PLURALIA TANTUM NOUNS: nouns that don’t have a singular form

Did you ever see a trouser?  Or a scissor?   Those are words that only appear in the English language (as nouns) in the plural form.   There is no singular form for them.  It is a phenomenon known in linguistics as pluralia tantum, a Latin term which means “plurals only.”

It is one of those interesting things that occurs in the English language.  There are also words that are singular only, like “dust.”  You can use “dusts” when you are speaking of a verb, or as an adjective, such as a “dust bunny,” but there is no such thing as a “dust.”

Other pluralia tantum words might be cattle, clothes, pants.   Wouldn’t it be strange to try to talk about “a cattle” or a “pant.“  Unless, of course, if you are speaking about what a dog does when it is hot.

It’s not the biggest issue in the world.  Compared to world hunger, climate change or the economy, it rates pretty low on the totem pole.  But it’s always interesting to stumble across one of the weird constructions that occur in this crazy language we speak.

I have to keep remembering that linguists refer to the English language as a “bastard language.”  It was shaped by absorbing words and terms from other languages and making them our own.   However, the way we use them may be unique, as in pluralia tantum.

(Don’t you love it when someone uses the plural of “brother-in-law” or “attorney general”  properly?  It’s “brothers-in-law” and “attorneys general.”   It’s also “courts martial,” incidentally.  These terms sound strange, but they are a “proper” way of speaking.  If you’re into that.)

Wow!  I made it all the way through this blog setting without mentioning the Republican primary in South Carolina or the Patriot’s victory over the Ravens. 

Photo Credit: trousers

[I have to give credit to Wikipedia and Facebook for some of the information in this posting.]

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