The Grammarphobia Blog

Plurals of wisdom

Q: In polishing a neighbor’s translation from Japanese to English, I’m finding plurals like “carps,” “salmons,” etc. I want to explain to her that not all English words are pluralized by adding “s,” but I can’t find a rule to explains this. Is there one?

A: Unfortunately, there’s no rule. One just has to get a feel for these idiomatic plurals or else look them up.

Many nouns for animals are both singular and plural: “deer,” “moose,” “vermin,” “elk,” “sheep,” “swine,” and “fish” (also some individual kinds of fish like those you mention).

Some words ending in “s” are also the same in singular and plural: examples are “series,” “species,” and “headquarters.”

What’s more, some words look plural because they end in “s,” but they’re treated as singular: “molasses,” “news,” “whereabouts,” “checkers” (also “billiards,” “dominoes,” and other games); and “measles” (also “mumps,” “rickets,” “shingles,” and other diseases).

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