Foreign plurals

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by AndrasBP, Oct 20, 2018.

  1. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary

    It's an unusual feature of Engish that it uses a number of foreign plural endings, where the suffix was "imported" together with the foreign word,
    e.g. larvae, fungi, bacteria, analyses, mafiosi, paparazzi, châteaux, kibbutzim, eisteddfodau etc.
    Also in German, there are some foreign words that take a foreign plural, e.g. Streiks.

    (This would be impossible in Hungarian, where all nouns take the plural suffix -k.)

    Do you know about foreign plurals used in other languages?
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2018
  2. TheCrociato91 Senior Member

    Brescia, Italy
    Italian - Northern Italy

    In Italian we usually incorporate foreign words without pluralizing them; that is, we use the singular form for the plural, too (1 hotel, 2 hotel; 1 fan, 2 fan, etc.). When it comes to Latin words, we may either use the Latin plural (2 curricula, 2 corpora, etc.) or simply use the singular form for the plural (2 curriculum, 2 corpus, etc.).

    There might be exceptions, I'll have a think when I get around to it.

    As for English, I'm just going to add to your list the Italian loanword "spaghetti", which is used as an uncountable noun (albeit plural in Italian).

    Some languages even go a step further and pluralize an already plural noun. I'm looking at you, Spanish. What on earth is "espaguetis"? :D:rolleyes:
  3. Perseas Senior Member

    The same here.

    English words don't make plural in Greek, but sometimes you may hear 'κομπιούτερς (computers)' or 'σεντς (cents)'.
    It's also very common to hear 'μπάιτς (bytes)' and 'μπιτς (bits)'.

    On the other hand, we usually use the singular 'τζίν (jean)' instead of 'jeans' for a pair of trousers, and the plural 'κόμικς (comics)' for a comic book for children with pictures.

    In Greek you can hear both 'φόρουμ (forum)' and 'φόρα (fora)' as plural, with the latter being formal.
  4. Dymn

    Dymn Senior Member


    Foreign plurals are very rare in Spanish. The Latin endings -is, -us, -um pluralize as -is, -us, -ums. Foreign words ending in consonant usually pluralize adding an -s instead of -es unlike native words, e.g. robot > robots, cómic > cómics. Some words, like test, podcast, are usually left as unvariable because adding an -s would result in a cluster too complicated for the strict Spanish phonotactics. The only foreign plural that occurs to me is Länder, with variable capitalization, referring to the German federal states.

    Contrary to Anglo tradition, Hispanics are not so fussy when it comes to foreign words and the "official" stance (as dictated by RAE) is to adapt all foreign borrowings -morphologically, orthographically-, quite often way beyond what laymen do (e.g. recommending spellings such as güisqui instead of whiskey), or weird translations (e.g. the other day Fundéu -a RAE off-shoot for neologisms- suggested using nacionalpopulismo instead of alt-right). I know it may be a bit off-topic but this is the general trend why I think foreign plurals are less common in Spanish than in English.

    And what on earth is "un murales", my dear Italians? :mad::D
  5. Penyafort

    Penyafort Senior Member

    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)

    As the other Western Romance languages, uses an -s in general for almost all words, whether they are native or foreign. So most Catalan words coming from English form the plural with an -s (as English would in most cases too): xats, eslògans, pàrquings, clubs, córners, escàners, etc.

    Words from other languages, whether adapted or not, tend to follow the Catalan rules of the plural: la geisha > les geishes, el zepelí > els zepelins, etc.

    Only when the word is clearly not adapted, the plural remains unchanged: els foie-gras, unes delicatessen

    Words taken from an Italian plural are regarded as singular and they must take an s to form the plural: espaguetis, raviolis, nyoquis, paparazzis, etc. But if they end in -a, they follow the Catalan rule of -a > -es: lasanya > lasanyes, pizza > pizzes, etc.

    Same thing can be said from words taken from an Arabic or Hebrew plural/collective term. They are usually regarded as singular and follow the rules of the plural.

    Many of the exceptions to the rule of -à > -ans (mà 'hand' > mans 'hands') are due to the word being foreign, as that n would be antietymological, so only -s is added: xa 'sha' > xas, esquí 'ski' > esquís, ximpanzè 'chimpanzee' > ximpanzès, mannà 'manna' > mannàs, nyu 'gnu' > nyus, xampú 'shampoo' > xampús, etc.
  6. TheCrociato91 Senior Member

    Brescia, Italy
    Italian - Northern Italy
    Instead, I think we tend to keep the plural when the loanword is already plural: we only say jeans.

