Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Problems with Plurals

Those who do not remember all the rules regarding noun plurals will probably sympathize of this humorous jingle: Lawless Language written by anonymous author.

We will begin with a fox and the plural is foxes,
But the plural of ox should never be oxes.
One fowl is a goose and the plural is geese,
But the plural of moose would not therefore be meese.
So also for mouse the plural is mice,
But for house it is houses – we never say hice.
And since the plural of man is always called men,
For the plural of pan, why cannot we say pen?
Then one may be that and three may be those,
Yet rat in the plural is never called rose.
And the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim!
So English, I fancy, you all will agree,
Is the most lawless language you ever did see.
English is not a lawless language. There are valid linguistic factors that account for their irregularities. One such factor is our tendency to retain the original plurals of words we have borrowed from other languages. Thus from Greek we have retained criteria as the plural of criterion; from the Latin, data as the plural of datum. And from the Old English have come special plural forms that help us avoid difficult or harsh pronunciations. For example, mice is the plural of mouse and teeth is the plural of tooth.
However, irregular noun plurals represent only a small percentage of the nouns in the English language. There are principles governing the formation of noun plurals such as:
Rule 1: Usually we form the plural of a noun by adding an s to the singular form such as apple to apples, boy to boys, flower to flowers, tree to trees and etc. However, there are four groups of exceptions to this rule such as: church to church+es, knife to kni+ves, echo to echo+es and glory to glor(i)+es.
Rule 2: Some nouns are plural in the form (they end in s) but are frequently used in a singular sense. these words may take either a singular or a plural verb, depending on the sense in which they are used. Example: Politics as singular: Politics is a controversial subject. (seen as a collective noun which requires a singular verb). Politics as plural: His politics are obscure. (seen as principle that govern his actions).
Rule 3: Still other nouns are plural in form and require a plural form of verb even though they are singular in meaning such as: Where are the scissors? and These trousers belong to me.
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