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(12) Nouns and their Number.

(Productive and Less Productive Types of Plural Formation; Foreign Plurals, Plurals in Compound Nouns; Singularia Tantum, Pluralia Tantum; Semantic Functions of Number).

(12.1) Number as a Grammatical Category

- a semantically-grammatical category

- (a) singular = indicates one object or an indivisible whole (snow)

- (b) plural = indicated more than one object

- dual = non-productive in both CZ and E

- E: only a lexical manifestation of dual (dual: both, either, neither, each other x plural: all, any, none, one another)

- CZ: also some remains of grammatical dual (oči, uši, ruce)

- only the plural form => collective meaning (belongings) or composite objects (scissors)

- singularia tantum

- pluralia tantum

(12.2) Productive Plural Formation: The Ending –(e)s

(12.2.1) Phonetics

(1) pronounced as [s] after voiceless consonants

(2) pronounced as [z] after voiced consonants and vowels

(3) pronounced as [iz] after [s, z, ∫, 3, t∫, d3]

(12.2.2) Orthography

(1) spelled as "s" when pronounced [s, z]

(2) spelled as "es" when pronounced [iz]

- also spelled as "es" in some nouns with word-final -o (potato-es, tomato-es, hero-es)

- x spelled as "s" in nouns with word-final -o preceded by another vowel (kangaroo-s, radio-s, studio-s)

- x also spelled as "s" in nouns of Italian origin and in nouns formed by clipping (solo-s, soprano-s, concerto-s; photo-s, kilo-s, piano-s)

- word-final -y changes into -i

(12.3) Non-productive Plural Formation

(12.3.1) Phonemic/Morphemic Alternation

(1) phonemic alternation in some nouns: the voiceless fricatives [s, θ, f] > the voiced [z, ð, v]

- [s] > [z]: only in house [haus] > houses [hauziz]

- [θ] > [ð]: after a long vowel (bath [ba:θ] > baths [ba:ðz], mouth, path, etc.)

- [f] > [v]: only in calf > calves, elf, half, knife, leaf, life, loaf, self, sheaf, shelf, thief, wife, wolf [note: accompanied by an alternation in spelling]

(2) morphemic alternation in some nouns

- an alternation of the root vowel only in man [mæn] > men [men], woman > women, foot > feet, tooth > teeth, goose > geese, mouse > mice, louse > lice

- the plural ending –en: only in ox > oxen; child > children [note: accompanied by an additional "r" and the alternation of the root vowel]; brother > brothers/brethren [note: accompanied by a change of meaning]

- null plural ending (x agreement with the verb form for plural):

(a) some domestic animals and game animals: sheep, salmon, trout, deer, duck, etc.

(b) names of nations ending in –ese: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.

(c) some names for amount or measure when after a numeral (several hundred people x hundreds of people): dozen, hundred, thousand, million, ton, etc.

(d) measure phrases in an attributive position: a three-mile walk, a two-hour drive, a ten-minute break, etc. 

(e) some other nouns: counsel, offspring, means, etc.

(12.3.2) Foreign Plurals

- with nouns of foreign origin

- often co-exist with the domestic plural: the foreign plural restricted to scientific use

(1) Latin plurals

- with no domestic alternative: stimulus > stimuli, minimum > minima, stratum > strata, etc.

- with a domestic alternative: formula > formulae, formulas; focus > foci, focuses; aquarium > aquaria, aquariums, etc.

(2) Greek plurals: analysis > analyses, crises > crises, hypothesis > hypotheses, etc.

(3) French plurals with nouns ending in –s or –x, homographs x not homophones: corps [ko:] > [co:z], faux pas [f∂u pa:] > [f∂u pa:z], rendezvous [rondivu:] > [rondivu:z]

(12.3.3) Plurals in Compound Nouns

(1) compounds without any noun component: the regular plural ending –s added to the last component (forget-me-nots, merry-go-rounds, take-offs)

(2) compounds with a noun as a head: the ending –s added to the head regardless of its position in the compound (passers-by, sons-in-law, coats-of-arms)

(3) compounds with two nouns in an appositive position: –s added only to the last component (boy friends, lady-singers, Lord Mayors)

(4) compounds incl. man or woman in an appositive position: plural formed in both nouns (manservant > menservants, woman driver > women drivers)

(12.3.4) Suppletive Plurals

- only in Sir > Gentlemen, Madam > ladies, Mr X > Messrs X

(12.4) Semantic Functions of Number

- the basic semantic function of PL: to differentiate btw one x more countable elements

(12.4.1) Singular Form – Plural Meaning

(1) collective nouns to denote a group of people

(a) to denote a group of individuals (family, firm, company, crew)

(b) to denote a class of people as a whole (bourgeoisie, clergy, elite, intelligentsia)

- most collectives form PL x but: some of them only in SG (cattle, police, vermin)

- agreement: either semantic (i.e. PL) or grammatical (i.e. SG), both possible

(2) collective nouns to denote a group of objects (china, pottery, jewellery)

- agreement: only grammatical, i.e. SG noun > SG verb

- E: a restricted group of words

- CZ: a larger group of words with special forms: kámen – kameny – kamení, list – listy – listí

(12.4.2) Plural Form – Singular Meaning

(1) plural forms to denote a composite object (scissors, binoculars, trousers; stairs, ashes, embers; vegetables, goods, clothes)

- mostly pluralia tantum => grammatical agreement with PL verb

(2) plural forms of uncountable nouns to denote a large area/amount (sands, frosts, waters)

(12.4.3) Plural Form – More Meanings

- some nouns form PL with additional meaning(s) besides that of the SG noun form

- colours [prapor], glasses [brýle], irons [pouta], customs [clo], effects [movitý majetek], manners [zvyky], pains [úsilí], honours [vyznamenání], pictures [kino], spirits [alkohol, nálada], hairs [chlupy], etc.

(12.4.4) Neutralisation of the Plural versus Singular Contrast

- in general statements PL x SG can be used with the same meaning (A girl matures earlier than a boy. = Girls mature earlier than boys.)

(12.5) Singularia/Pluralia Tantum

(12.5.1) Singularia Tantum

- have only the SG form, agree with the SG verb

- mostly uncountable nouns, both concrete and abstract

- names of materials: bread, wool, smoke, etc.

- abstract nouns: honesty, decay, darkness, etc.

- proper names: Henry, Australia, the Thames, etc.

- converted adjectives denoting abstract characteristics: the obscure, etc.

- names of games: billiards, darts, bowls, etc.

- names of sciences: acoustics, etc.

- idiosyncratic items: news, Brussels, Wales, etc.

(12.5.2) Pluralia Tantum

- have only the PL form, agree with the PL verb

- mostly uncountable nouns

- clothes: pyjamas, trousers, jeans, etc.

- instruments: scissors, scales, spectacles, etc.

- diseases and feelings: measles, shivers, etc.

- applied sciences: physics, linguistics, economics, etc.

- converted adjectives denoting a group of people: the homeless, the sick, the poor, etc.

- idiosyncratic items: annals, contents, belongings, archives, earnings, goods, etc.

- some geographical names: the Netherlands, the East Indies, the Hebrides, etc.


Dušková, Libuše, et al. Mluvnice současné angličtiny na pozadí češtiny. Praha: Academia, 2003.

Svoboda, Aleš, and Mária Opělová Károlyová. A Brief Survey of the English Morphology. Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita, 1993.

Other Sources

Veselovská, Ludmila. Přednášky a semináře: Morfologie 2. ZS 2003/04.


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