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 Уmann-isФ. The УiФ 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 УiФ 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 Уa peopleФ, УpeoplesФ, signifies УnationФ).
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 Уfourteen-nightФ). Forty head of cattle. Twelve pound weight. Ten sail of the line. A six-penny piece.
Note. Ц 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 УceФ being a substitute for УsФ.
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 Уthe old folkФ.
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 Уthe pod contained 9peaФ
Pease, Material Noun, as Уpease puddingФ.
Penny Pennies penny-pieces (Distributive).
Pence (Collective), as in УsixpenceФ.
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, УHe had two shotsФ
Different senses of Singular and 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:
Colour Colour Colours 1. Kinds of
2. Flag of
Custom Habit Custom 1. Habit
2. Toll or tax.
ElementSimple substance Elements 1.Simple
2. Rudiments of
of a subject.
EffectResult Effects 1. Results.
2. Goods and
Letter 1. Of alphabet Letters 1. Of alphabet.
2. Epistle2. Epistles.
MannerMode or way Manners 1.Modes, ways.
NumberAs in counting Numbers 1.As in counting
Pain Suffering Pains 1. Suffering
Part Portion Part 1. Portion
PremiseA statement or proposition Premises 1.Propositions.
QuarterA fourth part Quarter 1.Fourth parts.
SpectacleAnything seen Spectacle 1.Things seen.
Two meanings in the Singular against one in the Plural:
Abuse Wrong uses Abuses Wrong uses
Foot Parts of body Feet Parts of body
Horse Quadruped Horses Quadrupeds
Issue Result Issues Results
Light Lamp Lights Lamps
People Nation Peoples Nations
Powder Medicinal mixture Powders Medicinal
Practice Habitual act Practices Habitual acts
Wood A forest Woods Forests
True Singulars used as Plurals. Ц By a УTrue SingularФ we mean that the final УsФ 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 УsФ; and all except the first of these named below are now always used as if they were Plural.
Summons(Fr. semonce). Ц This noun is still correctly used as a Singular; as УI received a summons to attendФ; УThis summons reached me to-day.Ф The plural form is summonses.
Alms(A.S. selmesse). Ц УHe asked an almsФ(New Testament). But now the word is generally used as if it were Plural; as, УI gave alms to the beggar, and for these he thanked me.Ф
Eaves(A.S. efese). Ц The edge or lower borders of the roof of a house. The word is now always used as a Plural; as, УThe eaves are not yet finished.Ф
Riches(Fr. Richesse). Ц This too is really a Singular; as, УIn 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, УRiches do not last for ever.Ф
Cherries(Mid. Eng. cheris): cf. Latin, ceras-us, Ц The s looked so like a Plural ending, that a Singular cherry was coined.
Peas(A.S. pis-a. Singular). Ц When the a was lost, the final s looked like a Plural; so a Singular pea was coined; УThe vaunting poets found nought worth a peaseФ. Ц spencer. УOf the bigness of a great peaze. Ц raleigh, Hist. World (Spelt with a 2 by Raleigh, because it was so pronounced).
True Plurals used as Singulars. ЦIn such nouns the final s is really a sign of the Plural:
Amends. Ц This is sometimes used as a Singular and sometimes as a Plural: as, УAn honourable amendsФ (ADDISON).
Means. Ц This is now almost always used as a Singular; as, УBy this meansФ.
News. Ц This is now almost always used as a Singular; as, УIll news runs apace.Ф Mid. Eng. new-es (plural); French nouvelles.
Innings. Ц 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, УWe have not yet had an inningsФ; УOur eleven beat the other by an innings and ten runs.Ф
Gallows. Ц The framework from which criminals are hanged. This noun is used as a Singular; as, УThey fixed up a gallows.Ф
Odds. Ц A word used in betting to denote the difference of one wager against another. УWe gave him a heavy odds against ourselves.Ф
Sledge. Ц A respelling of sleds, plural of sled, which is still used in Canada for УsledgeФ. This is always used as Singular: УA sledge (сани, они) is sliding down the slopeФ.