Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (05 General Plurals)

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General Plurals

When we’re writing anything, most plurals are obvious. One man, two men; one table, two tables; one goose, two geese; one moose, two meese… Now wait a minute there. As you can see, sometimes the plural of a noun is not as simple as it seems. Read the following sentences and see if you can figure out which are correct and which are not:

A. Moving out of my apartment, John and Kane, my brother-in-laws, dropped my favorite lamp.

B. All the cannon fired simultaneously at the enemy.

C. Our current cows consist of Jerseyes and Holsteins.

So, how do you think you did?

A. The noun “brother-in-law” is pluralized using the active noun, “brother.” Hence, the sentence shown above is wrong. It should have read: “my brothers-in-law.” The same goes for “editors-in-chief,” “attorneys-at-law,” and “secretaries-general.” However, in casual writing, the shortened version of “mother-in-law,” MIL, is pluralized as MILs. The abbreviation is not pluralized according to the actual word, but the abbreviation.

B. This is a real example of a sentence that I once argued about with a US-based author. I insisted the plural of “cannon” should be “cannons.” It turns out the Oxford Dictionary does accept “cannon” as the plural of cannon. It is archaic (and perhaps used more commonly in UK style), but correct.

C. We are taught in school that any word ending in “y” is pluralized by changing the “y” to “ies.” So you might think the plural of “Jersey” should be “Jersies,” but that doesn’t look right, either. When a noun ends with “ey” instead of just “y,” then the word is pluralized by adding “s” to the end. So the example of “Jerseyes” is incorrect—it should be “Jerseys.”

Caveat—the agriculture and animal breed industries do not pluralize breeds—they would use “Jersey cows,” pluralizing the animal noun.

And back to my initial gaffe – the plural of moose is, of course, moose. I was curious about the plural possessive of moose… While you can have a pile of sheep’s wool, what do you do with a bunch of moose somethings? The Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition) states “… the possessive of plural nouns (except for a few irregular plurals not ending in s) [is formed] by adding an apostrophe only.” But they had nothing to say specifically about moose. In the general rules, they advise reworking text to avoid awkwardness.

So instead of “a pile of moose’s antlers”, which is not correct because it looks like only one moose’s antlers, you might write “a pile of antlers belonging to moose” or just “a pile of moose antlers,” using “moose” as an adjective and pluralizing the noun “antlers.”

Another time we’ll talk about pluralizing brand names.

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!

Susan

Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing

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21 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (05 General Plurals)

  1. Reblogged this on Pukah Works and commented:
    Finally back on schedule, and bringing you the long overdue next installment of Susan Uttendorfky’s wonderful editing series. (OK, shoot me, it’s been about a month – school, stress, and life got in the way. Now it’s time to hang on to this pony, and see where it goes this time.)

    Thanks Susan for posting, and Chris for hosting where we can find it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It depends whether a book is using UK or US spellings and styles, Amy. Typically I go with Merriam-Webster’s 11th edition. But I do have other dictionaries on hand for UK and Australian spellings. And there’s always the Internet, if I have to. 🙂

      Do you have a favorite dictionary, either in print or online?

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  2. While it may seem like a silly and minor sort of point, I’d generally recommend to fiction writers that they avoid names ending in S precisely because, whether they treat them correctly or incorrectly I think that for a lot of readers the simple existence of the question of correctness will interrupt the flow of thought while reading. E.G. “The Stevenses’ (or Jones’ or Joneses’ house was empty while the Joneses or Mr. Jones was/were out bowling.”)

    🙂
    MJM, who hates meeces to pieces….

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  3. Good morning, Di! I’ll have to check, although I know I looked up the plural of titmouse (the bird) recently and it was titmice. I’ll get back to you, but you’re probably right.

    And isn’t it strange how sometimes a word doesn’t look right no matter how you spell it??? 🙂

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  4. I struggled recently with whether the plural of dormouse should be dormouses or dormice. I settled on the latter even though my spell checker didn’t like either. If it looks wrong, sounds wrong, it probably is wrong lol. Thank you for another fabulous post!

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