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Do all nouns have a plural form?
December 16, 2010 1:48 PM   Subscribe

English language filter: Do all nouns have a plural form? If not what is an example of a noun with no plural form?
posted by West of House to Writing & Language (46 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are plenty of words whose plural form is the same as the singular form, if that's what you mean - "bison" is the first that leaps to mind.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:49 PM on December 16, 2010


Sheep.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:49 PM on December 16, 2010


Moose.
posted by LN at 1:50 PM on December 16, 2010


How about advice, information, luggage, news... Search for "uncountable nouns".
posted by Perplexity at 1:50 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or do you mean an unpluralizable noun? Because there are certainly words that are generally not pluralized--"oblivion", for instance--but they're pluralizable with bit of work. "All of these one-hit wonders languish in separate oblivions."
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Deer.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2010


restless_nomad has it. "Moose," "sheep," "deer," and so forth do have plural forms -- they're identical to the singular form.

A word with no plural form at all is a word which can never be pluralized under any circumstance, and I don't believe there is any such thing in English.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 1:55 PM on December 16, 2010


Also, of course, abstract nouns. Wealth. Justice. Dignity.

Hmm, so wealth is evidently more important to me than justice or dignity. Interesting self-discovery!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 1:55 PM on December 16, 2010


"Fish" is an interesting case, because it seems like it doesn't have a plural, but there is a plural -- fishes -- that is used as a collective noun to describe multiple groups of fish, usually where the groups further contain multiple types of fish. "The fishes of Puget Sound include salmon, perch..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Everything" cannot be pluralised.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Wealths," "justices" and "dignities" are all real words.
posted by griphus at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


infinity
posted by jillithd at 2:00 PM on December 16, 2010


Sidhedevil's got it. You can pluralize any noun, however, it may or may not make "sense" with regard to the concept/definition of that noun. That is, it will only function as a plural if you ignore the prescriptive definition and use a descriptive one instead: "oblivions," "infinities," "nirvanas." etc.
posted by griphus at 2:02 PM on December 16, 2010


I think you can say infinities. In math you compare one infinity to another and I think you say infinities when you do it.
posted by prefpara at 2:04 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


singulare tantum and the opposite: plurale tantum
posted by Namlit at 2:10 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Infinities" is a legit plural because there are different flavors of infinity.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


People do use "everythings" occasionally on a Google Books search, in a "head full of everythings" poetic sort of way. It seems to mean a thing that is a member of the class "everything." That one at least isn't in the dictionary, though, so it might be a good bet.
posted by jhc at 2:21 PM on December 16, 2010


Maybe you'd be interested in the notion of mass vs. count nouns? This gets a little bit into an explanation of why we say "twelve apples" and "twelve glasses/pints/gallons/etc. of water", but usually not "twelve waters" unless we're talking about twelve distinct types or bodies of water.
posted by heyforfour at 2:28 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


What is your native language? Are there nouns in another language which are clearly not pluralizable?

I can't think of any English noun that doesn't have a grammatical rule for making it plural, even if, as other people say, it may not make contextual sense, or it may be identical to the singular.
posted by jozxyqk at 2:30 PM on December 16, 2010


Any English noun can have a plural. Given a noun that's never been seen in plural form, it's usually straightforward to formulate a context in which the plural form is needed. If it's not in a dictionary, you can make a plural form up. If enough people decide to use it, it may end up in a dictionary. Words are like that; you add them as you need them.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:40 PM on December 16, 2010


"Engineering," perhaps? I could forcibly construct a sentence like "our design has gone through several engineerings" or "we are building a new teaching hall for the engineerings" but I don't think those would be recognized as words. Then again, since I've demonstrated the ability to use it that way, I suppose it could eventually be recognized as a correct usage.
posted by Lifeson at 2:41 PM on December 16, 2010


heyforfour has is. Lots of mass nouns make no sense pluralized, even though you can probably stick an "s" at the end of the word. What is the plural of money? What is the plural of traffic?
posted by 23skidoo at 2:44 PM on December 16, 2010


All nouns have plural forms. Some are not considered "standard".
posted by blue_beetle at 2:53 PM on December 16, 2010


fun!
posted by arveale at 3:14 PM on December 16, 2010


I guess 'pants' might be. Vaguely remembering struggling with other pluralization issues at the dry cleaner's. 'Pants' might also be an example of the inverse phenomenon: word with no singular. Using the word 'phenomenon' just now makes me think that other Latin or Greek words like that that have entered the English language together with their native plural or singular suffixes are a potential area toi look at, e.g, 'data'.
posted by Paquda at 3:15 PM on December 16, 2010


Pant is a singular noun.
posted by arveale at 3:22 PM on December 16, 2010


A lot of too-strict thinking going on here...

"Everything" cannot be pluralised. MuffinMan, we both have our own notions. You think "everything" is a word you cannot pluralize, but in my idiom, "everything" can be pluralized. By that alone, I count two different "everythings" in English.

QED.

Infinity is so often pluralized, jillithd, that there's not much point in giving examples. Google it.

"Monies" is the plural of money, 23skidoo; it is used, for example, to discuss the various currencies and denominational bills in use across the world today.

Hypothetically, any English noun - even mass nouns and abstract nouns such as "advice" can be pluralized. The better question, perhaps, is: are there any English nouns that are not pluralized (except as examples of hypothetical usage)?

Do any such plurals have Google counts of 0?
posted by IAmBroom at 3:23 PM on December 16, 2010


"Monies" is the plural of money, 23skidoo; it is used, for example, to discuss the various currencies and denominational bills in use across the world today.

