Double Plurals in English

Variety of multi coloured dice
Anthony Bradshaw / Getty Images

A double plural is the plural form of a noun with an additional plural ending (usually -s) attached; for example, candelabras (singular, candelabrum; plural, candelabra) or sixpences (singular, penny; plural, pence).

In addition, the term double plural is occasionally used to refer to a noun with two plurals that differ in meaning, such as brothers and brethren (plurals of brother).

Examples and Observations

Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine: Bacteria is the Latin plural form [of bacterium]. In formal and scientific writing, it is always treated as plural and used with a plural verb: 'These bacteria are clearly visible when stained.' In everyday English, bacteria is also used as a singular noun meaning a strain of bacteria: 'They said it was a bacteria, not a virus.' This singular use has generated a double plural: bacterias. Bacterias, meaning strains of bacteria, is fairly common in journalism, but not suited for technical or formal writing.

John Algeo: Modern English breeches is a double plural (OE nominative singular broc 'trouser,' nominative plural brec), as is ... kine (OE nominative singular cu 'cow,' nominative plural cy with the addition of the plural -n from words like oxen).

Celia M. Millward and Mary Hayes: OE cildru 'children' belonged to a very small minor class of neuter nouns having a plural in -ru; the /r/ has survived in PDE [present-day English], but an additional weak -n plural has been added, giving PDE children a double plural.

Kate Burridge: Occasionally, people using incident in the plural give it a double plural — incidentses. Incidents doesn't sound plural enough — just as quince (in 1300s one coyn and many coyns) didn't for early English speakers (Quinces is historically a double plural).

Richard Lockridge: They stopped and formed a semicircle around the microphone. 'Everywhere there is a crisis,' they sang together. 'Every time they throw the dices.'

Kate Burridge: This same process is currently affecting the word dice. Dice was traditionally the plural of die 'small cube with six faces,' but is now being reinterpreted as singular. In this case we've also got a split happening. In specialist contexts die is still being used as a singular noun for 'metal stamp for coining.' The dice used in gaming has a new reformulated plural, technically a double plural, dices (though some speakers still use dice as plural)... When speakers don't feel words to be plural enough, they add another plural marker for good measure.

Shane Walshe: Both [Terence Patrick] Dolan [in A Dictionary of Hiberno-English, 2006] and [Jiro] Taniguchi [in A Grammatical Analysis of Artistic Representation of Irish English, 1972] ... draw attention to double plural forms (or what Taniguchi calls 'vulgar' forms) which also occasionally appear in Irish English. These involve the addition of /əz/ to existing plurals which end in -s. Dolan offers the examples of bellowses for bellows and galluses for gallus, an obsolete form of the word gallows meaning 'braces.' Taniguchi, on the other hand, cites newses as a plural for news (1972: 10). While I have not encountered the latter form, I have frequently heard other forms, such as pantses and knickerses. What is more, the film corpus displays the forms chipses and barrackses.

Edna O'Brien: My mother used always to laugh because when they met Mrs. Hogan used to say 'any newses' and look up at her, with that wild stare, opening her mouth to show the big gaps between her front teeth, but the 'newses' had at last come to her own door, and though she must have minded dreadfully she seemed vexed more than ashamed, as if it was inconvenience rather than disgrace that had hit her.

Tamara Maximova: In general, words tend to be borrowed as unanalysed wholes, their internal structure being opaque to the borrower. Russian speakers are therefore often not aware of the meaning of the English plural morpheme -s; this can lead to double plural marking through the addition of a Russian inflection to an English plural; as in pampersy, dzhinsy, chipsy.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Double Plurals in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Double Plurals in English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Double Plurals in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).