined for number. This is because the typical plural suffix -s or -es, is silent, and thus does not really indicate a change in pronunciation. Some report that spoken number marking on the noun appears when liaison occurs.
Normally, the article or determiner is the primary indicator of number.
In Modern Hebrew, a Semitic language, most nouns have only singular and plural forms, such as ספר "book" and ספרים "books", but some have distinct dual forms using a distinct dual suffix (largely nouns pertaining to numbers or time, such as אלפיים "two thousand" and שבועיים "two weeks"), some use this dual suffix for their regular plurals (largely body parts that tend to come in pairs, such as עיניים "eyes", as well as some that do not, such as שיניים "teeth"), and some are inherently dual (such as מכנסיים "pants" and אופניים "bicycle"). Adjectives, verbs, and pronouns agree with their subjects' or antecedents' numbers, but only have a two-way distinction between singular and plural; dual nouns entail plural adjectives, verbs, and pronouns.
Modern Russian has a singular vs plural number system, but the declension of noun phrases containing numeral expressions follows complex rules. For example, "У меня есть одна книга / три книги / пять книг" ("I have one book-nom.sing. / three book-gen.sing. / five book-gen.plur."). See Dual number: Slavic languages for a discussion of number phrases in Russian and other Slavic languages.
The numeral "one" also has a plural form, used with pluralia tantum: одни джинсы / одни часы "one pair of jeans, one clock". The same form is used with countable nouns in meaning "only": Кругом одни идиоты "There are only idiots around".
The Finnish language has a plural form of almost every noun case (except the comitative, which is formally only plural).
talo – house
talot – houses
taloissa – in the houses
However, when a number is used, or a word signifying a number (monta- many), the singular version of the partitive case is used.
kolme taloa – three houses
and where no specific number is mentioned, the plural version of the partitive case is used
and in the possessive (genitive)
talon ovi (the house's door) talojen ovet (the houses' doors)
In most languages with grammatical number, nouns, and sometimes other parts of speech, have two forms, the singular, for one instance of a concept, and the plural, for more than one instance. Usually, the singular is the unmarked form of a word, and the plural is obtained by inflecting the singular. This is the case in English: car/cars, box/boxes, man/men. There may be exceptional nouns whose plural is identical to the singular: one sheep/two sheep.
Some languages differentiate between an unmarked form, the collective, which is indifferent in respect to number, and a marked form for single entities, called the singulative in this context. For example, in Welsh, moch ("pigs") is a basic form, whereas a suffix is added to form mochyn ("pig"). It is the collective form which is more basic, and it is used as an adjectival modifier, e.g. cig moch ("pig meat", "pork"). The collective form is therefore similar in many respects to an English mass noun like "rice", which in fact refers to a collection of items which are logically countable. However, English has no productive process of forming singulative nouns (just phrases such as "a grain of rice"). Therefore, English cannot be said to have a singulative number.
In other languages, singulatives can be regularly formed from collective nouns; e.g. Standard Arabic حجر ḥajar "stone" → حجرة ḥajara "(individual) stone", بقر baqar "cattle" → بقرة baqara "(single) cow". In Russian, the suffix for forming singulative form is -ин- -in-; e.g. град grad "hail" → градина gradina "hailstone", лёд lyod "ice" → льдина l'dina "block of ice". In both Russian and Arabic, the singulative form always takes on the feminine gender. In Dutch, singulative forms of collective nouns are occasionally made by diminutives: snoep "sweets, candy" → snoepje "sweet, piece of candy". These singulatives can be pluralised like most other nouns: snoepjes "several sweets, pieces of candy".
The distinction between a "singular" number (one) and a "plural" number (more than one) found in English is not the only possible classification. Another one is "singular" (one), "dual" (two) and "plural" (more than two). Dual number existed in Proto-Indo-European, persisted in many ancient Indo-European languages that descended from it—Sanskrit, Ancient Greek and Gothic for example—and can still be found in a few modern Indo-European languages such as Slovene. Many more modern Indo-European languages show residual traces of the dual, as in the English distinctions both vs. all, either vs. any, neither vs. none, and so on. (Note, however, that Norwegian både, for example, though cognate with English both, can be used with more than two things, as in X sparer både tid, penger, og arbeid, literally "X saves both time, money, and labour".)
Many Semitic languages also have dual number. For instance, in Arabic all nouns can have singular, plural, or dual forms. For non-broken plurals, masculine plural nouns end with ون and feminine plural nouns end with ات , whilst ان , is added to the end of a noun to indicate that it is dual (even among nouns that have broken plurals).
