Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In Multiples

Anyone out there know what the plural of "suman" is?

"Sumans"? "Sumen"? "Sumani"?

I really hate linguistic dilemmas like this. You'd expect there to be a simple rule governing this aspect of the English language (despite the fact that "suman" is a Tagalog word), as opposed to having to waste precious time debating plural forms.

The normal rule for plurals involves adding an "s" to the end of the word: One computer, two computers. One composition, two compositions. One Sean, two Seans.

The normal rule doesn't make sense, however, when it comes to words that already end in an "s". So the English language has an exception to the basic rule, in that pluralizing such a word requires an "es" instead: One dress, two dresses. One sinus, two sinuses. One sassafrass, two sassafrasses.

Then there's another exception: What about words that end in a "y"? By some strange linguistic quality, we convinced ourselves that anything ending in a "y" could be pluralized by removing the offending letter and tacking on an "ies": One symphony, two symphonies. One parity, two parities. One pigsty, two pigsties.

But then, heaven forbid that we fall into the use of the word "monkeies". That third rule therefore has an addendum, and it states that any word that ends in "(vowel)+y" only needs to have an "s" added to the end: One monkey, two monkeys. One foray, two forays. One Bed-Stuy, Two Bed-Stuys.

Oh, no... you're not getting away that easy. Sit down; I'm not done yet.

There's the question of words that end in an "o", for which there seems to be no general distinction between "s" and "es" usages. Instead, we've seen fit to let the plural forms of these words run amuck: One zoo, two zoos. One hero, two heroes. One tornado, two tornados/tornadoes (either will do, yes).

The short list of words ending in "f" or "fe", for that matter, haven't been spared: One dwarf, two dwarves. One life, two lives. One staff, two staves. However, some words still buck this aspect of English linguistic law: One handkerchief, two handkerchiefs.

Then, there just to push us even closer to the brink of madness, I must bring up the exceptional exceptions: One man, two men. (One can, two cen?) One mouse, two mice. (One house, two hice?) One ox, two oxen. (One strongbox, two strongboxen?)

There are also a number of advanced English words that seem to follow their own set of customized rules for plurality. I used to believe that anything ending in "us", for example, could be pluralized by changing the last two letters to "i": One radius, two radii. One stimulus, two stimuli. One homunculus, two homunculi. Then I ran into one of the many words found in every technical person's vocabulary: One virus, two viruses.

Still reading? Good.

There are other words that are more well-known for their plural than their singular forms, and these are a source of frustration for me. Did you know, for example, that anything that ends in "um" gets pluralized by replacing the last two letters with "a"? I do now, and I can't say it's a favorite: One datum, two data. One arcanum, two arcana. This even has a significant number of exceptions on its own: One cranium, two craniums. One mum, two mums. Heck, sometimes we can't even make up our own minds: One symposium, two symposia/symposiums.

There's another rule that anything ending in "(vowel)+x" can be pluralized by cutting off the last two letters and appending "ices": One matrix, two matrices. One index, two indices. And yet we somehow still find a way to assure ourselves of the need for exception here: One sex, two sexes.

There's a rule that anything ending in "is" has to have the ending changed to "es": One parenthesis, two parentheses. Again, however, an exception: One ibis, two ibises.

Anything ending in "a" can be pluralized by adding an "e" to the end: One antenna, two antennae. And yet we're familiar with: One idea, two ideas.

Sometimes we run into words that are so obscure that their plurals (or associated singulars) never come up in normal conversation: One grafitto, two grafitti. One seraph, two seraphim. One coccyx, two coccyges. One die, two dice.

Then there are the words that stay exactly the same in both forms: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four sheep, five sheep, six.

And now, having gone through three years' worth of grammar lessons in one sitting, we still have no solution for our original dilemma: One suman, two... er... what?

Sometimes I fear for the English language. Sometimes I even wonder how so many people from so many other places can find some way to become adept enough at its use to speak or write for a living. Looking at everything right now, I feel it's kind of obvious that the language is more screwed up than we think.

So what's the plural of suman? I don't know. I'll probably just go back to using "one piece of suman, two pieces of suman". At least that doesn't necessitate the oncoming headache.

Now if I only knew what to do with the word "equipment". One equipment, two...


3sha said...


would "mga suman" help?


Anonymous said...

the plural of 'suman' is 'suman'.

the plural of 'equipment' is 'equipment'.

the plural of 'dumbass' is 'dumbasseseses'. -thp

Sean said...

Anonymous: Maybe in Gollum's world, yes.

"Nasty little hobbitsses..."


dora said...

ang sarap ng suman
hi your invited to visit us at

Sean said...

Dora: Hi, Dora. Thanks for the invitation, but I find the corporate blog a lot more potentially interesting. :), right?