The Origin and Development of Plural Ending in English

Like other Teutonic languages, the English language has two numbers: Singular ad Plural. But there is a good difference of forming plural from singular between Old English and Modern English.

In Old English, most masculine was made plural by adding the ending ‘e’ as in Engle, some by ‘a’ as in suna, a great many by ‘an’ as in guman.

Feminine words were formed their plurals by adding the ending  ‘a’, as in griefa some by adding ‘e’ as in bene, some by adding ‘an’ as in tungan and many words without any ending.

From the very beginning of the Old English period the ending- ‘as’(later on ‘es’ or ‘s’) began to gain ground first among the masculine and then in feminine and neuter gender also. But the regular rule of the plural ending in English began during the late Middle English.  Most nouns are done plural by adding the ending ‘-s’ such as:                 

Singular    plural

Cow          cows

Boy           boys

Girl           girls

Book        books etc

In Modern English, there are many words which are plural in formation but used as singular as: scissors, news, vegetables etc.

There are a good many definite words the plural of which is complete opposite words, such as:

Singular     Plural

Mouse        mice

Goose        geese

Child         children etc

The nouns generally ended in y, f, sh etc. take ‘es’ instead of ‘s’ in the plural as for examples- 

Singular     Plural

Lady           ladies

Wolf           wolves 

Fish           fishes etc

There are some words the plural of which generally depend on their use. Shakespeare wrote: She has more hair than wit and more faults than hairs. Here Shakespeare uses the hair in a plural sense, though he has not used ‘-s’ in the first word to indicate plurality; but in the second clause, he uses the ending ‘-s’ in the word.

There are many words of double plural ending, grammatically the uses of which is wrong, but logically such use is not incorrect. For example- there are eight sets of chamberses (Thackeray). Here the word ‘chamberses’ has been done double plural. Once a student (of London), wrote: cats have clawses. Here the word ‘claws’ has been done double plural by adding ‘-es’ to the plural from ‘claws’. But it is noteworthy that the rules of making plural from singular in Modern English is more logical than that of Old English. 0 0 0

(This article ‘The Origin and Development of Plural Ending in English’ originally belongs to the book entitled ‘A Brief History of the English Langauge‘ by Menonim Menonimus)

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Posted in Linguistic Essays.