You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2015 03 29Article 352331

Opinions of Sunday, 29 March 2015

Columnist: Azindoo, Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq

Literary discourse - Number special plurality

By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale
Email: Tell: 0244755402


In a previous essay, we discussed the ungrammatical application of the noun CRITERIA in Ghanaian English. Today, we examine SPECIAL PLURALITY, an aspect of NUMBER, which constitutes a source of confusion and misapplication. It is instructive to note that CRITERIA and related nouns belong to the category of SPECIAL PLURALITY. But before we go to the main discourse, we need to maximize our understanding of NUMBER as a grammatical concept and its significance in English communication. This would help us understand the topic under discussion holistically and avoid errors in relation to it largely.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this discourse, fellow learners/readers should be able to enhance their ability to:

• Understand Number in Grammar
• Identify nouns and pronouns as elements of Number
• Know singularity and plurality as cases in Number
• Differentiate ordinary/simple plurality from special/complex plurality


NUMBER is an important feature of English Grammar and tool of comprehensible communication. This is because it helps writers and speakers (to) obey the Rule of Concord, which checks ambiguity and verbosity. NUMBER simply refers to the grammatical quantity expressed by nouns and pronouns in English. It is, therefore, categorised into Singular and Plural. Examples are book [singular], BOOKS [plural]; he [singular] THEY [plural]; this [singular], THESE [plural].

Comparative Linguistics establishes that English, unlike other languages, has only the Singular and Plural cases as NUMBER. For instance, Arabic has, as part of NUMBER, the Principle of Duality in nouns, pronouns and other lexical categories. Moreover, NUMBER in French covers word classes such as verbs, pronouns, adjectives, and articles – definite and indefinite.

Special Plurality

Most words in English undergo plurality when we simply add to them the morpheme “S.” Examples are pen [singular], PENS [plural]; house [singular], HOUSES [plural]. However, there are many exceptions to this rule when dealing with the plurality of irregular nouns such as: child [singular], CHILDREN [plural]; consortium [singular], CONSORTIA [plural]. These are nouns under special plurality with varied lexical forms and features. Below are some of them:

S-ending Plural Nouns of Special Meanings

It is important to mention that certain nouns ending with “S” have plural forms only with certain meanings. WhiteSmoke, (2010) gives examples of such nouns as follows: CUSTOMS (at the airport/border, not practices), GUTS (courage, not intestines)
QUARTERS (lodgings, not 1/4s), CLOTHES (garments, not fabrics) GOODS (merchandise, not the opposite of bad), ARMS (weapons, not limb). For better understanding, let us use these words in sentences.

• Atampugre and Kofi are CUSTOMS officers at Kotoka International Airport.
• Professor Lungu has the GUTS to question the existence of God!
• Abigail stays at Nanton police QUARTERS.
• Rosemary exports Ghana-made CLOTHES.
• Cocaine and marijuana are among illegal GOODS in international trade.
• Dr. SAS, a renowned lawyer, is the defence counsel for Kojo, who is on trial for unlawful deals in ARMS.

It is instructive to state that these words should NOT be confused with S-ending Singular Nouns.

S-ending Singular Nouns

Among irregular nouns in English are those that end with “S” but are usually singular. So, in concord, they take singular verbs with an “S” ending in Present Simple Tense. Examples are: MEASLES, RABIES, DIABETES as diseases.
In the fields of study and occupation we also have: ECONOMICS, ETHICS, LINGUISTICS, POLITICS, PHYSICS, AND GYMNASTICS.

It is, therefore, ungrammatical to say:

• MATHEMATICS are difficult
• MEASLES are very painful.

Rather, the correct constructions are:

• MATHEMATICS is difficult
• MEASLES is very painful.

Both of the nouns, as stated earlier, are singular and must take the singular verb “is” to satisfy the requirement of Concord. Similarly, we could say or write:

• POLITICS has (not have) been a major cause of conflict in Africa.
• ECONOMICS has (not have) been one of Azinpaga’s best subjects.

S-ending Nouns of Both Singularity and Plurality

Some nouns have an identical form of “S” ending for both singular and plural. Examples are SERIES, BARRACKS, MEANS, HEADQUARTERS, SPECIES, and CROSSROADS. See some of these words in sentences:

• THE HERITAGE, a TV SERIES on African History on GTV, is interesting. [Singular sense].
• Many TV SERIES on many TV stations are patronized by many people in Ghana. [Plural sense].
• Money is a MEANS to an end. [Singular sense].
• Newspapers and TV are MEANS of mass communication. [Plural sense].
• There is one SPECIES of humans. [Singular sense]
• There are many SPECIES of cats. [Plural sense].

Plural Nouns from Other Languages

As English constantly borrows words from other languages in its dynamism, there are many nouns with plural endings taken from the source language. Some of these, notably Latin and classical Greek nouns, have been anglicized, and may also have an English plural “S” ending.
Others have both forms, where the original ones are used in formal language or by specialists, while the anglicized are left for more common or informal use. Some of these words are now almost known or used in the plural form, but others are still treated as singular in subject-verb agreement. Morphemes such as “um – ia/a”, “on – a”, “is – es”, “a –ae”, “ex/ix” – “ices”, “us – i” are often associated with the nouns under review. In other words, when a noun in this category ends in “um”, “ia” or “a” replaces the “um” to form plurality. This explanation applies to the rest of the above stated morphemes. Below are practical examples:

um – ia

In the following sentences are examples of nouns which end in “um” for their singulars but have “ia/a” for their plurals:

• One BACTERIUM can multiply into millions of BACTERIA. Bacterium [singular]. Bacteria [plural].
• This DATUM is good for a PhD Candidate, but he/she needs more DATA to complete the dissertation. Datum [Singular]. Data [Plural].
• The Internet is the newest MEDIUM, and TV channels are the most powerful MEDIA. Medium [singular]. Media [Plural].
• Each school has a CURRICULUM, but the CURRICULA of many schools are irrelevant to the needs of Corporate Ghana. Curriculum [Singular]. Curricula [Plural].

