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PECULIAR PLURALS: ORIGIN AND USES

Man, men, etc.The eight Plurals are called Mutation-plurals, because they are formed by a change or mutation of the inside vowel of the singular. Once there were many more such plurals than there are now. The original plural of man was mann-is. The i in the ending -is had the effect of changing the a of mann or man into a sound more like itself; thus mann-is became menn-is. The effect of i in thus changing the preceding vowel is called Vowel-mutation in English and Umlaut in German. When the -is was dropped, nothing but the vowel-change was left to distinguish the Plural from the Singular. This Mutation-method became obsolete when the Anglo-Saxon system of grammar decayed.

Ox, oxen, etc.The four Plurals are formed by a process that is now as obsolete as that of vowel-mutation. In Old English -an (now written -en) was not as common as a then Plural ending -as (now written -es or -s). But -as or -es became much more common when the decay of Anglo-Saxon was setting in. Afterwards, when French influence had begun to work (about 200 years after the Norman Conquest), the French Plural in -s helped to drive the nail home, so that -s or -es became eventually the sign of the Plural for almost all our nouns.

Foreign Plurals.We have some Plurals which have been borrowed direct from foreign nouns:

Latin Plurals: from -urn (sing.) to -a (plur.); addend-a, agend-a, dat-a, errat-a, strat-a, memorand-a (or memorand-ums); from -us (sing.) to -i (plur.); alumn-i, fung-i, radi-i, geni-i (or genius-es). Other Latin Plurals are: genera (genus), stamina (stamen), indices (index), series (series), species (species), apparatus (apparatus).

Greek Plurals: from -is (sing.) to -es (plur.): analyses, bases, hypotheses, parentheses, oases; from -on (sing.) to -a (plur.): phenomen-a, criteri-a.

Italian Plurals: banditti (or bandits), dilettanti.

French Plurals: beaux, bureaux, chateaux, messieurs, mesdames.

Hebrew Plurals: cherubim (or cherubs), seraphim (or seraphs).

Nouns of Multitude.These are a kind of Collective nouns which have a plural sense, though they remain singular in form.




The poultry (= fowls) are doing well. These cattle

(= cows) are mine. These vermin (= insects, etc.) do much harm. These people (= persons) have returned home. (People, when preceded by a or used in the Plural number, as a people, peoples, signifies nation).

Some nouns, which take a Plural at ordinary times, use the Singular instead of the Plural to express some specific quantity or number: A twelve-month period. A three-foot rule. An eight-day clock. A six-year-old horse. A fort-night (contraction of fourteen-night). Forty head of cattle. Twelve pound weight. Ten sail of the line. A six-penny piece.

 

Note. Six-pence has a Collective sense denoting a single coin, which makes the noun appear to be Singular, so that we say a sixpence (Singular), sixpences (Plural). The latter is really a double Plural, the ce being a substitute for s.

Two forms of Plural, each with a separate meaning:

Brother Brothers sons of the same mother,

Brethren members of the same society.

Cherub Cherubim angels of a certain rank.

Cherubs images or models of a cherub.

 

 

Cloth Cloths kinds or pieces of cloth (Distributive).

Clothes articles of dress (Collective).

 

 

Cow Cows There is no real difference, except that kine.

Kine has now become archaic.

Die Dies stamps for coining (Distributive).

Dice small cubes used in games (Collective).

 

 

FolkFolk men or persons, as the old folk.

Folks nations (obsolete or very rare).

Genius Geniuses men of genius or talent.

Genii fabulous spirits of the air.

 

Index Indexes tables of contents.

Indices signs used in algebra.

 

Pea Peas, Common Noun, as the pod contained 9pea

Pease, Material Noun, as pease pudding.

Penny Pennies penny-pieces (Distributive).

Pence (Collective), as in sixpence.

Staff Staves sticks or poles,

Staff departments in the army,

 

Stamen Stamens male organs of flowers.

Stamina endurance, vigour, lit. threads.

Shot Shot little balls discharged from a gun.

Shots discharges; as, He had two shots

Different senses of Singular and Plural:

Singular Plural.

Advice, counsel. Advices, information.

Air, atmosphere. Airs, demeanour.

Ban, a course (under a ban) Banns,announcements

(banns of marriage)

Beef, flesh of ox Beeves,cattle,bulls and cows.

Compass, range or extend. Compasses, instruments.

Copper, a metal. Coppers, pennies, pence.

Domino, a cape with a hood Dominoes, the game so-called.

