(a) bison/ (a) buffalo(es)

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daniar

Senior Member
Bulgarian
Hello native English speakers.
I have a question about the meaning and forms of the words 'bison' and 'buffalo'. My teacher explained to me that the American bison is often called 'a buffalo' but it's also the name of another animal. She told me the plural forms of 'a bison' are both 'bison' and 'buffalo' and the plural of 'a buffalo' are 'buffalo' and 'buffaloes'. She mentioned that I might hear ' (a) bison' being pronounced as /ˈbaɪz(ə)n/ but most people would say it as /ˈbaɪs(ə)n/. Do you agree with these statements?
Thanks in advance.
 
  • lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I agree with everything she said.

    Is there anything in particular that you're concerned about?
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I don't agree with //She told me the plural forms of 'a bison' are both 'bison' and 'buffalo'//

    If one is speaking of bison, one stays that way, and doesn't go to 'buffalo' for plural.
    Well, people are sloppy. We use these words pretty interchangeably. I would agree with you that in general that statement is a bit iffy - like saying "the plural of 'feline' is either 'felines' or 'cats.'"
     

    aasheq

    Senior Member
    English (Estuary)
    The name “buffalo” is applied to at least 4 different species:

    1. The European buffalo (bison bonasus), as in buffalo mozzarella.
    2. The American buffalo (bison bison)
    3. The African buffalo (syncerus caffer)
    4. The Water buffalo (bubalus bubalus)
    As you can see, “bison” is the scientific name for the genus to which the first two of these species belong. In ordinary spoken English we normally say “buffalo”, not “bison” for these two.

    The plural of bison is bison. I have never heard it pronounced with a [z].

    The plural of buffalo is buffalo or buffaloes.

    I am sure your teacher did not tell you that the plural of bison is buffalo.
     

    daniar

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    But some of the Wiki answers say that plural of 'a bison' are both 'bison'and 'buffalo' . It might not be used often but it doesn't mean it's incorrect, does it?
     
    Last edited:

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    But some of the Wiki answers say that plural of 'a bison' are both 'bison'and 'buffalo' . It might not be used often but it doesn't mean it's incorrect, does it?
    The plural of the word "bison" is "bison." It doesn't change.

    For example, "automobile" and "passenger car" mean the same thing. That doesn't mean that the plural of "automobile" is "passenger cars."

    Can you refer to refer to a herd of the critters as "buffalo." Certainly.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I worked for a short while in a school in Birmingham and a pupil asked me what was the difference between a buffalo and a bison.

    I was just wondering how to answer when she explained that the difference was that one couldn't wash in a buffalo.

    So the word bison is pronounced differently in different British regions.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    The name “buffalo” is applied to at least 4 different species:

    1. The European buffalo (bison bonasus), as in buffalo mozzarella.
    2. The American buffalo (bison bison)
    3. The African buffalo (syncerus caffer)
    4. The Water buffalo (bubalus bubalus)
    Actually, buffalo mozzarella is made from the milk of water buffalo (Bubalus), not from that of wisent (Bison bonasus).

    I worked for a short while in a school in Birmingham and a pupil asked me what was the difference between a buffalo and a bison.

    I was just wondering how to answer when she explained that the difference was that one couldn't wash in a buffalo.

    So the word bison is pronounced differently in different British regions.
    Or as I heard it: "What's the difference between a buffalo and a bison? A buffalo is a large smelly animal, and a bison is what you wash yer fice in." (Meaning "a basin is what you wash your face in.")
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings all

    May I make one clarification? English conventionally refers to many species of wildlife with the singular form in a generic sense: "water-buffalo come often to this river", "elephant are to be seen on the savannah", "carp can be caught in this lake". There is no absolute rule about this, and unfortunately it looks like one of those English "rules" that are no rules at all - unless someone here can suggest one. "red squirrel are still seen in parts of Scotland" is OK but "badger are not shot in London" would be odd.

    OK not a clarification, more a further question.

    Σ
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    The plural of the word "bison" is "bison." It doesn't change.
    When I went to high school, our sports teams were known as the Bisons. :eek: This probably tells you all you need to know about the quality of my education.

    Someone has since educated them, and the teams are now known as the Bison.
     

    daniar

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Today I talked about it with my teacher at school and she told me she didn't invent it herself. Then she showed me the Oxford Dictionary and it said that the plural of 'bison' are both 'bison' and 'buffalo'.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    daniar

    Which Oxford Dictionary? Neither the full OED or Oxford Dictionaries Online (which is the Concise Oxford Dictionary) give buffalo or buffaloes as the plural of bison. Bison is the plural of bison and buffalo or buffaloes are the plural forms of buffalo.
     
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