Just because two authors are great doesn’t mean they get
English is the world’s favorite mish-mash language, which means that we’ve got words drawn from all
kinds of backgrounds. While most linguists agree that as long as you make yourself understood, you’re
speaking correctly, here are five examples of English words that do unexpected things when you try to
add an s to the end.
1. Cul-De-Sac, Attorney General, and other compound words
Sure, few of us use these phrases too often, and when we do we rarely have to talk about more
than one, but did you know that the plural of cul-de-sac is culs-de-sac, or that when you want to
refer to a variety of those attorneys you use Attorneys General? When pluralizing the open form
(written with a space between the words) of a compound word, it is technically correct to add
an s to the noun instead of the adjective.
2. Criterion, focus, and other words with Latin origins
Most of us know some of the words that have weird plurals: cactus goes to cacti. But since Latin
has more than one way to make a plural, we get things like criterion to criteria, focus to foci, and
quantum to quanta. Guess we’ll all have to take some introductory Latin.
3. Octopus and platypus, the psych-outs.
So you read #2 and now you’re ready to bust out octopi at a moment’s notice to show your
party guests how smart you are. Unfortunately, neither of these words comes from Latin.
They’re actually Greek in origin (-pus meaning foot), so if you want to get pedantic about your
plurals you’d end up with octopodes and platypodes. Of course most people just use octopuses.
4. Graffito or “graffiti is a plural?”
Yes, you read that right folks. You’ve probably never thought about the plural of graffiti, and it’s
a good thing too because your brain might explode a little bit when you realize that it is the
plural. The singular, graffito, is an Italian word that means “little scratches”.
5. There is no plural
Pants, jewelry, baggage. What do these things have in common? No plural. Most words that
don’t have a plural form are uncountable or mass nouns, meaning they refer to an indivisible
mass of stuff. A great example of this is often liquids, like water or milk, which can’t be divided
into individual milks and waters. Most of us know this instinctually, but now you can impress
your family and friends with your newfound knowledge of mass nouns.