Zero Plural in English Grammar

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In grammar, the zero plural is a plural form of a count noun that is identical to the singular form. Also called zero [or null] morpheme.

In English, zero plural marking refers to the absence of the plural markers -s and -es.

Several animal names (sheep, deer, cod) and certain nationalities (Japanese, Sioux, Taiwanese) take the zero plural in English.

Examples and Observations

Here are some examples from famous works:

  • "This week the debate is on an idea to let everyone fish a few cod 'just for food.'" (Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World. Walker Publishing, 1997)
  • "We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way." -General George S. Patton
  • "In English, plurals of nouns are normally indicated by the ending –s or –es, or in a few cases by –en, as in children and oxen. Some vernacular varieties of English do not use plural endings in measurement phrases such as three mile and ten pound. This zero plural has a long history and was not formerly as socially stigmatized as it is today... In adjectival constructions even Standard English has no –s plural: a five-pound box of candy is acceptable, whereas a five-pounds box is not. These adjective phrases derive from an –a suffix in Old English that marked plural adjectives. This ending has long since fallen away, leaving behind the unmarked root forms. The absence of –s in the plural form of animal names (hunting for bear, a herd of buffalo) probably arose by analogy with animals like deer and sheep whose plurals have been unmarked since the earliest beginnings of the English language." ("plural," The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000
  • "I'm horrified of lobsters. And shrimp and lobsters are the cockroaches of the ocean." -Brooke Burke
  • "Bluefin tuna contain higher levels of mercury than other species of tuna because they live longer and, like humans, accumulate more mercury in their body tissues." (The New York Times, January 24, 2008)

Zero Plurals With Numerals, Quantifiers, and Nouns of Measure

  • "[Zero plurals] include the names of some animals, particularly cod, deer, sheep; nouns denoting quantity when they are premodified by a numeral or other quantifier and particularly when they are attached to a noun head: two hundred (people), three dozen (plants), several thousand (dollars). The measure nouns foot (length unit), pound (unit of weight or of British currency), and stone (British weight unit) optionally take zero plurals: six foot two, twenty pound, fifteen stone." (Sidney Greenbaum, Oxford English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • "His hat, I reckon, weighed ten pound
    To say the least, and I'll say, shore,
    His overcoat weighed fifty more." (James Whitcomb Riley, "Squire Hawkins's Story")
  • "I have known when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armour." (Much Ado About Nothing, Act Two, scene 3 )
  • "The foggers and cooling fans were going full blast in Jim's twin five-hundred-foot-long chicken houses." (Baxter Black, "Chicken House Attack." Horseshoes, Cowsocks & Duckfeet. Crown Publishers, 2002)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Zero Plural in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Zero Plural in English Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Zero Plural in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).