These Uncommon Singular Words Sound So Wrong

Sometimes we can’t remember the plural form of a word—is it hippopotamuses or hippopotami? (Hint: it can be either). But there are also those times when we’re so used to hearing the plural form of a word that we just can’t think of the singular. 

Even if we can remember the correct word, it tends to sound so odd and unfamiliar that we second guess ourselves. Don’t believe it? Take a look at these uncommon and unusual singular nouns. You’ve probably never heard of a few!

spaghetto | spaghetti

Is there really such a thing as a spaghetto? Yep, you bet your meatballs there is. That’s what each of those noodles on your plate of spaghetti is called, believe it or not. The word spaghetti first appeared around 1885–90 as a plural of the Italian word spaghetto, which is diminutive of spago, meaning “thin rope.” 

kudo | kudos

When it comes to honor, glory, and acclaim, we say bring it on in droves or in kudos. But one such recognition is nothing to sneeze at either. It’s just that we call that a kudo without the S. Most people just use kudos no matter the case. For example, your boss may give you a kudo for a project, and if your coworker also gives you a kudo, you can say you got kudos. And let us just say, “Kudos to you!” 

First evidence of the word dates back to the 1800s, stemming from the Greek word (a singular noun) kŷdos meaning “praise or renown.” Kudo came about by back formation from the plural kudos

datum | data

Sometimes the more data you have, the better; other times it’s just one key datum that you need. Defined as “a single piece of information, as a fact, statistic, or code; an item of data,” it’s not a word we hear often, and data is typically used both as a plural and singular noun. In some cases—namely in surveying and civil engineering—datums is used as the plural form of the word.

graffito | graffiti

Is it a crime? Is it art? In some cases these spray-painted markings, words, and photos we call graffiti may be both. While we’re likely to call one and all such displays graffiti, the fact is that if there’s just one, it’s technically known as a graffito

The word, which dates back to 1850–55, comes from the Italian word with the same spelling, graffito, meaning “incised inscription or design,” a derivative of graffiare meaning “to scratch.”  

alga | algae

Together these “groups of chlorophyll-containing, mainly aquatic eukaryotic organisms” are known as algae, but isolate just one of them, and you have an alga (pronounced al-guh). The word comes from the Latin word with the same spelling, which means “seaweed.” 

paparazzo | paparazzi

One paparazzo may be manageable for celebs, but when hordes of paparazzi come out in droves with their cameras flashing, trying to get shots of their every move, it’s got to be overwhelming … and kind of cool, if we’re being honest. 

The word, which sprung into our vocabularies around 1965–70, comes from Italian. It was the surname of a photographer in the Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita. Fellini reportedly plucked the name from a book (By the Ionian Sea) that features a hotel owner named Coriolano Paparazzo.

confetto | confetti

One piece of confetto would be fine to pick up after festivities. It’s confetti that can make someone go mad. (All those pieces of the colorful paper stick to every possible surface!) 

First evidence of the word dates back to 1805-15, stemming from the Italian word use of confetti, which is a type of candy. You see, the Italians used to throw candies at one another during their carnivals. Eventually, the tradition evolved to people throwing little pieces of paper instead, which isn’t as tasty, but better for one’s teeth (if not the environment).

die | dice

More than one family game night has erupted into debate over this difference, so we’ll settle it once and for all. If you’re rolling dice, there should be more than one. If there’s only one, you’re rolling a die

First evidence of the word to describe these fun little cubes dates back to 1300–50, stemming from the words dees, dis, and dyce, which were used as both singular and plural nouns and dyces, a plural form. They came from the Old French words deiz and dés (plural). Which leads us to wonder … did the French also debate which one is the plural and singular, just like we do?


Turns out there are also a lot of strange and irregular plurals as well, check them out here!

English takes many twists and turns actually, including these misleading terms you’ve been using wrong, with good reason.

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