“Beeves” And Other Plural Words You Didn’t Know Existed

Doesn't it seem like every time you learn a grammar rule, you have to learn its exceptions? Take plurals, for example. You can add an -s or -es to most words to create a plural ... except for when you can't. Then there are plurals that look nothing like the original noun, and some that have created their own rules. Plurals can be so odd, we just had to dedicate a slideshow to them! Let's start with spaghetti.

Yes, spaghetti. Next time you dive into a hot plate of spaghetti, take a moment to appreciate each individual spaghetto. The word spaghetti is from the Italian spago meaning "thin rope, twine." It's amazing to think that this beloved, stringy pasta has been a plural all along. Early on in its time in English, spaghetti was spelled "sparghetti," as in Eliza Acton's pivotal 1845 cookbook Modern Cookery, but by 1885 the plural pasta assumed its currently accepted form.

kine

If you think the plural of cow is cows, you're right. But, if you want to impress your bovine buddies with your knowledge of, oh, Old English, try kine. Kine is an archaic (read: not often found outside musty old books) plural of cow.

Without wandering too far into the pasture (we'll let the cows, er, kine, do that), kine survives from the Old English cȳna, which is a plural form of cū—"cow."

Fun fact: kine is the only noun in English whose plural shares no letters with its singular form!

passersby

When a person is seen passing by a scene either casually or by chance, they are considered a passerby, but on a busy street, one passerby is just a member of a crowd of passersby. Instead of pluralizing the act of passing, as would the incorrect "passerbys," this clever word pluralizes the passer or passers themselves, indicating that multiple people might be getting a quick glimpse of the same thing.

Passerby was first recorded around 1560–70, and it's a combination of pass by and -er. Makes sense that the passer would be plural then, doesn't it?

niblings

If you're lucky enough to have several nieces or nephews (and you can't always recall their names), refer to them as your niblingsNiblings is a gender-neutral term that encompasses both nieces and nephews. The word nibling was coined in 1951 by Samuel Martin, who was a professor of Far Eastern languages at Yale University.

Want more discussion on gender-neutral terms? Read about why they is an acceptable singular pronoun!

dice

As a noun, dice is the irregular plural form of die, a small cube typically marked on each side with one to six spots and used in pairs for games of chance. From the Middle English dees, an interchangeable singular and plural form, dice was reborn as a verb with to dice meaning to chop something into small die-sized cubes.

You can trace the etymology of dice all the way back to the Latin dare meaning "to give," or in this case "to cast."

Prii

In 2011, Toyota stated that when you see many of the company's Prius cars parked together, they're called a Prii ... if you want to get all fancily (and facetiously) Latin on it.

To determine the plural, Toyota ran a six-week campaign, during which they invited online communities to participate in the discussion. More than 1.8 million votes were cast, and the company says Prii beat out its four competitors: Prius, Priuses, Priem, or Pri.

Prius is a Latin word that means "coming before" and is related to prior and primary. Priora is also an acceptable Latin plural for prius, if you must get technical about it. (Don't we always?)

doldrums

OK, this was a trick question. There are some nouns that commonly exist only in the plural form, like doldrums. These are called plurale tantum (Latin for "plural only"). Doldrums means "feeling listless or despondent" and dates back to 1795–1805. It stems from the obsolete word dold ("stupid"). Dolt also comes from this word.

In addition to doldrums, other plurale tantums include:

  • clothing: shorts, leggings, jeans
  • tools: scissors, pliers, electronics
  • eyewear: glasses, binoculars
  • actions and feelings: amends

opera

Music history buffs know an opus is "a piece of classical music by a particular composer." It's typically followed by the number, which indicates when the piece was written, such as Chopin's Études, Op. 10 and 25. In Latin, opus means "work, labor, a work."

Technically, the plural of opus is opera (thanks again, Latin). However, the native English plural, opuses, is also acceptable.

sphinges

Planning a trip to Egypt? Be sure to see the Great Sphinx of Giza.

sphinx is an imaginary creature "having the head of a man or an animal and the body of a lion." If you want to see more sphinges—yep, that's the technical Greek plural of sphinx—you can visit the Sphinx of Hatshepsut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Sphinx of Taharqo at the British Museum in London, or take an online tour.

gladioli

We say gladioli for more than one of the beautiful flowering gladiolus because gladioluses is a mouthful.

Rules really break down when it comes to words ending in -us, particularly those that have Latin or Greek origins. For example, the more accepted plural for octopus is octopuses, not octopi. Similarly, when we're talking about more than one hippopotamus, we say hippopotamuses not hippopotami.

But (and there's always a but), the more common plural of cactus is cacti (not cactuses), and the plural of fungus is fungi. While there's no right or wrong with these plurals, it comes down to common usage.

beeves

Leaf, leaves. Wolf, wolves. Scarf, scarves. Beef, beeves?

Well, the plural of beef, in its most familiar sense of "meat from cows" or the like, is generally beef. But, beef can also mean "an adult cow, steer, or bull"; the plural, here, is beeves. And if you have more than one beef ("complaint") with that unusual-seeming plural, well, you've got beefs.

Think you know weird plurals now?

Take our quiz to test yourself on some more weird plurals to see if you are in the know!

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