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Plural of nouns controversial aspects
Scris de mihaiela lazar   
Miercuri, 08 Ianuarie 2014 22:22



Prof. Dumitru Maria Magdalena

Liceul Tehnologic Constantin Brâncuși- Pitești


            Collective nouns when used in singular can take either a singular form to refer to the whole collectivity, or a plural verb to refer to every member of the group. L. Levitchi claims that, for instance the word crew was originally an individual noun (one crew- two crews), and what makes it a collective noun is the use of a plural verb. However they have a regular plural (families, crews, teams, committees, peoples) As regards the word people, R. Quirk, says that it is an invariable unmarked plural noun, and there is also a homonym count (the English speaking peoples). Levitchi considers the noun people as a noun of multitude, that is a collective noun which is used only with plural verbs and determiners (There were many people). So is the case of horse, folk, poultry, vermin. Individual nouns of multitude can be used, in his conception, as individual or nouns of plural: fish- peste, pesti; deer- caprior, cerb, caprioare ; head:-cap, capete(de vita).

              Mass nouns or uncountable nouns have either only a singular form, or only a plural form. They cannot be accompanied by numerals or other quantifiers. Some mass nouns (invariable nouns) have two forms, one invariable and one variable, with a different meaning: beers (a glass or can of beer), butters (kinds of butter), character – caracter, characters- personaje, hairs-fire de par, paper-hartie, papers-ziare, documente. Other nouns express this difference of meaning by means of a different word: sheep-mutton, pig-pork, lesson-homework, and loaves –bread.

                Some nouns are used only in singular being called singularia tantum: advice, bread, business, butter, milk, money, rice, sand, etc. They never get a/an, and if we want to refer to singular we use a piece of/ an item of.(C.Paidos). Here are some caregories of singularia tantum:

·        concrete nouns: gold, silver, , bread, chalk

·        abstract nouns: music, dirt, homework, advice, nonsense, justice, beauty, knowledge

·        proper names: Naples, Brusseles, Athens, Henry, the Thames

·        the noun news

·        diseases: measles, mumps, rickets

·        subjects names in –ics: statistics, phonetics

·        some games: billiards, bowls, darts, checkers

·        abstract adjectives turned into nouns: the good, the evil, the sublime

Their quantification can be made with such partitives as: a bag/ slice/bar/ tube/ bunch/ spoon/ can/ tin / jar/ pack/ blade/ bit of, etc. They can also be preceded by some, any, n,o a little( Thomson).

               The noun work can be only countable meaning factory, it can have a plural meaning literary or musical compositions, or it can be uncountable meaning occupation, job.

               Some abstract singularia tantum nouns can be used exceptionally with a/an:

He had a knowledge of mathematics. My children are a great help to me. It’s a  pity you weren’t here. ( Thomson).

              As Mark Foley notices there are some differences in British and American English:

accomodation- uncountable in British English, accommodations -countable in Amertican English. (p.249).

              Speaking of singularia tantum category Levtchi refers to it as to unique nouns (the sun, the moon, the earth, the east, hell, nature), material nouns (steel, sugar, maize, water) and unique abstract nouns( friendship, neighbourhood).

              There are nouns which have an invariable singular form and an invariable plural form, with different meanings: air-aer, airs-aere; cost-cost, costs-cheltuieli; middle age –varsta mijlocie, middle ages –evul mediu.(G.Galateanu, )

              Pluralia tantum (plural invariable nouns-R.Quirk, plural -only nouns – G.Leech)

are nouns which have only a plural form:

·        summation plurals ( nouns denoting objects, tools, pieces of clothing made up of two similar parts) : pliers, scissors, pincers, binoculars, trousers, tongs, shorts, etc.

 R.Quirk emphasizes that they can take a singular form and an indefinite article when used as adjectives: a trouser leg, a pyjama cord.

·        other pluralia tantum nouns: contents, annals, ashes, customs, earnings, goods, greens, clothes, guts, heads, holidays, fireworks, brains, banns(of marriage)

 Some of the above mentioned nouns have also a singular form with a different meaning, or they appear in singular in premodification (R.Quirk,)

·        adjectives or participles turned into nouns: the rich, the poor, the wounded (they take a plural verb)

·        some proper names: the Alps, the East Indies, the USA

·        some nouns unmarked for plural : cattle, people, police, gentry, clergy, youth (G.Galateanu)     

                The noun content  has both variable and invariable form with a different meaning: the content of the box, the contents of a book. While thanks can become singular in expressions like: And now, let’s give a big thank-you to our hostess! - informal language (G.Leech).

                Pluralia tamtum nouns and summation plurals are often confused with the plural of some countable nouns:

·        colour-colours(culoare)-colours(drapel)

·        damage-damages( avarie)-damages (despagubiri)

·        effect-effects (efecte)-effects (haine, efecte)

·        custom-customs(obicei) –customs(vama)    -G.Galateanu



Quirk, Randolph;Greenbaum,Sidney; Leech,Geoffrey, A Grammar of Contemporary English, Longman, 2002

Thomson, A.J.;Martinet,A.V., A Practical English Grammar, Fourth Edition, Oxford,1986

Leech, Geoffrey;Svartvik, Jan,A Communicative Grammar of English Longman, 2002

Galateanu-Farnoaga, Georgiana;Comisel, Ecaterina,Gramatica Limbii Engleze, Editura Lucman, 1996

Paidos, Constantin, English Grammar, Theory and Practice, Editura Polirom, 2001 

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