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In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity (i.e., grammatical number) representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker (morpheme) is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one. Plurality is a linguistic universal, represented variously among the languages as a separate word (free morpheme), an affix (bound morpheme), or by other morphological indications such as stress or implicit markers/context.

In the English language, singular and plural are the only usual grammatical numbers, with minor dual exceptions ("both", "either", etc.)

A plural is commonly abbreviated pl. in dictionaries. In part-of-speech tagging it has other notation which distinguish different types of plurals based on the grammatical and semantic context.

English

In English, the plural is usually formed with the addition of -s (e.g., one cat, two cats; one chair, two chairs) or -es (e.g., one bush, two bushes; one itch, two itches). Generally, -s is added to all nouns that end in a voiceless consonant, vowels, or voiced non-sibilants, whereas -es is added for nouns ending in a sibilant sound. Nouns that end in e are a noted exception; though e may form a sibilant sound, -s is used (e.g.,. one tree, two trees; one bee, two bees).

Some plural forms require more noticeable changes in word structure. Most words ending in a y preceded by a consonant are pluralised with ies (e.g., one lady, two ladies; one cherry, two cherries). Some words ending in f are pluralised with -ves (e.g., one leaf; two leaves; exception: one roof; two roofs). Words ending in x are often pluralised with -ces (e.g., one matrix, two matrices; one index, two indices). Words ending in us often replace the us with -i (e.g., one cactus, two cacti; one fungus, two fungi). A subset of words ending in um or on are pluralised by replacing with -a (e.g., one forum, two fora; one criterion, two criteria).

Other variations occur where vowels and consonants change in the middle structure of the word. Such examples are, (1 die; 2 dice), (1 goose; 2 geese) and, (1 mouse; 2 mice).

A small class of words have identical singular and plural forms: e.g., one sheep, two sheep; one aircraft, two aircraft.

See English plural#Irregular plurals for more examples of irregular pluralisation.

Other languages

In many languages, there is also a dual number (used for indicating two objects). Some other grammatical numbers present in various languages include trial (for three objects) and paucal (for an imprecise but small number of objects). In languages with dual, trial, or paucal numbers, plural refers to numbers higher than those. However, numbers besides singular, plural, and (to a lesser extent) dual are extremely rare. Languages with measure words such as Chinese and Japanese lack any significant grammatical number at all, though they are likely to have plural personal pronouns.

Some languages (like Mele-Fila) distinguish between a plural and a greater plural. A greater plural refers to an abnormally large number for the object of discussion. It should also be noted that the distinction between the paucal, the plural, and the greater plural is often relative to the type of object under discussion. For example, in discussing oranges, the paucal number might imply fewer than ten, whereas for the population of a country, it might be used for a few hundred thousand.

The Austronesian languages of Sursurunga and Lihir have singular, dual, paucal, greater paucal, and plural. Such languages as these have the most complex grammatical number in the world.

An interesting difference from Romance/Germanic languages is found in some Slavic and Baltic languages. Here, the final digits of the number determine its form. Though most of the modern Slavic languages lack dual form, they do have traces of dual form. For example, Polish has singular and plural, and a special form (paucal) for numbers where the last digit is 2, 3 or 4, (excluding endings of 12, 13 and 14). Russian uses plural form of words ending like genitive singular form for numbers where the last digit is 2-4 (but not endings of 12, 13 and 14) and genitive plural form of words for all other numbers. In addition, Slovene preserved pure dual, using it for numbers ending in 2. In Serbo-Croatian (in addition to the paucal for numbers 2–4), several nouns have alternate forms for counting plural and collective plural (the latter being treated as a collective noun). For example, there are two ways to say leaves: lišće (collective) is used in "Leaves are falling from the trees", but listovi (counting) is used in "Those are some beautiful leaves". Old Church Slavonic (also known as Old Slavic), which is close to Proto-Slavic, had dual form not only for nouns, but also for verbs, almost like Sanskrit. Latin, though high inflectional and close to Proto-Indo-European, lacks dual form and some say that the ancestor of the Italic languages or even of Italic and Celtic languages had lost it.

Abbreviations

To form the plural of an abbreviation, a number, or a capital letter used as a noun, simply add a lowercase s to the end.

  • A group of MPs
  • The roaring '20s
  • Mind your Ps and Qs

To indicate the plural of the abbreviation of a unit of measure, the same form is used as in the singular.

  • 1 lb. or 20 lb.
  • 1 ft. or 16 ft.
  • 1 min. or 45 min.

When an abbreviation contains more than one full point, Hart's Rules recommends to put the s after the final one.

  • Ph.D.s
  • M.Phil.s
  • the d.t.s

However, subject to any house style or consistency requirement, the same plurals may be rendered less formally as:

  • PhDs
  • MPhils
  • the DTs. (This is the recommended form in the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors.)

According to Hart's Rules, an apostrophe may be used in rare cases where clarity calls for it, for example when letters or symbols are referred to as objects.

  • The x's of the equation
  • Dot the i's and cross the t's

However, the apostrophe can be dispensed with if the items are set in italics or quotes:

  • The xs of the equation
  • Dot the 'i's and cross the 't's

In Latin, and continuing to the derivative forms in European languages as well as English, single-letter abbreviations had the plural being a doubling of the letter for note-taking. Most of these deal with writing and publishing. A few longer abbreviations use this as well.

Singular abbreviation Singular Word Plural abbreviation Plural Word Discipline
d. didot dd. didots typography
f. following line or page ff. following lines or pages notes
h. hand hh. hands horse height
l. line ll. lines notes
MS manuscript MSS manuscripts notes
op. opus opp. opera notes
p. page pp. pages notes
P. pope PP. popes
s. (or §) section ss. (or §§) sections notes
v. volume vv. volumes notes

Zero

Languages having only a singular and plural form may still differ in their treatment of zero. For example, in English, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, the plural form is used for zero or more than one, and the singular for one thing only. By contrast, in French, the singular form is used for zero.

Instances

In English, mass nouns and abstract nouns have plurals in less common instances. The phrase by the waters of Babylon is merely poetic, but the mass noun water takes a plural to signify the water drawn from different sources, with different trace minerals, as in the phrase: Different waters make for different beers. Similarly, the abstract noun physics is usually a vast unitary concept, but in its recent meaning of computer game subroutines, a plural sense is possible for different workings of physics, though without a change in inflection: Throughout the history of the game series, the physics have improved.

POS tagging

In part-of-speech tagging it has other notation which distinguish different types of plurals based on the grammatical and semantic context. Resolution varies, for example the Penn-Treebank tagset (~36 tags) has two tags: NNS - noun, plural, and NPS - Proper noun, plural,[1] while the CLAWS 7 tagset (~149 tags)[2] uses six: NN2 - plural common noun, NNL2 - plural locative noun, NNO2 - numeral noun, plural, NNT2 - temporal noun, plural, NNU2 - plural unit of measurement, NP2 - plural proper noun.

See also

References