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.
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.
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.