Nouns That Can Only Be Plural

The idea for this list is courtesy of the inestimable Billy Frolick.

Some nouns in English are always plural.   Can we add to this list?

pants (also slacks, trousers, pantaloons, shorts, etc.)

scissors

pliers

pajamas

suds

 

The standard explanation for this phenomenon is that these are things that essentially have two parts.   Yet we talk intelligibly about the buttock.   (Too intelligibly, some might say.)    What’s the diff?   Is it more “things with legs” than “things with two parts”? No, apparently, because, courtesy of Prof. T.F.T., here’s:

thanks (the noun)

heebie-jeebies

fantods

congratulations

Kudos to Caitlin for:

coveralls

tights

tweezers

tongs

binoculars

glasses

It has been suggested that the principle involved in most of these nouns isn’t “things with legs” but “things with crotches,” or whatever you want to call the thing that joins the two “legs.”   One doesn’t want to think of glasses as having a crotch.   I don’t, anyway.   Still, that doesn’t explain thanks and congratulations.   Also

kudos

A Hatlo hat tip to B. Frolick for

oodles

scads

alms

(Oddly, “lots” doesn’t work, because you can have a lot of something.   But you can’t have an oodle  or a scad, which is just as well, since it sounds like  part of a bad  song lyric.)

From Katharine Weber, whose terrific novel True Confections has just come out, these excellent additions:

mathematics

gallows

headquarters

news

barracks

crossroads

series

species

economics

dregs

(I’m not sure, though, about “species” and “crossroads.”   Can’t something be a   specie? Can’t a road be a crossroad?)

Late-breaking bulletin on “kudos”

Many thanks to Siri Gottlieb, who points out that “kudos” is not plural. It is a Greek word meaning honor, glory or acclaim, and is singular.
Correct: Much kudos to you for pulling it off.
Incorrect: Many kudos to you for pulling it off.

In other words, there’s no such word as “kudo.”

Of course, you can find dictionaries (such as the Online Webster’s) that legitimize “kudo.”   Let’s face it, dictionaries will inevitably  legitimize anything, including “incredulous” for “incredible,” and that’s only right (she said manfully), English being a living, organic thing, and blah blah blah.    Still at the end of the day you have to pick a dictionary and stick with it.   My own Ultimate Authority is  the Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Second Edition, which, it turns out, does not recognize “kudo.”   So I won’t either.

I love the Second. You can keep your Oxford; the Second is the dictionary of the American language. In time, the two of us will sink  for good  beneath the waves, our pages floating free,  but right now we’re still afloat (barely).

Thanks, Siri!

By the way, here’s a nice page considering this topic, connecting kudos to peas and cherries:

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000507.html

30 Comments Nouns That Can Only Be Plural

  1. Just Kristin

    Continuing in the “things with legs” vein:
    jeans
    shorts
    trousers
    (although all three of these, when used in a compound noun become singular, as in jean-skirt, short-skirt (now “skort”) and trouser-press)
    Also, thanks and congratulations seem to always be plural, tho I am not sure why, since they have no legs. 🙂

  2. Meg Baker

    More plural nouns:

    cattle
    mail

    And yet some are determinedly singular:

    hair
    moose

    I might add that cattle is the only generic word I can come up with for cows and bulls together, which has always frustrated me since it seems to refer to the meat version, but not the dairy variety. Why isn’t there a generic form like sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc? Are there other animal words like this?

  3. Jincy

    I think cattle is a collective noun, like sheep, or populace…

    What I’m looking for are nouns that end in “s” and can only be plural. The point is that if a plural ends in “s” it should logically be able to lose the “s” and be singular. But you can’t do that with pants, scissors, and thanks.

    Hi, Meg!!

  4. Caitlin

    Hmm–interesting!

    I can think of a few other “things with two parts”-type words: binoculars, glasses.

    More “things with legs”: tights, nylons, coveralls.

    Other pointy scissors/pliers-like things: tweezers, tongs.

    I can’t think offhand of others in the thanks/congratulations vein, but I’m going to ponder!

  5. Jincy

    Thanks for binoculars, glasses, coveralls, tweezers, tongs, and tights. Not sure about nylons, though. I can imagine the singular of “nylons” being used, as in, “Nylons are cheaper than pantyhose, because if you get a run in one nylon, you can always substitute another.”

  6. Siri Gottlieb

    I read your book review in the NYT and sought you out on the internet. I’m a newcomer to this delicious site. Just feel I should mention, though, that “kudos” is not plural. It is a Greek word meaning honor, glory or acclaim, and is singular.
    Correct: Much kudos to you for pulling it off.
    Incorrect: Many kudos to you for pulling it off.
    Most people aren’t aware of this, but it never hurts to do it right.

  7. Earl Miquelon

    Thanks for the guidelines you have contributed here. Something important I would like to talk about is that computer memory demands generally increase along with other developments in the technological innovation. For instance, if new generations of processors are introduced to the market, there is certainly usually a similar increase in the dimensions demands of all personal computer memory in addition to hard drive space. This is because software program operated by way of these cpus will inevitably rise in power to benefit from the new technologies.

  8. Me

    A little late to the game, but what about a word like toast, in reference to toasted bread. Which brings you to the word bread. No one eats a toast or a bread. If I eat “a bread” I am eating a slice of “many bread”. But if I take a single slice of bread and turn it to toast, why is it now a piece of toast? There is only one toast. But, again, it is not correct to say I am eating a toast. Rather, one eats a slice or a piece or some toast. Or even has something with toast. But if you wandered into a diner and said “I’ll take an egg with toast” you know you will get one egg but are you certain how many pieces of toast you will get? Will it be one or perhaps two? I argue that toast and bread are plural only nouns. What say you, Internet Companions?

  9. Hannah

    To ME ( not myself but the person)

    I had never thought of that before.
    I just read your comment out to my family and got them thinking for ages.

    Kudos.

  10. Jincy

    to ME:

    I’m pretty sure that bread (like flour) is a non-count noun, which means that it’s neither plural nor singular–it’s uncountable (unlike slice and flower). Of course, we can talk about breads and flours when referring to specific categories, but that’s a different deal. I think the same is true for “hair,” which is sometimes countable and sometimes not. One way to tell if you’re using it countably is to try to stick an article in front of it. You may reasonably say that you wouldn’t touch A hair on her head, but you wouldn’t say she had beautiful A hair. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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  12. liz

    How about stairs and clothes?

    I thought news, mathematics, economics, headquarters are singular nouns, not plural.
    Eg: Mathematics is great or the news is on the radio.

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  16. Daniel LaLiberte

    Could you explain how “series” can only be plural? While there is no such thing as a “serie”, and there can be many series, there can also be one series, and typically “series” without sufficient context is assumed to be one series rather than many.

  17. Alex Case

    Very useful list, but at least half of these comments are complete. Please check out the names given, how irrelevant and general the comments are, and what dodgy sites there links send you to!

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