    I'd say this is also true for Italian. Most people simply use the singular form for the plural for Latin words. The use of the Latin plural is usually linked to written discourse or formal speech (the latter possibly coming across as pretentious).

    I'll give you that; many people use "murales" as a singular noun, although it's clearly incorrect (whereas "espaguetis" or "ñoquis" are correct :p ).
    (Murale - Wikipedia , emphasis added).
  7. Penyafort

    Penyafort Senior Member

    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    But that's what happens when the word is not considered a foreign word anymore.

    In Italian you are also not aware that singular nouns like serafino come from a plural, for instance.
  8. Sardokan1.0

    Sardokan1.0 Senior Member

    Sardu / Italianu
    Also in Sardinian we use that kind of plural ending with IS :D

    Italian : Gli spaghetti - Sardinian : Sos ispaghettis

    Plurals ending with IS in (northern) Sardinian are mostly used for jobs or adjectives. While in southern Sardinian are more common.

    Su carabineri -> Sos carabineris
    Su panatteri -> Sos panatteris (il fornaio, i fornai)
    S'infirmieri -> Sos infirmieris
    Su furisteri -> Sos furisteris (il forestiero, i forestieri)
    Su marineri -> Sos marineris (il marinaio, i marinai)
    Su coghineri -> Sos coghineris (il cuoco, i cuochi | Latino "coquinarius")

  9. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Thank you for your replies.

    In Russian, plural English loanwords need their own plural suffix to conform to the rules of Russian morphology:

    джинсы (dzhinsy) = jeans
    чипсы (chipsy) = potato crisps/chips
  10. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    Like in Czech (inanimate plural ending -y):

    jeansy (plurale tantum like any trousers and pants, also written džínsy) = jeans;
    (however we say also džíny without the English ending -s);

    komiks (sing.), komiksy (plur.) = comics;

    we distinguish čipsy and čipy:
    čipsy = potato crisps/chips;
    čipy (Czech plural without the English -s) = silicon chips (in integrated circuits);

    baksy (rarely, usually babky) = bucks;

    and notorious
    Tálibáni (animate masc. plur. ending -i), Tálibán is already plural (= "students");
    in Hungarian I suppose tálibánok (plur.);
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2018
  11. KalAlbè

    KalAlbè Senior Member

    Sampa but always repping NY/1804
    American English & Kreyòl Ayisyen
    In Haitian Creole it doesn't matter if it's a foreign plural or not. Singular or plural does not affect nouns in Haitian Creole.
    The nouns remain the same.
  12. Perseas Senior Member

    Some words of Greek origin like stigma have two plurals: stigmas/stigmata (English); Stigmen/Stigmata (German). The plural "stigmata" is a Greek form.
  13. Red Arrow

    Red Arrow Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    In Dutch, recent loanwords usually get plural -s.
    Words ending with -eur, -foon, -a, -i, -o, -u and -y are all loanwords and get plural -s. (not all of them are recent loanwords)

    Native vocabulary only gets plural -s when the last syllable of the word contains a schwa or ends with -aar(d).

    Latin words ending with -icus always get plural -ici. Other masculine Latin words are treated like Dutch words.
    Latin words ending with -ium or -eum always get plural -ia or -ea. (plural -iums or -eums is also possible) Other neuter Latin words are treated like Dutch words.

    Datum gets plural data or plural datums depending on the meaning.

    And then there are three completely irregular plurals:
    stoma - stomata (from Greek)
    matrix - matrices (/iʃəs/) (from Latin)
    index - indices (/iʃəs/) (from Latin)
  14. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    French generally accepts both forms of plural: the form which respects the original language, and the frenchified form. I think of two examples:
    • From Italian: scénario, which may form its plural in scénarii (Italian form) or scénarios (Frenchified form), although scénarii form is considered snobbish.
    • From Latin: média (itself already the Latin plural of medium), which may form its plural in média (Latin form) or médias (Frenchified form).
    Some others have kept the original form and were not frenchified:
    match/matches, gentleman/gentlemen (from English)
    lied/lieder (from German)
  15. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek has also completely assimilated foreign words, which are now declined according to the rules of Greek grammar, eg:

    «Σενάριο» [seˈna.ɾi.ɔ] (neut.) --> script, scenario < It. scenario.
    It forms naturally plural: «Σενάρια» [seˈna.ɾi.a] (nom. pl.), «σεναρίων» [se.naˈɾi.ɔn] (gen. pl.) etc.

    «Μοντέλο» [mɔnˈde.lɔ] (neut.) --> model, fashion model < It. modello.
    It too forms naturally plural: «Μοντέλα» [mɔnˈ] (nom. pl.), «μοντέλων» [mɔnˈde.lɔn] (gen. pl.).

