One chick, two chicken? Hen?

Savoir

Senior Member
HK
I'd like to know, is "chicken" singular or plural? I thought the singular was "chick", the plural was "chicken" but I've seen people using "chickens", like above.
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Chicken is singular.
    This is not an example like child, children: brother, brethren: ox, oxen.
    Chick is a shortened form of chicken.

    Except in the dialect of the South West of England, where chick is singular, chicken plural - as Savoir suggests.
     

    SombraPenumbra

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Just to add, my understanding of "chick vs" chicken refers to the age of the animal. A younger chicken would be called a "chick." For example:

    "the chickens in the hutch had chicks today"
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    panjandrum said:
    Could you put an age on that?
    When does a chick become a chicken?
    Do chickens ever become hens these days, like they used to?
    I don't know if there is a set age, but maybe you could say when a chick is able to produce offspring it becomes a chicken.

    A "hen" is a female chicken and a "rooster" is a male chicken (both adults).
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    A "hen" is a female chicken and a "rooster" is a male chicken (both adults).
    That explains a lot.
    Way back, in once-upon-a-time-land, people kept hens. Hens laid eggs, which hatched to become chicks/ chickens. Chickens grew up to become hens ...
    ... apart from that big fella with the strutty walk, and the rusty squawk that woke you up in the morning, who was a cock.
     

    Savoir

    Senior Member
    HK
    Panjandrum,

    Thanks for opening a new thread for me, and thanks for the explanation. This forum is so good, I wish I had such a forum when I was a student, but it's never too late/old to learn.:)
     

    poo333

    New Member
    English
    Chicken is singular.
    This is not an example like child, children: brother, brethren: ox, oxen.
    Chick is a shortened form of chicken.

    Except in the dialect of the South West of England, where chick is singular, chicken plural - as Savoir suggests.

    Could you please elaborate on your "exception"? I'm extremely interested!

    Thank you
     
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    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) lists several examples of chicken (plural), identified as a dialect form. It is not current usage.
    1807 CRABBE Par. Reg. I. 195 There pigs and chicken quarrel for a meal.
    1829 SOUTHEY Pilgr. Compostella IV, The chicken were her delight.
    1875
    PARISH Sussex Dial., Chicken, in Mid-Sussex used as the plural of chick.

    Other sources note this in the southeast and southwest of England. For example:
    ... found in the south-western counties and sporadically in the western and south-eastern counties (and, very sparingly, in Lancashire).
    Source

    Sometimes c.1600-1900 chicken was taken as a plural, chick as a singular (cf. child/children) for the domestic fowl.
    Source
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Living chickens can become hens.
    I have the very distinct impression that the word chicken is used for all ages of the domestic fowl these days. Chickens just grow into bigger chickens. Although the female chickens are hens, they are hen chickens, in full. For more confusion see Hen vs.chicken.
    It certainly wasn't always so. Hens were hens, and chickens just baby hens, when I lived in a more rural context.
    However, those birds, of any age, on the dinner table are always called chicken.
    Are you suggesting that some of the chicken on my dinner table may in fact be mutton dressed as lamb?
    Have you ever seen "roast hen", "hen fricasee, "hen pie" or "hen soup" on a menu?
    No, quite definitely no. And it's not that old thing about the English term used for the animal and the French for the meat. Both hen and chicken are English.

    Rushing off to see what I can find by way of hen ... recipes :)
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Rushing off to see what I can find by way of hen ... recipes :)

    Don't forget the Cornish game hen (which, after having had them in my youth, I finally looked up because of this thread): A Cornish game hen, also sometimes called a Cornish hen, poussin, Rock Cornish hen, or simply Rock Cornish, is a young chicken sold whole. Despite the name, it is not a game bird, but actually a typical chicken that is slaughtered at a young age and therefore is smaller in size. Though the bird is called a "hen," it can be either male or female.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Would it be true to say that the rooster is the American cousin of the English cock? (no jokes please!)

