Syllabus: plural = syllabi???

Discussion in 'English Only' started by petalito, Feb 11, 2008.

  1. petalito Senior Member

    Colombia - Spanish
    What would be right to say?

    send me syllabi for the courses
    send me the syllabi for the courses
  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Either would be fine; I would likely use the article. Care to provide a full sentence to be sure?
  3. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
  4. Joelline

    Joelline Senior Member

    USA (W. Pennsylvania)
    American English
    Those of us in academe in the USA do NOT use "syllabuses" as the plural! I can't speak for the UK or for other English-speaking countries.

    If you are writing to an American institution, do use "syllabi."
  5. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Ok, Joelline, will do.
    If anyone's writing to me, please use syllabuses;)
  6. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    I feel that I should point out that I don't believe that the original poster asked about syllabi/syllabuses. (I would use syllabi based on the "short is better" principle. AE)
  7. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    The "proper" plura is apparently syllabi (according to

    In NZ, I think my university used syllabi, but I'm sure I've heard syllabuses too.
  8. El Alacrán Member

    EEUU Inglés
    Hi all,

    I'm feeling cranky about many people's insistence that the word syllabus must be pluralized as syllabi in English. I can't find this word in any Latin noun class table I know of so I can't tell if the "original" Latin plural was actually syllabi, but even if it was, it still rings artificial and pompous to me in English. Does anyone have a declension for this word in Latin? I'd like to know, even if I intend to continue usingthe more obviously anglicized syllabuses, if only to give my colleagues something to feel superior about. ;)
  9. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    The OED allows either 'syllabi' or 'syllabuses', so you're probably on safe ground there. The Latin declension is discussed here
  10. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The OED includes both forms as a plural (repeating what Gwan said), but does not give any examples of syllabuses, only syllabi.
  11. dwipper Senior Member

    Iowa, U.S.
    U.S. English
    The reason you couldn't find any entries in Latin dictionaries is because it's not a Latin word. The the source of the English syllabus is a misreading of the second declension syttabus--all the more reason to prefer syllabuses.
  12. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    It's slightly... um... Greek to me (wince) but here's the OED on etymology (and yes, I heart the OED):

    Pl. syllabi or syllabuses . [mod.L. syllabus, usually referred to an alleged Gr. [removed]. Syllabus appears to be founded on a corrupt reading syllabos in some early printed editions the Medicean MS. has sillabos of Cicero Epp. ad Atticum IV. iv, where the reading indicated as correct by comparison with the MS. readings in IV. v. and viii. is sittybas or Gr. [removed], acc. pl. of sittyba, [removed] parchment label or title-slip on a book. (Cf. Tyrrell and Purser Correspondence of Cicero nos. 107, 108, 112, Comm. and Adnot. Crit.) Syllabos was græcized by later editors as [removed], from which a spurious [removed] was deduced and treated as a derivative of [removed] to put together, collect'

    EDIT: sorry the formatting had an absolute fit over Greek letters (I've indicated where I took them out), sorry to disappoint all you Hellophiles or whatever the technical term may be :)
  13. El Alacrán Member

    EEUU Inglés
    4 responses already! Thanks!
  14. persianchestnut New Member

    I hope this helps:
    "syllabus" belongs to the 4th Latin declension, not to the 2nd one ("amicus", "alumnus", etc.), and its plural is therefore "SYLLABUS" (like "domus", pl. "domus", and "portus", pl. "portus").

    By popular analogy with words like "amicus", "alumnus" etc., the plural of "syllabus" -- when used in English -- has come to be "syllabi." Although this is now the most widespread usage, many classicists still cringe when they hear it.
  15. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    persianchestnut - Welcome to the forum!

    Would you have a source for your information? - it seems a lot murkier than you portray it :D
  16. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Also: English is ... well, English. And Latin is ... well, Latin. And Latin can decline its nouns howsoever it chooses. Likewise English. And all English-speakers ... who have the advantage of being alive. For me it's syllabuses ... like those things you wait hours for and then three turn up at once. For others it's syllabi. Those pesky Lats can do did as they pleased. Us too.
  17. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    For me, too (thank you for the :). ewie!). Though if others want to use syllabi, that's fine by me.