    «Σενάζι» [seˈna.zi] (neut.) --> (construction) the pouring of concrete into a framework containing steel rebar to create reinforced concrete < Fr. chaînage.
    «Σενάζια» [seˈna.zʲa] (nom. pl.), «σεναζιών» [se.naˈzʲɔn] (gen. pl.).

    «Σεντέφι» [senˈ] (neut.) --> (rustic) ivory < Turk. sedef.
    «Σεντέφια» [senˈde.f͜ça] (nom. pl.), «σεντεφιών» [sen.deˈf͜çɔn] (gen. pl.).

    «Τόπι» [ˈtɔ.pi] (neut.) --> bolted fabric, inflatable fun ball, colourful ball for children made of plastic < Turk. top.
    «Τόπια» [ˈtɔ.p͜ça] (nom. pl.), «τοπιών» [tɔˈp͜çɔn] (gen. pl.).

    «Χαρμάνι» [xarˈ] (neut.) --> blend, especially of tobacco or coffee < Turk. harman.
    «Χαρμάνια» [xarˈma.ɲa] (nom. pl.), «χαρμανιών» [xar.maˈɲɔn] (gen. pl.).

    I think the general rule is the older the borrowing, the smoother and more natural the process of assimilation is.
  16. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    There is a plural that grates on my nerves: sandwichs instead of sandwiches.
  17. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    In Czech the ending of the neuter nouns is -a like in Latin and Greek, so the Czech plural forms of Latin/Greek loanwords of the neuter gender resemble the Latin/Greek forms:

    to jablko (neuter sing.) - ta jablka (neuter plur.) the apple - the apples

    to album - ta alba
    to centrum - ta centra
    to datum - ta data
    to medium - ta media
    to museum - ta musea
    to paradoxon - ta paradoxa (also masc. ten paradox - ty paradoxy)
    to drama - t
    a dramata (Czech also retains the original stem dramat-)
    to stigma - t
    a stigmata

    N.B. the words to (ta) and ten (ty) are demonstrative pronouns, Czech has no article.

    Last edited: Oct 21, 2018
  18. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    sandwiches is the traditional spelling, and sandwichs is the recommended (but not mandatory) form since the spelling reform of 1990.
    If it's any comfort, I can tell you that I prefer the traditional spelling, and I would naturally have written it this way.
    Anyway, the pronunciation is the same in singular and plural, no matter what spelling you choose: [sɑ̃dwitʃ] (although you would often hear people improperly pronounce it [sɑ̃dwiʃ])
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2018
  19. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    Oh, I never thought of that. Are people starting to apply that reform? I guess it means I can't correct it anymore. That would also explain the frites fraiches that I see more often.
    I'm rather used to [sɑ̃dwiʃ]), it bothers me less to hear that than seeing the sandwichs instead of sandwiches.
  20. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    The spelling reform of 1990 was enacted to "simplify" several words spelling. Following the law of the least effort, people tend to use the simplest form, that is sandwichs instead of sandwiches.
    And concerning official documents, France is such a centralized and normative country (you may know that :)), that they certainly follow the recommended spelling.

    I'm not sure to see what you mean. Do you mean fraiches instead of fraîches? (with circumflex accent)
  21. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    Looks like the exceptions to the rule. I would say that generally, we use the French plural, ie "-s", especially for Latin.
    Unlike in English, we would never say "des cacti", "des indices" (for "des index" I mean) (what next: "des aquaria, des referenda, des viri (?), des hiati (?)" :D?).

    For Italian words, we generally don't adopt the Italian system and just say:
    "des pizzas" (never "des pizze"), "des adagios".
    And then, we do things that probably make Italians cringe but, for instance, we use Italian plural forms as singular forms.
    Eg: we say "un spaghetti" and then put it in the plural ("des spaghettis").
    Also, we say "un panini" (instead of "panino" I suppose) and therefore write "des paninis" (same for "confetti", "paparazzi"...).

    Apparently, in the same way, the Russian word "blini" is already plural but we use it in the singular ("un blini") and put it in the plural by adding "-s" ("des blinis").

