Why Johnnie can't pass English!
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 97 00:34:25 -0700
Subject: Why Johnnie can't pass English!
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Jean Tenenbaum)
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From: The Independent
Posed from a British viewpoint but the point is well taken...
A Singular Curiosity of English
By Miles Kington
As people leaving school have such a shaky grasp of English, I am
starting an occasional series of English grammar. And I would like to kick
off with one of the commonest grammatical dicta in English: that you form
the plural of a noun by adding -s.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In English any letter can be
used to form the plural. The letter -s is, in fact, more commonly used to
form the singular. Look at my opening paragraph. There are two words in
the plural (people, dicta) and neither ends in -s. There is one noun ending
-s (series) but it is singular.
And yet our children are taught that the plural is formed with -s! A
quick tour of the alphabet will tell a different story.
A. A plural formed in -a is normally literary or commercial, e.g.
curricula, data, incunabula, media, strata, etc. (Never forget that etc.
stands for "et cetera". Cetera is a plural noun. Does it end in -s? I
B. A plural mostly used of fish as in: "The chubb are not biting
today. But the plural of yob is "mob", a rare example of the first
C. The plural of "man waiting to be separated from his money" is
D. The plural of blind is "blind": "In the country of the blind, the
one-eyed man is king". The plural of John Pilger, Harold Pinter or
John Mortimer ends in -d.: "We, the undersigned". The plural of
churchmen is synod, of director is board.
E. The plural of cow ends in -e: "cattle". Committee, league,
electorate all end in -e. They all mean "cattle", too.
F. "In the land of the deaf, the one-eared man is king".
G. Everyone ends with -g, according to a lawyer, as in "the
foregoing". Unless they end in -d ("the aforementioned").
H. The plural of clergyman is church, of magistrate is bench.
I. Almost every plural in classical music ends in -i, such as
concerti, tutti, soli, celli, etc. The plural of critic is castrati. The
of listener is hoi polloi.
J. this letter is used as a plural ending for foreigners in vast
In India a "raj", in Arabia a "haj", etc.
K. As you might expect, no plural form of "cow" ends in -s. E.g.
cattle, kine, herd and, in -k, bloodstock. Jesus often formed his
plural in -k: "The meek shall inherit the earth". (See also the sick, lame,
little children, etc.)
L. British Rail are a shining example of a plural in -l. It used to
be British Railways, but they soon saw the error of their way and
dropped the -s ending. And another -- British Telecom.
M. Seraphim and cherubim provide more Biblical backing here.
N. Perhaps the oldest and nicest plural in English, as in men,
women, oxen, children, brethren and the Opposition.
O. There is only one plural ending in -o. On the other hand, it
is all inclusive -- "ditto".
P. The plural of pop singer is "group".
Q. All right, I can't find a plural ending in -q. But I can't find a
R. The plural of socialist is Labour, as in "Labour have a four-
T. A very popular political ending, -t. The plural of commissar
is commissariat, of secretary, secretariat, etc. Also government,
U. Every Welsh plural seems to end in -u, certainly none in -s.
Good for them. Also the plural of gnu is not gnus, as you might be led
to believe, but gun. This is to avoid jokes like "No gnus are good gnus",
"Here are the gnus", etc.
V. The plural of cross-reference is "qqv".
W. "Few" is the small plural of one.
X. A popular plural for many a county-dweller, as in Middlesex,
Sussex, Wessex, Essex. So we say, "Essex are champions again", not
"Essex is champion again".
Y. Ditto for the country dweller. The plural of a German is
Germany, and so on. The plural of song, oddly, is medley if pop, and
lieder if classical.
Z. The plural of ounce is "oz".
It only remains to stress that -s is a singular ending. Trousers,
pants, jeans, scissors -- all purport to be plural but each is a singular
object. A "spectacle" is all you can see, but "spectacles" is one small
thing on your nose.
Having an -s on the end is such a sign of the singular that it debars
many a work from even having a plural -- quietus, nous, chaos, animus,
As a final clincher, look at any English verb. He works, they work.
Which is plural? Which has the -s ending? I thank you.
© 1997 Peter Langston