Pronouns in Polynesian languages such as Tahitian exhibit the singular, dual, and plural numbers.
The trial number is a grammatical number referring to 'three items', in contrast to 'singular' (one item), 'dual' (two items), and 'plural' (four or more items). Several Austronesian or Austronesian-based languages such as Tolomako, Lihir, Manam, Bislama, and some][ registers][ of Tok Pisin have trial number in their pronouns; no language is known with trial number in its nouns.][
The quadral number, if it existed, would denote four items together, as trial does three. No natural language has it, nor is there any proof that any natural language ever did. It was once thought to exist in the pronoun systems of Marshallese, spoken in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and in Sursurunga (Hutchisson 1986), in Tangga (Capell 1971:260-262; Beaumont 1976:390), and in several other Austronesian languages. While not all of these languages are adequately attested, it turns out that Sursurunga instead has both a "lesser paucal" (labeled "trial", but in fact referring to small groups, with typically three or four members) and a "greater paucal" (misnamed the "quadral", as it has a minimum of four, e.g. a pair of dyadic kin terms)—the distinction is along the lines of "a few" vs. "several";—and that what Marshallese actually has is a trial and a paucal. None of them has a "quadral"; in at least two cases the field workers who originally suggested they did have a "quadral" were also the first to publish a peer-reviewed article contradicting that suggestion.
Paucal number, for a few (as opposed to many) instances of the referent (e.g. in Hopi, Warlpiri, some Oceanic languages, and in Arabic for some nouns). Paucal number has also been documented in some Cushitic languages of Ethiopia, including Baiso, which marks singular, paucal, plural. When paucal number is used in Arabic, it generally refers to ten or fewer instances.
Distributive plural number, for many instances viewed as independent individuals (for example, in Navajo).
Synthetic languages typically distinguish grammatical number by inflection. (Note that analytic languages, such as Chinese, do not have grammatical number.) Some languages have no marker for the plural in certain cases, e. g. Swedish hus – "house, houses" (but huset – "the house", husen – "the houses"). In most languages, the singular is formally unmarked, whereas the plural is marked in some way. Other languages, most notably the Bantu languages, mark both the singular and the plural, for instance Swahili (see example below). The third logical possibility, rarely found in languages, is an unmarked plural contrasting with marked singular. Below are some examples of number affixes for nouns (where the inflecting morphemes are underlined):
Elements marking number may appear on nouns and pronouns in dependent-marking languages or on verbs and adjectives in head-marking languages.
In the English sentence above, the plural suffix -s is added to the noun cowboy. In the equivalent in Western Apache, a head-marking language, a plural infix da- is added to the verb yiłch’ígó’aah "he is teaching him", resulting in yiłch’ídagó’aah "he is teaching them" while noun idilohí "cowboy" is unmarked for number.
Plurality is sometimes marked by a specialized number particle (or number word). This is frequent in Australian and Austronesian languages. An example from Tagalog is the word mga [mɐˈŋa]: compare bahay "house" with mga bahay "houses". In Kapampangan, certain nouns optionally denote plurality by secondary stress: ing laláki "man" and ing babái "woman" become ding láláki "men" and ding bábái "women".
In Sanskrit and some other languages, number and case are fused category and there is concord for number between a noun and its predicator. Some languages however (for example, Assamese) lack this feature.
Languages that show number inflection for a large enough corpus of nouns and/or allow them to combine directly with singular and plural numerals can be described as non-classifier languages. On the other hand, there are languages that obligatorily require a counter word or the so-called classifier for all nouns. For example, the category of number in Assamese is fused with the category of classifier, which always carries a definite/indefinite reading. The singularity or plurality of the noun is determined by the addition of the classifier suffix either to the noun or to the numeral. Number system in Assamese is either realized as numeral or as nominal inflection, but not both. Numerals [ek] 'one' and [dui] 'two', can be realized as both free morpheme and clitics. When used with classifiers, these two numerals are cliticised to the classifiers.
In many languages, such as English, number is obligatorily expressed in every grammatical context. Some limit number expression to certain classes of nouns, such as animates or referentially prominent nouns (as with proximate forms in most Algonquian languages, opposed to referentially less prominent obviative forms). Still others, like Chinese and Japanese, number marking is not consistently applied to most nouns unless a distinction is needed or already present.