Forces, strength or energy. Forces, army.

Good, benefit. Goods, movable property.

Iron, a metal Irons, fetters made of iron

Physic, medecine. Physics, natural science.

Return, coming back. Returns, statistics.

Salt, seasoning substance. Salts, smelling salts.

Sand, pulverised rock. Sands, a tract of sandy land.

Vapour, invisible steam. Vapours, dejection, low spirits.

Vesper, evening. Vespers, evening prayers.

Waters, the element Waters, springs, masses of water, etc

 

Two meanings in the Plural against one in the Singular:

 

Singular. Plural.

 

Colour Colour Colours 1. Kinds of

colour

2. Flag of

regiment

Custom Habit Custom 1. Habit

2. Toll or tax.

ElementSimple substance Elements 1.Simple

substances.

2. Rudiments of

first principles

of a subject.

 

EffectResult Effects 1. Results.

2. Goods and

chat tel(s).

 

Letter 1. Of alphabet Letters 1. Of alphabet.

2. Epistle2. Epistles.

3. Literature.

 

MannerMode or way Manners 1.Modes, ways.

2.Behaviour

 

NumberAs in counting Numbers 1.As in counting

2. Poetry.

Pain Suffering Pains 1. Suffering

2Trouble, care.

 

Part Portion Part 1. Portion

2. Abilities.

PremiseA statement or proposition Premises 1.Propositions.

2. Buildings.

QuarterA fourth part Quarter 1.Fourth parts.

2. Lodgings.

SpectacleAnything seen Spectacle 1.Things seen.

2. Eyeglasses.

Two meanings in the Singular against one in the Plural:


Singular. Plural.

 

Abuse Wrong uses Abuses Wrong uses

Reproaches

 

Foot Parts of body Feet Parts of body

Infantry

 

Horse Quadruped Horses Quadrupeds

Cavalry

Issue Result Issues Results

Offspring

 

Light Lamp Lights Lamps

Radiance

 

People Nation Peoples Nations

Persons

 

Powder Medicinal mixture Powders Medicinal

Gunpowder mixtures

 

Practice Habitual act Practices Habitual acts

Professional connection


Stone Piece of rock Stones Pieces of rock

Fourteen pounds

 

Wood A forest Woods Forests

Timber

True Singulars used as Plurals. By a True Singular we mean that the final s is part of the original Singular noun, and not a sign of the Plural.

Such nouns, though Singular by etymology, are liable to be considered Plural on account of the final s; and all except the first of these named below are now always used as if they were Plural.

Summons(Fr. semonce). This noun is still correctly used as a Singular; as I received a summons to attend; This summons reached me to-day. The plural form is summonses.

Alms(A.S. selmesse). He asked an alms(New Testament). But now the word is generally used as if it were Plural; as, I gave alms to the beggar, and for these he thanked me.

Eaves(A.S. efese). The edge or lower borders of the roof of a house. The word is now always used as a Plural; as, The eaves are not yet finished.

Riches(Fr. Richesse). This too is really a Singular; as, In one hour is so great riches come to naught (New Testament); but now, on account of the final s, this noun is always used as a Plural; as, Riches do not last for ever.

Cherries(Mid. Eng. cheris): cf. Latin, ceras-us, The s looked so like a Plural ending, that a Singular cherry was coined.

Peas(A.S. pis-a. Singular). When the a was lost, the final s looked like a Plural; so a Singular pea was coined; The vaunting poets found nought worth a pease. spencer. Of the bigness of a great peaze. raleigh, Hist. World (Spelt with a 2 by Raleigh, because it was so pronounced).

True Plurals used as Singulars. In such nouns the final s is really a sign of the Plural:

Amends. This is sometimes used as a Singular and sometimes as a Plural: as, An honourable amends (ADDISON).

Means. This is now almost always used as a Singular; as, By this means.

News. This is now almost always used as a Singular; as, Ill news runs apace. Mid. Eng. new-es (plural); French nouvelles.

Innings. This is a word used in cricket to denote the turn for going in and using the bat. It is always used as a Singular; as, We have not yet had an innings; Our eleven beat the other by an innings and ten runs.

Gallows. The framework from which criminals are hanged. This noun is used as a Singular; as, They fixed up a gallows.

Odds. A word used in betting to denote the difference of one wager against another. We gave him a heavy odds against ourselves.

Sledge. A respelling of sleds, plural of sled, which is still used in Canada for sledge. This is always used as Singular: A sledge (, ) is sliding down the slope.

 




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