Tom Christiansen on plurals

John M. Klassa (
Mon, 16 Mar 1998 08:15:23 -0500

Saw this and thought of Adam, so I forwarded it to him. He suggested
I FoRK it...

------- Forwarded Message

=46rom Sat Mar 14 19:47:48 1998
From: Tom Christiansen <>
Newsgroups: comp.lang.perl.misc
Subject: Re: You have 1 message(s) - how to print plurals?
Date: 13 Mar 1998 15:51:53 GMT
Organization: Perl Consulting and Training
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[courtesy cc of this posting sent to cited author via email]

In comp.lang.perl.misc, (Damian Conway) writes:
:>: I have a pet peeve about having a ten thousand dollar computer tellin=
:>: me "1 file(s) copied", =

Me, too.

:I have written a module fairly sophisticated pluaralizing module for Eng=
:nouns and verbs. =

Years ago someone sent me a list of irregular English plurals they =

were working up, but it's long gone. I usually content myself
with something like:

# Given an English noun in the singular, guess its plural.
# This works due to very limited input range. Not all =

# corpora will be correctly handled.
sub plural {
local $_ =3D shift;
if (/^(.*?)( of .*)$/) { return plural($1) . $2 }
# order really matters here!
s/(ss)$/${1}es/ ||
s/([psc]h)$/${1}es/ ||
s/(z)$/${1}es/ ||
s/ff$/ffs/ ||
s/f$/ves/ ||
s/ey$/eys/ ||
s/y$/ies/ ||
s/ix$/ices/ || # often wrong
s/([sx])$/$1es/ ||
s/$/s/ ||
die "can't get here";
return $_;

If you try all to handle all the cases, you'll go nuts. Criterion,
phenomenon, and bacterium are bad enough, but that's not even the sliver
of the iceberg. We probably don't even want to get into datum and data
and data points and the like. And if we've ox and oxen, and child and
children, about brother and brethren? Or sister and sistern? Oh, maybe
not. :-) Fox and vixen (vichsen) aren't what they used to be either.
Why doesn't fax go to faxen, or box to boxen? We have dish and dishes,
but one fish, two fish -- unless it's seven species of fishes, not
one species. Mouse and mice, louse and lice, but house and houses,
changing the sibilitant's voicing in the last case. But goose to geese,
yet mongoose to mongooses. One Smith, two Smiths; one Jones, two Joneses=
And attorneys general or surgeons general, of course. Don't forget
bureaux, chapeaux, ch=E2teaux, g=E2teaux, plateaux, portmanteaux, et tabl=
bien sur. And several adieux or milieux, or des bons mots. Plus grafitt=
from grafitti, but seldom although sometimes does soprano go to soprani.
And solo may be solos or soli, depending. Fork a prima donna and get
due prime donne. Mythos goes to to mythoi, but hoi polloi is already
plural (and has an article). Our phenonenon du jour, El Ni=F1o, becomes
Los Ni=F1os when repeated. Doubling your fianc=E9 or fianc=E9e will get =
fianc=E9s and fianc=E9es, and a prison sentence outside of Utah. And sur=
axis gets you axes, but so does axe. Things like goyim, seraphim,
cherubim, djinni, efreeti, hydrae, medusae, and sphinges all come to mind=
I shudder to make a plural of octopus; it's octopuses, although Fowler
admits octopodes. And what about pegasus and hippopotamus? Nothing but
hippopotamuses and pegasuses will do. And then there are amoeba and
amoebae and the other protozoa. Ovum and ova, forum and fora, phylum
and phyla. Vertrabra and vertebrae. And where *does* Pharoah keep his
philtrum? We have genus to genera, but species to species. Who truly
remembers that sphinx goes to sphinges as does larynx to larynges,
or that iris goes to irides, but that when analysing more than once,
analysis generates analyses not analides? Or that status, hiatus,
prospectus, and apparatus are all invariant with respect to number?
You can't have two `stati'; you have two status (put a macron on the
`u', said like statoose), or better yet, simply two statuses as we have
with viruses. And we don't get choroi, but rather choruses from chorus.
Is antipodes already plural? Since nothing can be `more superior', why
can you have three superiors? Why don't we get `inos' back from inodes?
And with those housewives, just what *is* the plural of Hausfrau in the
dative, anyway? :-) And please, *please* don't ask me whether the Walls
or I am writing this, or that "am" will really annoy you. :-)

I very much respect your attempt, but doubt you'll be very successful
in more than a scant few of the special cases. Good luck, anyway. :-)

- --tom
- -- =

Tom Christiansen

"Let me control a planet's oxygen supply, and I don't care who makes the =
--Great Cthuhlu's Starry Wisdom Band (via Roger Leroux)

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-- =

John Klassa / Alcatel Telecom / Raleigh, NC, USA <><