New Word #26: Singular Or Plural

Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

I have never been very comfortable with this issue since there are so many exceptions to the rule that I often wonder if I would be making a mistake if I follow the rule–as a non-native speaker, this is nothing new to me. At first I was quite frustrated by this, but after a while, I realized that it is in someway a good thing. It teaches one to live a life of imperfection and not to take oneself too seriously. Things can be done and life goes on while mistakes are continuously being made. If one thinks of wiping out all the mistakes, that will be wrong–just such an aspiration will impede one’s effective expression and usage, causing endless anxiety along the way. The best way in my opinion is to treat English as a mistake management system and problem solving project. One calls up one’s resources to hustle and muddle through one’s presentation, interviews, projects, written reports. And surprise, surprise. One survives. And what doesn’t kill one makes one stronger.

Different Spellings

medium and media, datum and data: However we all know that the singular form of the above two words are rarely used and almost go extinct.

alumna. alumnae, alumnus, alumni: Thank goodness most of the words don’t distinguish between woman and man. Friend can be referred to both male and female, and a regular word friends can be used to refer to those who know all the embarrassing details of your past.

Same Spelling

fish, sheep: These two are very strange. I can’t understand why they are deprived the privilege of adding an “s” or changing their spelling for their plural form.

Words End With “S”

chaos, news: These two always give me pause. Are they singular or plural? Can I say “a chaos” or “a news”? I google every time I use them. And if internet is down or the cell phone signal is bad–like in many parts of Middlesex County if you are a T-Mobile customer–try to say “a chaotic event” or “a piece of news”, just to be on the safe side. Still, there’s the question: is google to be absolutely trusted?


Johns Hopkins University: When somebody pointed out to me that there are two “s” in the name of Johns Hopkins University, I was really shocked. How come?

Macy’s, Trader Joe’s, Kohl’s: When my friend first told me that I was wrong in saying that I bought something in Macy, I was incredulous. I just couldn’t believe it. I googled and my friend was right. And sometimes a store name has an apostrophe and an “s” hanging at the end.

Words End With “TION” Or “SION”

information, consideration, evaluation, determination, evasion, tension: I have to google every time. I don’t know which is countable, which is uncountable, which can be followed with “are”, which with “is”. Also can two uncountable nouns together be followed by “is”? I searched online and it says it all depends. If the two are regarded as a whole, they are countable; if regarded separately, they are uncountable.

The Problem With “Their”

“in their heart” or “in their hearts”, also “people’s home” or “people’s homes”: I don’t have answer to this one. I just use “in their heart” and to hell with plurals.

30 thoughts on “New Word #26: Singular Or Plural

  1. Regarding “their” ….. I feel that the English language needs a better way of dealing with situations where gender is unknown. We use “they” “them” and “their” rather than “he/she” “him/her” and “his/her” when they don’t know the gender of the person. (eg Ask the customer to bring their goods to the counter.) It’s correct English, but it just feels unsatisfactory to me to use a plural form for a singular entity!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When something doesn’t sound right to me, rather than struggle with the rules, I just rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem. The last thing I want is a reader getting distracted by the grammar.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I come from a generation that had to study Latin for five years as some kind of preparation for getting to grips with English grammar, yet my grip on it is so tenuous. My advice; learn the rules around the use of apostrophes and then busk the rest. When you’ve written it, ALWAYS read it out aloud. If it makes sense to you, then it is probably ok. If somebody says to you, ‘You used the subjunctive there, when you should have used the normative,’ simply put your fingers in your ears and loudly repeat the phrase ‘Na na na na na’ until they go away.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Singular / plural? Ha, you do not now the German language. 🤓😀 he he

    I’m often unsure with money.
    One Dollar is clear.
    But it is two Dollar or two Dollars?
    One Marlboro
    is it two Marboros?

    I’m not really sure.

    Thanks for your article!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks to my research I can answer at least a couple of those questions. Johns Hopkins University is called that way because the founder of the university is named Johns Hopkins. Why was he named Johns and John? I think his mom wanted to make him special.

    As for Macy’s and Kohl’s, when they were first founded it was to indicate the store’s owners such as R. H. Macy and Maxwell Kohl. Trader Joe is founded by a Joe Coulombe and I guess he liked to call himself “Trader Joe”, which is why his stores are named “Trader Joe’s” since they were his.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. Love your explanation–“his mom wanted to make him special.” That’s a great way of doing it.

      I had never noticed that before my friends pointed out to me. So if somebody wants to lend his name to his store, the apostrophe and the “s” are a standard. LOL. I have no idea and even if I see it many times on TV and in real life, I was blind to the “‘s” after “Macy”. LOL. Just blind. You would think such an obvious sign in front of you will make a dent in your mind, but no. I just don’t think there should be an “‘s” and so I just don’t see it. Yes, we only see what we want to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Human beings tend not to notice these small details anyways. I’m sure you have heard of the “Mandela effect” where people thought things were different from what they remember in terms of signs and logos, which convinces them they are from an alternate universe. The real explanation is that we don’t pay attention to details because they are not very important.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, yes, that’s right. LOL. It’s such a relief that English doesn’t have feminine and masculine nouns. That will drive people like me more insane.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s