    Interesting about chickens, hens and dinner -time, because just as a parallel it is interesting to note that the French eat both poulet (chicken) and poule (hen). Do we also eat both, while always using the same term chicken?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    Sometimes c.1600-1900 chicken was taken as a plural, chick as a singular (cf. child/children) for the domestic fowl.
    Source
    For me a chick is a baby chicken (or a pretty girl), and remains a chick as long as it is fluffy, and cheeps. As I remember it, a chick quite soon (two to three weeks ?) becomes a chicken. For me the plural of chick is chicks.

    Chicken would be an unusual plural for me: it's more like goats than sheep.

    I'd expect someone to ask How many chickens do you have?, rather than How many chicken do you have?:cross: - that makes them sound rather like game birds.
     
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    Uncle Bob

    Senior Member
    British English
    I've always thought of chicks as being the young of wild birds, or the newly-hatched yellow balls of fluff of the domestic fowl which will become chickens when they're old enough to be eaten.

    Rover
    I have only come across "chicks" the way Rover KE and Thomas Tompion describe.
    With respect to the wild ones, I think it is customary to talk of heron chicks, eagle chicks etc. to mean the young birds some days after they have hatched (post-hatchling) but before they have acquired their flight feathers and become fledgelings.
     
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    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I have the very distinct impression that the word chicken is used for all ages of the domestic fowl these days.

    Those creatures which lay eggs in factory conditions are called "battery hens", never "battery chickens".
    UK legislation on the matter uses only "hen".

    The edible products laid by such birds are "hen eggs" or "hen's eggs" or "hens' eggs" not "chicken eggs".
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Never having fancied buying, cooking or eating these birds, I can't comment further.

    Rover


    Maybe I'm making conclusions that should not be there, but poussin is simply French for baby chicks (which they don't usually call poulet until it's on your plate). Given the English delight in according French labels to all things touching la cuisine, isn't the English poussin just a fancy name for chicken again?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    Never having fancied buying, cooking or eating these birds, I can't comment further.

    Rover

    Maybe I'm making conclusions that should not be there, but poussin is simply French for baby chicks (which they don't usually call poulet until it's on your plate). Given the English delight in according French labels to all things touching la cuisine, isn't the English poussin just a fancy name for chicken again?
    I'm afraid not. A poussin in an English shop is a miserable little bird, young perhaps, but usually without flavour.

    The suggestion that the French word poulet isn't the zoological term is misleading. It's the French word for a young chicken in the farmyard, as well as on the plate.

    It's interesting that the word pullet, derived from it, hasn't yet been mentioned in this discussion. My parents often used to refer to young chickens as pullets.
     

    Uncle Bob

    Senior Member
    British English
    Hello,
    To return from French cooking to the original question and the debate over whether the adult bird should be called a chick, I looked up some scientific literature.
    "The Handbook of Birds of the World, Vol II" does not help as it only gives, for Gallus gallus, the name of the wild bird, Red junglefowl, from which domesticated chickens are derived.
    A search under "Organism name" in the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's DNA sequence database gave 88,828 entries for "chicken" and 2 for "chick" !
    The suggestion thus is that "chick" is not used to refer to adult Gallus gallus individuals.
     

    andy_westken

    Senior Member
    Poussin is certainly a fancy name for chicken.

    Going by this thread, poussin were probably just called chicken in the past, back when hens were hens. But nowadays, when eating chicken generally means eating bits of a fully grown hen, I guess we need another name for (very) young chickens. I don't think "roast baby chick" would be so easy to sell to modern people!!
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Would it be true to say that the rooster is the American cousin of the English cock? (no jokes please!)

    You'd quite often hear about cockerels.

    And in traditional American Bibles, you'd also read that the 'cock crew' (Mark 14:72, American Standard Version) after Peter denied Christ. In the UK edition of the New International Version, you see 'the cock crowed', whereas in the regular (American) New International Version, you see 'the rooster crowed'.

    Interesting about chickens, hens and dinner -time, because just as a parallel it is interesting to note that the French eat both poulet (chicken) and poule (hen). Do we also eat both, while always using the same term chicken?

    Many have talked about poulet and pullet. We also talk about poultry in English - but these are not necessarily for meat.
     
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