A very common situation is for plural number to not be marked if there is any other overt indication of number, as for example in Hungarian: virág "flower"; virágok "flowers"; hat virág "six flowers".
Many languages, such as Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Malay, have optional number marking. In such cases, an unmarked noun is neither singular nor plural, but rather ambiguous as to number. This is called transnumeral or sometimes general number, abbreviated . Many such languages have optional number marking, which tends to be used for definite and highly animate referents, most notable first-person pronouns.
The languages of the Tanoan family have three numbers – singular, dual, and plural – and exhibit an unusual system of marking number, called inverse number (or number toggling). In this scheme, every countable noun has what might be called its "inherent" or "expected" numbers, and is unmarked for these. When a noun appears in an "inverse" (atypical) number, it is inflected to mark this. For example, in Jemez, where nouns take the ending -sh to denote an inverse number, there are four noun classes which inflect for number as follows:
As can be seen, class-I nouns are inherently singular, class-II nouns are inherently plural, class-III nouns are inherently singular or plural. Class-IV nouns cannot be counted and are never marked with -sh. (From Sprott 1992, p. 53.)
A similar system is seen in Kiowa (Kiowa is distantly related to Tanoan languages like Jemez):
(See also Taos language: Number inflection for a description of inverse number suffixes in another Tanoan language.)
In many languages, verbs are conjugated according to number. Using French as an example, one says je vois (I see), but nous voyons (we see). The verb voir (to see) changes from vois in the first person singular to voyons in the plural. In everyday English, this often happens in the third person (she sees, they see), but not in other grammatical persons, except with the verb to be.
Adjectives often agree with the number of the noun they modify. For example, in French, one says un grand arbre "a tall tree", but deux grands arbres "two tall trees". The singular adjective grand becomes grands in the plural, unlike English "tall", which remains unchanged.
Other determiners may agree with number. In English, the demonstratives "this", "that" change to "these", "those" in the plural, and the indefinite article "a", "an" is either omitted or changes to "some". In French and German, the definite articles have gender distinctions in the singular but not the plural. In Spanish and Portuguese, both definite and indefinite articles are inflected for gender and number, e.g. Portuguese o, a "the" (singular, masc./fem.), os, as "the" (plural, masc./fem.); um, uma "a(n)" (singular, masc./fem.), uns, umas "some" (plural, masc./fem.), dois, duas "two" (plural, masc./fem.),
In the Finnish sentence Yöt ovat pimeitä "Nights are dark", each word referring to the plural noun yöt "nights" ("night" = yö) is pluralized (night-PL is-PL dark-PL-partitive).
Sometimes, grammatical number will not represent the actual quantity. For example, in Ancient Greek neuter plurals took a singular verb. The plural form of a pronoun may also be applied to a single individual as a sign of importance, respect or generality, as in the pluralis majestatis, the T-V distinction, and the generic "you", found in many languages, or, in English, when using the singular "they" for gender-neutrality.
In Arabic, the plural of a non-human noun (one that refers to an animal or to an inanimate entity regardless of whether the noun is grammatically masculine or feminine in the singular) is treated as feminine singular—this is called the inanimate plural. For example:
A collective noun is a word that designates a group of objects or beings regarded as a whole, such as "flock", "team", or "corporation". Although many languages treat collective nouns as singular, in others they may be interpreted as plural. In British English, phrases such as the committee are meeting are common (the so-called agreement in sensu "in meaning"; with the meaning of a noun, rather than with its form). The use of this type of construction varies with dialect and level of formality.
All languages are able to specify the quantity of referents. They may do so by lexical means with words such as English a few, some, one, two, five hundred. However, not every language has a grammatical category of number. Grammatical number is expressed by morphological and/or syntactic means. That is, it is indicated by certain grammatical elements, such as through affixes or number words. Grammatical number may be thought of as the indication of semantic number through grammar.
Languages that express quantity only by lexical means lack a grammatical category of number. For instance, in Khmer, neither nouns nor verbs carry any grammatical information concerning number: such information can only be conveyed by lexical items such as khlah 'some', pii-bey 'a few', and so on.
Auxiliary languages often have fairly simple systems of grammatical number. In one of the most common schemes (found, for example, in Interlingua and Ido), nouns and pronouns distinguish between singular and plural, but not other numbers, and adjectives and verbs do not display any number agreement. Note however that in Esperanto adjectives must agree in both number and case with the nouns that they qualify.