Cannon as plural

Alxmrphi

Senior Member
UK English
I was just on BBC news and I saw an article about new riot management discussions that have been going on recently and the opening line is:
Water cannon are "not the answer" to combat any future rioting, the head of the Metropolitan Police has said.
I was pretty taken aback to see such a "blatant typo" on the Beeb, enough to make myself doubt the error and to my huge surprise I found that Wiki's etymology section of the page said:
Cannon serves both as the singular and plural of the noun
Now I have never heard of that before and find it quite hard to believe (though as always my mind is open).
I wanted to ask the opinions of other native speakers about this and see if they have heard this before, whether it would stick out to them as an error or if they are fine with it?
I would hope it's not just me that finds this odd.

Alx
 
  • cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    "Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them...." (Charge of the Light Brigade). It's similar to "deer," "sheep," "bear," etc., which serve as both singular and plural.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Well, maybe the lack of living on a pirate ship or in a place with a high level of medieval warfare has led me to reanalyse this as a regular noun.
    'Deer' and 'sheep' I'm okay with, but 'bear', too? :eek: I suppose I can now start making puns about how "Grizzlies" are bear plurals :p (c.f.) - haha.
     
    Last edited:

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    ...'Deer' and 'sheep' I'm okay with, but 'bear', too? :eek:
    I think so, at least in some contexts.

    I can't imagine the children's story as anything but "Goldilocks and the three bears." "Goldilocks and the three bear" sounds wrong, though "Goldilocks and the three deer" or "Goldilocks and the three sheep" would be fine (at least as regards grammar). However, I would accept "Bear live in this area" as at least as good as "Bears live in this area." I would not, however, say "Elephant live in this area."
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I think so, at least in some contexts.

    I can't imagine the children's story as anything but "Goldilocks and the three bears." "Goldilocks and the three bear" sounds wrong, though "Goldilocks and the three deer" or "Goldilocks and the three sheep" would be fine (at least as regards grammar). However, I would accept "Bear live in this area" as at least as good as "Bears live in this area." I would not, however, say "Elephant live in this area."
    Actually, put like that I can agree with that.
    When I saw it I could only think of examples like the Goldilocks one and that led me to think it was wrong, but I suppose (admittedly at a stretch) I can accept "Bear live in this area" as being fine. What was your opinion on cannon?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Apart from a very brief stint in the late 70s, I've never lived on a pirate ship either, Alex, but I was aware that cannon could be both singular and plural.
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    In military history literature, I would find "cannons" strange.

    I think the s is dropped from the plurals of game animals when they are discussed as such. That's why one hunts "bear" or "duck" even though there are conventional plurals, "bears" and "ducks."

    Some game animals have only an invariate form, of course, such as "deer" and "moose," and I doubt that I have ever encountered "elks."
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I think the s is dropped from the plurals of game animals when they are discussed as such. That's why one hunts "bear" or "duck" even though there are conventional plurals, "bears" and "ducks."
    That's an interesting point, and therefore might not always be about a zero-plural form.
    Apart from a very brief stint in the late 70s, I've never lived on a pirate ship either, Alex, but I was aware that cannon could be both singular and plural.
    So this explains your familiarity with it then :p

    The Wiki article goes on to say "although in American English the plural cannons is more common" citing Webster's as a source for it.
    I think I'd only really be comfortable using the plural with -s, but glad to learn something new as always.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    ... What was your opinion on cannon?
    I think it's fine, though in common with most others here I've never been on a pirate ship. I've been on some historical ships that had cannon, though, such as the USS Constitution in my area.

    "As they approached the line of battle, they heard the cannon firing." To me, that implies more than one cannon. "In a few places, disabled cannon were lying on their sides, the wheels of their carriages broken."
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I think the s is dropped from the plurals of game animals when they are discussed as such. That's why one hunts "bear" or "duck" even though there are conventional plurals, "bears" and "ducks."
    Yes, exactly. While some animals are always without the "s", like deer and sheep, others have an "s" as far as common mortals are concerned, but not among the hunting community. "I saw three elephants at the zoo", but "we shot three elephant".

    I can't say I'm in the habit of talking about cannon(s) in either the singular or the plural, but I was aware that it was always cannon.
     

    Grady412

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I don't think it sounds strange, but I don't think using cannon as the plural adds anything to comprehension.

    And I see it's fairly common BE usage to say "water cannons."
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top