It is important to note the difference between CURRICULA as plural and CURRICULAR as adjective. The morpheme “R” is the differentiator.

To some modern grammarians, perhaps those avoiding the charge of pedantry, it is acceptable to say “this data for that media house is important”, although DATA and MEDIA are strictly plural from the singular nouns (of Latin origin) DATUM and MEDIUM respectively.

NOTE: AGENDA, DATA and MEDIA have been listed by Oxford Dictionary of English (2010) as acceptable singular nouns “in standard modern English.” In the case of DATA the dictionary explains that “it is treated as a mass noun similar to a word like INFORMATION, which takes a singular verb.” (Emphasis mine). MEDIA, in the dictionary, is also compared to a collective noun like STAFF and CLERGY, “which means that it is now acceptable in standard English for it to take either a singular or a plural verb.” Whether pedants – grammar purists – would accept the positions of the dictionary (or not) is another matter. Many of these pedants may not understand why the dictionary has yielded to popular “corruption” at the expense of conventional “purity”. But it could be due to Corpus-based Approach to linguistic analysis, which gains grounds in lexicographic consideration in modern times.

on – a

Below are examples of sentences involving some nouns which end in “on” for singularity but end in “a” for plurality:

• One CRITERION used to admit students into tertiary institutions is entrance examination. [Singular].
• Many CRITERIA are used to promote members of academia. [Plural].
• An earthquake is a natural PHENOMENON. [Singular].
• Rains are natural PHENOMENA. [Plural].

Writers and speakers of English as a Second Language (ESL) in Ghana should, therefore, avoid ungrammatical constructions such as: What is the CRITERIA for the selection? Or this is a natural PHENOMENA.

is – es

The following are sentences containing some nouns which end in “is” for their singulars but end in “es” for their plurals:

• Objective ANALYSIS of issues is a critical norm of intellectualism. [Singular].
• The financial ANALYSES by the minister on TV yesterday were not correct. [Plural].
• Fuel CRISIS in Ghana is quite endemic. [Singular].
• Political CRISES are major factors of development retardation on the African continent. [Plural].
• The basis for this HYPOTHESIS is not valid. [Singular].
• These HYPOTHESES are valid. [Plural].

a – ae

Some nouns which end in “a” for their singulars but end in “ae” for their plurals are exemplified in the following sentences:

• I bought a TV ANTENNA in London last year. [Singular].
• The TV ANTENNAE for students of University of Applied Management (UAM) are new. [Plural].

us – i

The following are examples of sentences involving some nouns which end in “us” for their singulars but end in “i” for their plurals:

• The RADIUS of this circle looks beautiful. [Singular].
• These circles have wrong RADII. [Plural].
• Kataale is an ALUMNUS of Batangyili University. [Singular].
• Olajuon and Zak are ALUMNI of Bilcheensi Institute of Liberal Studies. [Plural].

ex/ix – ices

Some nouns which end in “ex/ix” for their singulars but end in “ices” for their plurals are presented in the sentences below:

• An INDEX number is an important piece of information for an examination candidate. [Singular].
• Many economic INDICES/indexes in many countries are fabricated. [Plural].
• A page of APPENDIX is an essential portion of a thesis. [Singular].
• The APPENDICES of these dissertations are faulty. [Plural].

o – i

Some nouns which end in “o” for singularity, but end in “i” for plurality are in sentences below:

• There is a beautiful GRAFFITO at the Ghana Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. [Singular].
• GRAFFITI are all over the walls of Gbewaa Museum. [Plural].
• Wuntiti likes an Italian CONCERTO. [Singular].
• Many CONCERTI in Ghana are lovely. [Plural].
• Akosua Agyapong remains a celebrated Ghanaian VIRTUOSO. [Singular].
• Many emerging VIRTUOSI in Ghana are interested in money instead of artistic quality. [Plural].
• The SYLLABUS of a meaningful course in Media Studies must include Cyber Journalism. [Singular].
• Ghanaian tertiary institutions need to overhaul the SYLLABI of many courses to reflect the needs of industry and make graduates more employable. [Plural].


In conclusion, we point out that in modern English plural nouns such as CURRICULUMS [instead of curricula], FORUMS [instead of fora], MOUSES [instead of mice], and STADIUMS [instead of stadia] are accepted, according to Oxford and other dictionaries. Other irregular singular nouns and their plural forms are as follows: man [singular], MEN [plural]; woman [singular], WOMEN [plural]; tooth, [singular], TEETH [plural]; mouse [singular], MICE [plural]. There are many more irregular cases of noun plurality unique in usage, and it is advisable that whenever in doubt, one consults a good dictionary or usage authority for appropriate information.

God is the Best Grammarian.

Works Consulted

Bybee, J. Perkins, R., & Pagliuca, W. (1994). The evolution of grammar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. (2015). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Collins dictionary of English. (2015). London: HarperCollins.
Davis, S.,& Brendan, S. G. (eds.). (2004). Semantics: a reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Halliday, M. A. K. (2004). An introduction to functional grammar. (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

James, C. (1998). Errors in language learning and use. London: Routledge.
Longman dictionary of contemporary English. (2015). London: Pearson PLC.
Oxford dictionary of English. (2010). (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
WhiteSmoke (2010). Rules of English grammar. Retrieved October 3, 2010, from