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.
Next week we’ll discuss ‘He Said / She Said: Dialogue Tags’
This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.
I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.
If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.