Entries Tagged as 'Puzzling Plurals'

Plurals – The Good, The Bad, and the Puzzling

You might have noticed that I’ve been writing a series on Puzzling Plurals.  Here are links to all of those posts in one convenient place for you, organized by topic:


Puzzling Plurals: Congratulations!

As you’re wishing the new graduate luck on her journey, giving a pat on the back to a new employee, or sending the newlyweds off to start their new life together, just remember that the noun congratulations is plural.

Puzzling Plurals: Pair or Pairs

When you are talking about two things that go together (2 matching socks, shoes, or gloves), you call the set a pair (no -s).  If you go to Target to get new socks, for example, but they come with three matching sets…six individual socks…you have three pairs – with an -s.

In other words:

  • 2 matching socks = one pair (one pair is singular, so there is no -s)
  • 4 socks, two of which match = two pairs (pair is plural, so add an -s)

Read more about pairs and subject/verb agreement by clicking here.

Puzzling Plurals: Dollars

Whenever you see the $ symbol in front of a number, you should use the word “dollar” after the symbol.  Like any regular count nouns, you have to add an –s to indicate the amount is more than 1.

For example:

  • $50 – fifty dollars.
  • $1 – one dollar

When cents are involved, use the dollar amount to determine if the dollar is plural.

  • $50.50 – fifty dollars and fifty cents
  • $1.50 – one dollar and fifty cents (or, more commonly, a dollar fifty)

Puzzling Plurals: Holidays

The holidays are here!  Even though Christmas gets most of the attention, it’s important to acknowledge the other holidays around this time of year:  Hanuka, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Halloween…

(maybe Halloween is stretching out the season too far, but when I went witch-hat shopping for my costume, all I found were Christmas trees)

The idea to remember here is that there is a lot happening this time of year, so sometimes all the activity gets lumped together into one big season:  The Holiday Season, or simply, The Holidays!

Happy Holidays from Debra at Allenglish.org!

Puzzling Plurals: Regards, Part I

Writing regards is an offer of good wishes and is commonly used to close a letter or formal e-mail.  When “regard” is used to close a letter, it appears in the plural form.  Don’t forget to add the -s!



Puzzling Plurals: Movies

A student recently asked, “Why is it called movies if you just saw one movie [or film]?”

My answer was that when you go to the movie theater, there are usually many movies to choose from.  You are at the location where they usually show more than one movie.  In the United States, instead of saying, “We went to the movie theater,” we shorten it to movies.

This student seemed satisfied with my response, but I was surprised that she didn’t continue to ask why we don’t say, “We went to the movie.”  If you use the article “the” with movie, both you and the listener need a common point of reference (i.e. you both need to know which movie you’re referring to).  At this point in the conversation, it might be better just to name the movie.

Here is a possible conversation:

You:  Hi.  What did you do this weekend?

Your coworker: We went to the movies.

You: Oh, what did you see?

Your coworker: We saw Inception.  What about you?  Did you have a good weekend?

You:  Yes.  I went to the movies, too, but I didn’t see the movie we talked about last week.

Your coworker: Which one?  Paranormal Activity?

You:  Yes.

Puzzling Plurals: Daylight Saving and other Savings

Sources on the internet state, and I agree, that the standard is to call it Daylight Saving Time (no -s on saving)

I recommend just remembering this, but some people like rules, so here’s my attempt:

Consistent with the rule that nouns that function as adjectives are never plural (except the word sport, as in sports bar, or sports team),  if you put the gerund (noun) saving in front of the word time, there is no need for an -s ending on saving.

Click here for an activity to practice this rule.

However, the rule is challenged when you use the word saving to modify bond or account, which become savings bond and savings account.

In marketing and consumer materials, the word savings is used as a plural noun as seen in these examples: “Storewide Savings” and “Mega Sale Savings“.

Incidentally, in 2010 in the United States (but not all states), Daylight Saving Time begins on November 7, 2010 at 2:00 am.

Puzzling Plurals: Stairs

Upstairs and downstairs have an -s ending, but they actually refer to one location:  another floor of the building.  If stairs, upstairs, or downstairs is the subject, the verb should agree with a singular noun.

  • The upstairs has a home theater. (upstairs in this example is the subject – have agrees with upstairs)
  • Upstairs, there is a home theater. (upstairs in this example refers to the location only – it’s not the subject here)

If the word stair appears first in a compound word, it will not take an -s.

  • staircase, stairwell

If there is just one stair, call it a step (not a stair).  If there is one or a few steps, use the:

  • up the step(s), down the step(s), up the stairs, down the stairs
  • These expressions imply movement rather than location.

Puzzling Plurals: Resident

The plural of the word resident is residents.  Just add an -s.  Why is it puzzling?  The plural residents sounds like the word residence.  If you get confused, this might help:

  • resident – one person who lives in a place (a resident of Virginia, the resident of this house)
  • residents – people (2 or more) who live in a place (residents of Virginia, the residents of this house)
  • residence – the place where one or more people stay or live (a college student’s permanent residence is in Florida, but their current residence is at the university).
  • residences* – the places where one or more people stay, live, or have lived.

*When you change residence to the plural form, remember to add a syllable /Iz/ when you pronounce it.