    We imported words from many languages and I would say we can't be expected to know how to form the plural of all these words (who would say "des mezeler" for "meze" (or "mezze(s)" in French)?)
  22. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    Indeed, -i is the plural mark in Russian, and having learnt Russian at school, it always bothers me to hear "un blini", since we should theoritically say "un blin". But then people wouldn't know how to pronounce it [blɛ̃] or [blin] ;)
    (note that in Russian "blin" (блин) simply means "crêpe")

    By the way, concerning Russian words introduced into French, this is not the only compromise with grammar, since our traditional "bistrot" comes from the Russian word "bystro" (быстро) = fast (an adverb).
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2018
  23. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    I suppose that taking plural forms from foreign languages and reinterpreting them as singular is the reason for widespread use of un brownies, un cookies, un muffins too.
    However, un whisky, des whiskys.
    Italians do cringe at un panini.
  24. Red Arrow

    Red Arrow Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    Same in Dutch: één panini, twee panini's, drie panini's
    Foreign words always get plural s :D
  25. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    with apostrophe?
  26. Red Arrow

    Red Arrow Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    Yes, paninis would be pronounced [paninɪs] instead of [paninis]. Syllables need to stay open in Dutch spelling.

    Same with auto's (cars), paraplu's, baby's and pizza's.
  27. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    I'm a Russian speaker and I do cringe at "un blini".:eek:

    You should simply spell the word "bline" to get the correct Russian pronunciation.

    Not quite on topic, but I feel I must point out that this is most probably false. It's a widespread folk etymology. Read here.
  28. Red Arrow

    Red Arrow Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    I found another one!

    één scampi, twee scampi's, drie scampi's
  29. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    That's what the English should also say in my opinion, but instead, in articles about Basque-language schools (ikastola), they use the Basque plural suffix -k and write funny things like "the ikastolak were created".:rolleyes:
    Same for Welsh "eisteddfodau".
    Is it perhaps because they're minority languages and by using their plurals the writers feel they respect and acknowledge them? I haven't seen this with German or Russian words (dachshunds, matryoshkas).
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2018
  30. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France

    I thought the correct etymology came from the Prussian army in 1870. I didn't know it was a controversy. Thanks for the link.
  31. Awwal12

    Awwal12 Senior Member

    Moscow, the RF
    Not precisely what you meant originally, but several English words were loaned into Russian in plural forms and augmented with Russian plural suffixes. As a result, they retain English "-s" in singular forms (if they exist) as well.
    Pl. рельсы (rel'sy - rails) - sg. рельс (rel's - a rail).
    Pl. tantum джинсы (dzhinsy - jeans) - coll. sg. джинса (dzhinsa - jean cloth).
    Pl. бутсы (butsy - a kind of leather boots, mostly for football) - sg. бутса (butsa - a boot of this kind)
    Pl. клипсы (klipsy - clips, as devices) - sg. клипса (klipsa - a clip)
    Pl. slang чиксы (chiksy - "chicks", i.e. girls) - sg. чикса (chiksa - a "chick").
    Pl. slang баксы (baksy - "bucks", i.e. dollars) - sg. бакс (baks - one "buck").

    The final -а which is sometimes present and sometimes absent comes from the fact that you cannot tell the gender/declension paradigm from the plural form ending in -ы (Russian has gender distinctions only in the singular number, and nouns which end in -ы in their nominative plural forms may be either words of the 1st declension paradigm, normally feminine, or they can be masculine words of the second declension paradigm; in the first case, their nominative singular forms will end in -а, otherwise they will have a zero inflexion).
  32. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Although this would make the word sound feminine, wouldn't it?
    Would you instinctively say "une bline chaude"?
  33. Perseas Senior Member

    The Greek neuter article is 'to' (singular) and 'ta' (plural) --> eg. το δράμα - τα δράματα (to drama - ta dramata). I didn't know that Czech also use 'to' and 'ta' (although they are demonstrative pronouns).
  34. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    Yes, why not. Just like we say "une crêpe chaude".
    Since we don't know the Russian gender, the usage would make it natural for French.
    And the plural would be "blines" or "blini".
  35. Torontal Member

    Turkish has many Arabic loanwords in plural form which are then used in a singular meaning in Turkish. Just some examples: evliya (muslim "saint"), eşkiya (bandit), talebe (student), elbise (dress), evlat (son, kid), ahbap (friend, buddy), ahşap (lumber), evrak (document), esnaf (artisan), esrar (1. mystery, 2. hashish), ecdad/ecdat (forefather/s/, in this word the original plural meaning is mostly still retained, but i've also seen it treated as a singular), ebeveyn/valideyn (parent, these two are originally in Arabic dual form), etc etc etc... the list could be continued with many other words.

