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Are there singular/plural pairs in english with completely different spellings?
September 26, 2008 11:41 AM   Subscribe

In French, the singular of eye is "oiel" and the plural is "yeux." Are there any nouns in English that have completely different spellings of the singular and plural like this?
posted by Crosius to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is called "suppletion" and the only cases I can think of off the top of my head in English are in other lexical categories, as in verbs (e.g. "go" and "went") or adjectives (e.g. "good" and "better").
posted by tractorfeed at 11:52 AM on September 26, 2008


Cow and kine?
posted by booksprite at 12:00 PM on September 26, 2008


The closest I can think of is mouse and mice.
posted by hazyjane at 12:01 PM on September 26, 2008


"Oiel" and "yeux" are spelled differently, but they still sound similar , with the swallowed 'y.' One example is "person" and "people," though "persons" is infrequently used.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:02 PM on September 26, 2008


Bugger, those links are redirected to the main page. You can mouse over for the correct URLs.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:03 PM on September 26, 2008


With "suppletion" as a clue, I have discovered (been reminded of) a few, like:
cow --> cattle, kine
pig --> swine
But these are not the common plurals (ie. we generally say "pigs" and "cows", these days)
posted by Crosius at 12:06 PM on September 26, 2008


"Oeil" and "yeux" are lexically regular irregular plurals (if that makes sense): they follow the model of other Latin-derived words like "le ciel/les cieux" or "le travail/les travaux".

The reason they're orthographically dissimilar is because "oeil" begins with an oe digraph, which can't be preserved after the hard "s" of "les"--thus "l'oeil/les yeux."
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:08 PM on September 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


How different to be completely different? There are a bunch of animal pairings: goose/geese for example. But those do share a lot of letters in common.

There's also foot/feet and tooth/teeth. But again, they look similar. That's the best I can think of for the moment.
posted by sbutler at 12:08 PM on September 26, 2008


die and dice (not completely different, but not what you would expect)
posted by mikepop at 12:12 PM on September 26, 2008


Goose and geese. Index and indices.

All of the words where we do the Greek or Latin thing and suffix with -i or -a or -ae. Though I'm not a fan of that. I speak English, not Greek or Latin.

NB It's 'l'oeil' not 'l'oiel'.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 12:12 PM on September 26, 2008


Crow and murder.
posted by proj at 12:31 PM on September 26, 2008


Foot/feet, tooth/teeth, and goose/geese are just a different form of pluralization. (oo --> ee). The plural is still derived from the singular, it just doesn't involve an s.

Same with index/indices (just latin 3rd declension pluralization), and all of the plurals like antenna/antennae, datum/data, etc, as Dan Brilliant mentions.

Seems to me that's just the effect of where the word came from; commonly pluralized words maintain their original plural, ones you never hear get an s.

So I'd say only the cow/cattle,kine or pig/swine examples really are suppletion.

I'd argue crow/murder is a different phenomenon- it's *one* murder of crows, not multiple crows. If we never used the word crow, but instead used murder to refer to more than one crow, then I'd agree. (Same goes for all the other animal/group of animals pairings).
posted by nat at 12:34 PM on September 26, 2008


A murder is a singular noun referring to a flock of crows. A murder contains crows, plural; it is not a synonym for "more than one crow." For instance, one might speak of "the feeding habits of crows across the United States;" it is incorrect to replace that with "the feeding habits of murder across the United States."
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:37 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are a few English words that are the same singular and plural: Deer and Moose, Caribou. Although Meriam Webster's lists "deers" as acceptable.

loaf, loaves
half, halves
calf, calves

These are all words that trace their etymology back to Old English and probably follow some obscure rule about adding "s" to words that end in "f."

ox, oxen (again, unusual last letter)

Thanks! Now I'll be spending the rest of the afternoon thumbing though the dictionary.
posted by Brodiggitty at 12:48 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil wrote: The reason they're orthographically dissimilar is because "oeil" begins with an oe digraph, which can't be preserved after the hard "s" of "les"--thus "l'oeil/les yeux."

While I can't attest to why they're orthographically dissimilar, it is not because you can't pronounce the œ after the hard s. The plural of l'œuf is les œufs (incidentally pronounced oeux).
posted by chelseagirl at 1:23 PM on September 26, 2008


I and we.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2008


Oh, and he/she/it - they.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2008


Child, children.
posted by xo at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2008


Crow and murder.

Multiple crows are still crows. "Look at those crows!" Murder is just the name of the group. Just like there is a lion within a pride of lions.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:43 PM on September 26, 2008


While I can't attest to why they're orthographically dissimilar, it is not because you can't pronounce the œ after the hard s. The plural of l'œuf is les œufs (incidentally pronounced oeux).

Sorry, what I should have said was that you can't preserve the oe digraph plus i when you conjugate it like other similar Latinate nouns.

The plural of "ciel" is "cieux," as we discussed before, and the plural of "travail" is "travaux".

So the plural of "oeil" would be "oeiux" but you can't have "oeiux" so it becomes "yeux".

Thanks for the clarification!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:01 PM on September 26, 2008


This is called "suppletion"

Suppletion involves different words (as in go/went); oeil/yeux is the same word (derived from Latin oculus), with noticeably different spellings in singular and plural. (In the 11th century it was oil, plural olz; by the 14th century it was oeil/yeulz.) The only suppletive plural in English I'm aware of is person/people.

"Murder"? C'mon, people, try not to be silly.
posted by languagehat at 2:29 PM on September 26, 2008


Irregular forms tend to die out of languages over time unless the words are very commonly used.

It strikes me that the closest parallels to this in English are some of the most commonly used verb forms: be/is/are and (as already mentioned) go/went.
posted by flug at 2:38 PM on September 26, 2008


http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_nouns_with_irregular_plurals
posted by atomly at 2:42 PM on September 26, 2008


Here's a suppletion database with examples from lots of typologically-distinct languages: Surrey Suppletion Database. From the main page, apropos of languagehat's example from English: "Russian čelovek (человек) 'person', which has the plural ljudi (люди), is a typical instance of suppletion."
posted by tractorfeed at 3:27 PM on September 26, 2008


Whilst you may say "cows" and "pigs", that doesn't make them correct.

Other examples include:

One person, but many people.

One stadium, but many stadia (this is actually true for several latin words, including referendum/referenda etc).

One wharf, but many wharves


There really are quite a few examples out there.
posted by Mephisto at 6:10 AM on September 27, 2008


Whilst you may say "cows" and "pigs", that doesn't make them correct.

Yes, those are in fact the correct plurals of cow and pig. Check any dictionary.

Your examples, aside from people/person, do not answer the question ("Are there any nouns in English that have completely different spellings of the singular and plural like this?"), and there really are not "quite a few examples out there."
posted by languagehat at 5:15 PM on September 27, 2008


Stadia and wharves are not suppletive in any sense.
posted by oaf at 9:01 AM on September 29, 2008


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