What is the plural of traffic?
posted by 23skidoo at 3:43 PM on December 16, 2010


The plural of traffic is traffics and it is used in telecommunications, e.g. We have voice traffic, video traffic, and data traffic. All of these traffics are aggregated onto a single packet-switched network.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gravitas. The 's' already there at the end, in combination with the foreign suffix system already in-play, would make the potential plural too ugly to countenance. That's what it might come down to: levels of ugliness and a certain border-point of esthetic taste.
posted by Paquda at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2010


Academia? Or is that already too plural to count?
posted by milestogo at 3:58 PM on December 16, 2010


Seconding the idea of mass vs count nouns.
Count nouns are for things you can normally say "one or two of those" about:
one or two cats
one or two sheep
one or two houses
one or two Hondas
one or two George Clooneys (it's a manufactured situation where you would have to pluralize a proper noun of this sort, but it's grammatically fine)
one or two Brazils (ditto)
(etc)

Mass nouns are for things you cannot say this of. Instead you can say "a puddle of" (or similar):
a puddle of water
a heap of salt
a mound of sugar
a pool of green goo
a lot of traffic
a scarcity of good will
(etc)

The mass nouns are not normally pluralized.
(But they can be, if you construct elaborate scenarios... "one or two sugars" refers to sugar lumps, for example; "one or two waters" might refer to bottles of water, or types of water,...)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:02 PM on December 16, 2010


Do we at least agree that there are certain definitions of nouns that cannot take plural forms, even if the noun has a similar second definition that can take one?
posted by milestogo at 4:03 PM on December 16, 2010


As far as I can tell, there's only one West of House.

This is probably true for most Proper Nouns.
posted by notyou at 4:37 PM on December 16, 2010


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure "expertise" doesn't have a plural form.
posted by TheCavorter at 5:39 PM on December 16, 2010


Same problem though right? What if a group of scientists have expertise? This is thornier than I anticipated at first...
posted by arveale at 5:46 PM on December 16, 2010


Gravitas. The 's' already there at the end, in combination with the foreign suffix system already in-play, would make the potential plural too ugly to countenance. That's what it might come down to: levels of ugliness and a certain border-point of esthetic taste.

Whenever he feels at a loss,
He cries or speaks with gravitas.
His clients, colleagues, friends and bosses,
Bow down to tears and gravitases.
posted by grumblebee at 5:50 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


On pluralizing mass nouns - I don't have any studies on me to back this up with, but it seems to me that the plurals of mass nouns have at least two main kinds of meanings (maybe someone else can think of more):

Multiple types of something: There's some green goo from Mars and some green goo from Venus, and both (types of) goos are hazardous to your health. Money and traffic both have plurals of this type as people have cited above. Seems like these often arise when you split something up into subtypes (radio traffic, internet traffic) and then recombine (both traffics are regulated...)

Multiple instances of some canonical amount: waters can be lakes or glasses, but not 2 ml or 17 gallons, "three sugars" refers to something roughly spoon-sized for putting into tea (and not 5lb bags). If I want to say "give me 14 goos" and get this kind of plural, the goo needs to be available in some kind of unit/package/chunk that you and I agree on in conversation.

This second bit is a form of the Universal Sausage-Maker, inverse of the Universal Grinder, two handy mechanisms for converting between mass and count nouns.
posted by heyforfour at 5:55 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Same problem though right? What if a group of scientists have expertise? This is thornier than I anticipated at first...

I think that their collective expertise would still be considered singular. Would we say that their expertise "is unparalleled" or "are unparalleled"? I believe that the former would be correct.
posted by TheCavorter at 6:17 PM on December 16, 2010


Pretty much any mass noun can be turned into a count noun, by talking about types of that thing. John's expertise is in biology and Fred's is in finance, and their expertises didn't intersect till today.

Proper names? Easy, consider time travel or alternative worlds. We took the Lincoln of 1864 back to meet his teenage self and the two Lincolns hated each other.

Just about anything can develop a lexicalized meaning, too: I came here for the waters.

And before posting counter-examples, do a Google search! For "everything", a quick search turned up Your journey is made of beautiful everythings and holy nothings.

As for words like "deer" with no morphological plural, they're still syntactically plural, as can be seen by verb agreement: The two deer are coming this way.
posted by zompist at 7:55 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


WORD TO THE WHYS

Ups and downs and ins and outs,
Forevers and nevers and whys.
Befores and afters, dos and don'ts,
Farewells and hellos and good-byes.
Life is a string of perhapses,
A medley of whens and so whats.
We rise on our yeses and maybes,
Then fall on our nos and our buts.
posted by fso at 5:25 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


milestogo: Do we at least agree that there are certain definitions of nouns that cannot take plural forms, even if the noun has a similar second definition that can take one?

No.

Several responses before yours disagree, so I'm not sure why you believe that.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:27 AM on December 19, 2010


This is really late (and it must have been due to the death of Billy Taylor), but what about "jazz"?

"Jazzes" can be used as a verb, but that's all I can fathom.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 8:13 PM on December 29, 2010


There's cool jazz, dixieland jazz, latin jazz ... So many jazzes, I don't know what to listen to first!
posted by grumblebee at 9:05 PM on December 29, 2010


But wouldn't people just say "kinds/varieties of jazz"? Same with country, reggae, new age, new wave, funks... Or would country not work because the other kind of "country" does? Ahhh, never mind. No further questions, your honor.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:20 PM on December 29, 2010


But wouldn't people just say "kinds/varieties of jazz"?

I agree that more people would say that than jazzes, but that doesn't make jazzes wrong.
posted by grumblebee at 4:39 AM on December 30, 2010


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