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Plural Or Singular

by Ron Kitson

Someone once asked if the word "pants" is plural or singular? The answer given was "Plural at the bottom, singular at the top."

That was probably the best answer. We say pant leg, pant hanger and pant suit but not "would you please iron my pant?" We say a pair of pants which makes it plural. By saying pant legs, we're saying the pant is singular and the legs are plural.

It takes two to make up a pair so if you buy a suit that comes with two pair of pants, the way I see it, you should get four pants. You could say they are considered plural because they have two legs but ladies panties don't have any legs. A shirt has two sleeves but we don't call it a pair of shirts do we?

The plural of "pair" by the way can be either "pair" or "pairs." While we say "two pair of pants," we also say "they come in pairs."

Why do we say "heads or tails?" A coin has only one "head" and doesn't really have a tail but the two go together well and my have been a "pair" long before we had coins. I'm sure you've heard someone say "I couldn't make head nor tail of it." That's singular as it should be, so when we flip a coin, we should say "call it, head or tail" but we don't. We would rather say "heads or tails."

What's singular of cattle? Now don't tell me "cow." Singular of chickens is not hen and singular of hogs is not sow, so singular of cattle is not cow. Only the females are cows.

You drive by a field of cattle and say to the kids, "look at the cows" but you wouldn't drive by a crowd of people and say "Hey, look at all the ladies." Well, maybe.

That (sows) reminds me of a joke one of my dear departed aunts told me many years ago about two sows that met after not seeing each other for a while and one asked the other "Ever hear from your old boar friend?" The other answered "Yes, as a matter of fact I got a litter from him a couple of weeks ago."

Getting back to cattle, the word is definitely plural and a herd of them can be made up of cows, calves, steers and bulls. (FYI, steers were born as little boy calves but, due to human intervention, would grow up to become beef cattle.) These domestic animals really don't have a name. There are several different breeds and they are all part of a rather extensive family of Bovine or Bos including among others, the bison, musk-ox, water buffalo and the oxen.

We have different breeds of dogs, cats, horses, etc., but the cows we milk are any of a number of breeds of what? The German word for cattle is Vieh" which also translates to "livestock" and "beast."

If I had to pick one name for all of them it would have to be oxen but you're not likely to hear anyone say "that's a fine lookin' Jersey ox." A Collie is a dog, a Leghorn is a chicken and a Clydesdale is a horse but what is a Holstein?

In many cases, singular and plural nouns are spelled the same. We can have one, two or more deer. We say "I eat a lot of fruit" yet we also say "We should eat lots of fruits and vegetables." You can have one sheep or a flock of them as with a herd of buffalo, a school of fish or a head full of hair.

We say "five dollars" but not "a five dollars bill" or "a five gallons container." With most nouns, to make them plural we simply add an "s" but with others it's not that easy. Goose becomes geese, mouse becomes mice, house becomes hice... ooops, sorry about that, foot becomes feet, life becomes lives, candy becomes candies, fungus becomes fungi, antenna becomes antennae and man becomes men.

"Man" can mean either an adult human male or be short for "human" as in "manmade materials." If the plural form of man is men, then the plural form of human should be humen.

Toothbrush should really be teethbrush and footwear should be feetwear. Eye contact should be eyes contact along with knees knocker and ears muffs.

Grass it would seem is always plural. We say "a patch of grass" but would never say, " the ant climbed up a grass."

Things such as air, water, fun or fame don't usually get to be plural. You can keep adding to them but they simply expand.

English is really a mongrel language. Some of us spend a lifetime trying to learn it but there are many who don't try very hard, if at all.

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