What word is made plural by adding the prefix "a-"?
August 28, 2005 10:29 PM   Subscribe

What word is made plural by adding the prefix "a-"?
posted by Felicity Rilke to Writing & Language (30 answers total)
Is this in English or Swahili?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:08 PM on August 28, 2005

I suspect this is a trick question you've been given and you are looking for a word that when prefixed with a- becomes an entirely different word which is a plural, not the plural version of itself if that makes sense. I'm trying to think of such a word but I haven't come up with one yet.
posted by edd at 11:08 PM on August 28, 2005

I don't think this is the solution the originator of this problem was thinking of, but 'bodes' changes from a verb to a plural when it is prefixed with 'a'.
posted by edd at 11:12 PM on August 28, 2005

gog and agog?
posted by PY at 11:16 PM on August 28, 2005

Response by poster: It is a trick question, one sent to me by a rather frustrated friend. Why she wants to know this, I don't know, but my dictionaries and language books are packed, and I haven't the slightest clue where to begin to find the answer. I am sure that it will be an "Ah ha!" moment when I do learn the answer. And the word is in English, and from the way the question was posed to me, it sounds as though there is only one word in English which becomes pluralized by adding an "a" prefix. Of course, I was also taught that "orange" was the only word in English that didn't rhyme with anything else, and I know that isn't true.

Of course, if it is a sneaky trick question, edd's answer of "bodes" and "abodes" could be entirely right.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:35 PM on August 28, 2005

'ides' is arguably singular and perhaps is therefore a better solution than my earlier one.
posted by edd at 11:54 PM on August 28, 2005

I think the question has, like the infamous '-gry' problem, been slightly mangled in transit. I believe you don't want a prefix, but want something that becomes plural when preceded by 'a'.

I apologise for having posted a number of times to this thread in coming to this solution.
posted by edd at 12:02 AM on August 29, 2005

What is the exact wording of the question?
posted by socratic at 12:46 AM on August 29, 2005

Response by poster: The exact wording of the question, as it appeared to me in an email, is:

What is the one word that is made plural by adding the PREfix "a-"?

Infuriatingly close, but not quite: erg -> areg, falaj -> aflaj, xhosa
-> amaxhosa

posted by Felicity Rilke at 1:45 AM on August 29, 2005

The question is from NPR's Sunday Weekend Edition - Will Shortz' section. Will is the puzzle master for the New York Times. If you can email an answer by Thursday, you are in the
running to be called to solve next week's puzzle.
posted by Cranberry at 1:52 AM on August 29, 2005

'areg' is the plural of 'erg' according to this site. There are a couple others (like eyrir/aurar and falaj/aflaj) but I don't see any on that page that work just by adding the 'a' and nothing else. And all of these words are so obscure (or are borrowed words from other languages) that I don't think they really count anyway.

By the way, if you have never read the many pages of that site, you are really missing out. It's a great reference.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:18 AM on August 29, 2005

To narrow down your search, run this command on your Unix box:

grep -i ^a /usr/share/dict/words | sed s/^.// | fgrep -ixf - /usr/share/dict/words

It finds each word in the spellcheck dictionary such that tacking an a onto the word yields another word also in the dictionary. So it picks out scribe, for example, since ascribe is also in the dictionary.

On my computer this turns up 1,508 words. That's a lot, but it's not impossible to sort through. If you like, you can download the list I got and scan for yourself.
posted by tss at 5:44 AM on August 29, 2005

I'm sorry for being prissy, but this is both cheating and a bad precedent. I really hope we don't start seeing Weekend Edition puzzles here every week. What's next? "What's a 3 letter word for table scrap?*"

posted by TonyRobots at 5:52 AM on August 29, 2005

Nowhere does it say that the resulting word has to be a plural of the root word. It just says that adding an A will make the root word a plural word.

So the answer is ides > aides.
posted by iconomy at 6:25 AM on August 29, 2005

TonyRobots, that occurred to me too, but really, how is this cheating any more than googling or asking your friends, which I'm sure most people do without qualms? If answers had to be arrived at purely by introspection, I imagine there have been few if any honest winners in the history of Weekend Edition.

As for the answer, I agree with iconomy, and find the question and answer pretty silly, but I often feel that about Weekend Edition puzzles.
posted by languagehat at 6:38 AM on August 29, 2005

By the iconomy theory, his -> ahis and has -> ahas would also work, no? I think "is made plural" implies that the second word is to be the plural of the first.
posted by bac at 6:53 AM on August 29, 2005

Yes, it implies it, but it doesn't out and out state it, which is how these word puzzles usually work - they drive you crazy by being vague or by wording the question in such a way that you assume something that isn't necessarily true.
posted by iconomy at 7:01 AM on August 29, 2005

perhaps the answer is media. Media is the plural of medium, as in the television medium.
posted by captainscared at 7:04 AM on August 29, 2005

sorry. didn't read prefix.
posted by captainscared at 7:04 AM on August 29, 2005

Can't help with the answer, but can help with the question. Following up on Cranberry's comment above, I found this on the NPR Sunday Puzzle page: From listener Frank Morgan, a mathematician at Williams College. (He also has a puzzle page at mathchat.org.) Think of a word whose meaning you can make plural by adding an A at the start. Start with a very common singular noun, add the letter A at the beginning, and you'll make the meaning plural. What word is it? So I think bac is on the right track.
posted by muhonnin at 9:07 AM on August 29, 2005

muhonnin: ... which is exactly the problem I solved earlier in the thread with 'number'.
posted by edd at 9:50 AM on August 29, 2005

lot -> alot

just kidding
posted by iconjack at 10:04 AM on August 29, 2005

I really hope we don't start seeing Weekend Edition puzzles here every week.

Agreed, since it's the most boring part of Sunday Edition. All that dead air while contestaents are thinking! I hate it.
(Don't like the Voices in the News, either.)
posted by Rash at 10:11 AM on August 29, 2005

Edd: Well, if it turns out not to be the answer Will Shortz was looking for, you should win a prize for lateral thinking. I had to read your earlier post about 10 times before figuring out what you meant. I might press on for a few more minutes trying to find a less creative solution, but I suspect you might be right.
posted by muhonnin at 10:29 AM on August 29, 2005

Maybe you need to find a word that means singular, and add the prefix "a" meaning "not".
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2005

Best answer: I think I've just figured it out. I'm a little reluctant to post it on the thread, since it's the active Weekend Edition puzzle--I'll e-mail Felicity Rilke (since neither of us is US-ian, I'm not sure we're eligible to win.) If anyone else wants to know what I think the answer is, just e-mail me. If you want the pleasure of figuring it out yourself, my answer takes a noun, adds the letter "a" to the beginning of that word to make a new word whose meaning is the plural of the original word (that is, it does not add the word "a" to the beginning to make a plural phrase). Good luck!
posted by muhonnin at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2005

Response by poster: muhonnin got it. My mind is at rest.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:24 AM on August 29, 2005

I hope you'll post a follow-up once the contest is over.
posted by Four Flavors at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2005

I think the answer is yes -> ayes; if anyone in the U.S listening to NPR can confirm that, that would be great.
posted by muhonnin at 5:56 PM on September 3, 2005

muhonnin: You're right.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:32 AM on September 6, 2005

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