Fear not, Gentle Writer, for Mrs. Grammar Person, hearing your sighs and seeing your furrowed brows, is delighted to offer her assistance once again. She knows the source of your consternation, the impetus for your aggravation; more absurd than an irregular verb is the mixed-up sound of an irregular noun. When mouse becomes mice and louse becomes lice–it’s truly enough to make you think twice. These three nouns are also offbeat: tooth becomes teeth, goose becomes geese and foot becomes feet.
But some nouns don’t change, and that is just fine, for no matter how many, a swine is a swine. Other animal nouns that are equally clear are moose, sheep and fish, bison, tuna and deer. Alas, Mrs. G.P. cannot grant all your wishes, for sometimes fish can also be fishes.
Before spending time berating ourselves, we must figure out how elf became elves. Some nouns end with ‘f’ and change into ‘v’, so Henry VIII had six wives, don’t you see? Each wife had a scarf, six scarves did they have, worn around their necks and not on their calves. I cut food with a knife, though I own many knives, a dog has one life, while a cat has nine lives. I buy bread by the loaf, I can’t eat many loaves, but two or more oafs will never be oaves. Fluff and stuff never change, thank heavens for that, like a dog is a dog, but never a cat.
The next three nouns are really quite mild, and clearly address each man, woman, and child. Men, women, and children is the rule you must ken, to understand that the plural of ox is oxen.
The next three are tricky–stick with it, please–or you’ll never understand appendices. With appendix, index, and matrix, you’d never guess, but the plural of each ends with “c-e-s”.
The next nouns are Latin and make quite a fuss, and include such strange words as nucleus. Mrs. G.P. regrets very much that she might make you cry, but the plural of nucleus is nuclei. Please focus your mind and you’ll learn by and by, that the plural of focus is always foci. A cactus can blind you if you’re poked in the eye, for nothing hurts more than sharpened cacti. A mushroom’s a fungus and healthy to try, but more than one type is known as fungi. Yes, your head hurts, we know–too much stimuli.
More Latin for you, these nouns are more rare, the plural’s the form that gives them their flair. Mrs. G.P. hopes she won’t make you feel dumb when she tells you that data are comprised of datum (media/medium, bacteria/bacterium). Likewise, criteria is more than one, but the singular form is criterion.
Our crisis averted, no more crises today, Mrs. G.P.’s diagnosis is that you’ll be okay. Her analysis complete, she finishes up with a flourish, and hopes that her rhymes weren’t too amateurish. Changing person to people is our final odd duck and now Mrs. Grammar Person has run out of luck. You’re happy to leave her for nothing is worse, than listening to Mrs. G.P. composing in verse!
Join Barbara in A Trip to the Mobius Strip!
reprinted with permission by the author