    And then these words take regularly the Turkish plural -lar/ler.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2018
  36. Ansku89 New Member

    I can't think of any words in Finnish that would normally have a foreign plural. There are some occasions where an originally plural form is for some reason understood to be singular and then we add the Finnish plural to it. One example of this is muffinssi which is a muffin, muffinssit is muffins. So the singular word comes from the English plural, just edited to make it more Finnish.
  37. guihenning

    guihenning Senior Member

    Zurique, Helvécia
    Português do Brasil
    Portuguese tends to modify words whenever possible to suit our orthography, although these forms usually take a while to be officially accepted. Generally speaking, we just add -s for plurals. Latin words ending in -us have the latin plural, so the word campus (of a university) has its formal plural campi. There's a Portuguese word for that, which is câmpus for both singular and plural. I think this word was simply how people thought it was supposed to be written as if it were a Portuguese word until it appeared in dictionaries.
    As for Italian words, we do like the French seem to do, as stated above, adding a -s. Some common words, however, are written in a Portuguese fashion, which means that the Italian word, plural, was brought into Portuguese, became a singular and we made a plural out of that, so: espaguete/espaguetes, (spaghetti/spaghettis), pizza/pizzas, nhoque/nhoques, (panini/paninis), muçarela/muçarelas, etc
  38. djmc Senior Member

    English - United Kingdom
    Breton borrowed a lot of vocabulary from French. Often it was the plural that was borrowed. For instance carotez (carrots) or kerez (cherry); If one wanted to stress that it was one that one meant, the is a form - the singulatif e.g. carotezen or kerezen. These form a regular plural carotezenou or kerezenou.
  39. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    What makes me cringe is when I hear blinis in French - pronounced with final s! That sounds like an English or Spanish, not Russian, plural :p. It sounds as if any foreign plural should do the trick!
    That reminds me of a sketch by Guy Bedos:
    But we do say either sopranos / altos or soprani / alti. The Italian form is more likely to occur among musicians.
    Curiously, the loanword media has been accepted in Brazilian Portuguese:
    • a mídia, collective noun, feminine singular
    but it has not (yet?) been fully accepted in European Portuguese:
    • os media, masculine plural, with the foreign form in italics or between quote marks
    Novamente mídia, média e "media" - Ciberdúvidas da Língua Portuguesa
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2018
  40. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    "Cerise" is singular in French.
    "Kerez" can't have been borrowed from French, but rather from Latin directly, when "c" was still pronounced [k] before front vowels. I suppose that was when the ancestors of Bretons and Welsh still lived in the Roman province of Britannia. Welsh also has lots of loanwords from Latin, "cherry" is "ceirios", pron. /keirios/.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2018
  41. Red Arrow

    Red Arrow Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    True. The Dutch word is kers, also with a K.
  42. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    Another borrowed word in plural that has been reinterpreted as a singular in French: tacos. Je voudrais un tacos, s pronounced. Pretty awful.
  43. Red Arrow

    Red Arrow Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    That just gives me the shivers.
  44. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    Heard that in your capital city.
  45. Red Arrow

    Red Arrow Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    We actually do the same thing with our own words.

    English - Old Dutch - Modern Dutch
    shoe - schoe - schoen
    shoes - shoen - schoenen

    toe - tee - teen
    toes - teen - tenen

    Imagine English people saying one shoes, two shoeses, one toes, two toeses. That's what happened in Dutch.
  46. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    On the issue of "foreign plurals" in English (fungi, analyses, etc.), I would venture to say that most or all of them fall into two categories.

    1) Optional forms that most non-educated speakers wouldn't be aware of or use. For example, there is nothing "automatic" about saying bases rather than basises, or fungi rather than funguses (at least there isn't for me) -- it's just that the Latin-style forms are more popular among prescriptive authorities.

    2) Words that only exist in the "plural" form for most speakers, such as bacteria, spaghetti, etc. In other words, the majority of speakers don't treat these words as plurals at all, but as mass nouns that don't have a singular/plural distinction in the first place.
  47. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Sometimes it happens the other way round: the "s" at the end of a singular noun is perceived as a plural, and is later dropped:
    The Middle English form of "pea" was "pease". The form survives in "pease pudding" and "pease porridge".
  48. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    Lorraine in France
    English (US Northeast)
    I think it would be rare to see peas written pease. But then putting peas into a pudding or porridge is also strange.
  49. AndrasBP

    AndrasBP Senior Member

    Budapest, Hungary
    Yes, it is rare today because it's a Middle English form, but the dish is not widely consumed today either. Apparently it's common in parts of Britain, but may be unknown in the US.

    It isn't putting peas into pudding, it's making pudding from peas. A thick purée, sort of.
  50. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    British English (Sussex)
    English boiled suet puddings can be either savoury or sweet - in the same way that a pie can be savoury or sweet: it depends what's inside. :) The pudding is tied up in a cloth and boiled. Pease pudding is a sort of puree of soaked and cooked yellow peas, traditionally boiled up in a cloth - that's how it came to be called a "pudding".

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