    Like he said.
  18. ThreeKeys New Member

    English-United States
    Have any of you read, Eats Shoots and Leaves? The only point I care to make here, and I realize this thread is very old and you all have no doubt moved on to much more important things, is this: languages are as organic as the humans that communicate with them. Get over the fact that languages evolve and are built of conglomerations of others that are dead, dying, or evolving. There are no other options, so to beating on a long dead root is fruitless. I'll go with what is accepted now, thank you very much. I don't intend to embarrass others that have roamed the halls of academia much longer than I have. When they ask for syllabi, I comply.
  19. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    For what it's worth, I worked for a few decades in the UK in a professional environment where we had to use this word, and I scarcely ever heard syllabi. We nearly always said syllabuses.
  20. Beryl from Northallerton Senior Member

    British English
    Absolutely. To use 'syllabi' in the UK, is to risk being thought a silly billy.
  21. ThreeKeys New Member

    English-United States
    It maybe, as usual, an American tendency to break the rules and use syllabi.
  22. Beryl from Northallerton Senior Member

    British English
    If anything, I would have thought that the preservation of Latin inflections were indicative of a deference to "RULES" (whatever they may be).
  23. ThreeKeys New Member

    English-United States
    Repeat after me.
    Short is better than long.
    Simple is good. (louder)
    Long Latin nouns are the enemy.
    Anglo-Saxon active verbs are your best friend.
    One thought per sentence. ~ William Zinsser, author of 18 books, including On Writing Well.

    I am considering dropping syllabi and syllabuses entirely from my vocabulary and instead using the term Course Outline(s). It is less intimidating for incoming students and leaves no room for affronts to English/Latin language sensibilities.
  24. Beryl from Northallerton Senior Member

    British English
    Welcome to the Forum (Anglo-Saxon cognate of 'forum' to be inserted later).

    Edit: Welcome to the Moot hall.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2011
  25. ThreeKeys New Member

    English-United States
    I thought I had finished and moved on from this discussion. However, because I am a Dean at a small college, I found this a conundrum of vexing proportion. Like an old dog gnawing on a dry bone, I could not leave it alone. Thus, I continued my search for relief of my anxiety over having used "syllabi" repeatedly in correspondence, paperwork and in faculty meetings. I was feeling rather mortified. Until I stumbled upon:The National Latin Exam
    NLE Syllabi Yes indeed, the American website, The National Latin Exam which includes a membership list of too many universities and colleges to mention here, refers to syllabi. Here is the URL:

    rest my case.​
  26. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Perhaps you should consider withdrawing your college from the National Latin Exam, or would that not be possible?
  27. ThreeKeys New Member

    English-United States
    Dear Thomas,

    My understanding of this discussion was that the plural form was to be decided by application of Latin expertise. Was it not?

    I believe you have missed my point entirely. My point is, I stand in reputable and authoritative company while using syllabi as the plural form of syllabus.

    Here is an excerpt form their 2010 report.

    ...In 2010 more than 150,000 students applied to take the thirty-third National Latin Exam. Participation in the Exam has increased each year since its inception in 1977, when approximately 6,000 students enrolled. Students from all fifty states participated this year, as did students from 13 foreign countries, including Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Italy,
    Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. This year for the first time, students from Singapore also took the NLE. In addition, students in one U.S. territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands, participated this year.
    During the second week in March, over 138,000 students in 2,743 schools took the National Latin Exam...

    If this academic organization (note the Americanized spelling) feels confident to use syllabi in reference to the Course Outlines listed on their official website, I feel vindicated in my habitual usage of that same said plural form.
  28. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hi ThreeKeys,

    My point was that many people in reputable and authoritative positions make mistakes. The evidence of the earlier parts of this thread is that this is such a case.
  29. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    If you are going to use the Latin form of the plural of syllabus, it is a mistake to think that syllabi is a mistake.

    As a Latin word, syllabus is a noun of the form of cactus, plural cacti, or alumnus, plural alumni.
  30. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    So you don't accept that stuff about syllabus being a 4th-declension noun like domus (plural domus), and that syllabi was a mistake which became acceptable because so many people make it? Alumnus and cactus are both 2nd-declension, surely, and so cacti and alumni are not comparable.

    I'm not clear that the Latin derivation is very important here. The words have become naturalised English words, just as in some cases they became, centuries ago, naturalised Latin words, imported from other languages. I do, however, feel that we should fight against the tendency to change all Latin-sounding words ending in -us to -i when we want the English plural; often it's pretentious and occasionally it's mistaken. In this case, I've been led to believe it's mistaken.

    I'm going to go on saying viruses.
  31. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    No, syllabus appears in Augustine's Confessions*, and there follows the form of those other nouns we are familiar with. It is transliterated from the Greek word. In Latin, transliterated words are generally given regular Latin forms.
    I don't know the grounds on which syllabus was thought to be a 4th declension word.

    (*In that context, it means something like "lists".)

    This is aside from the issue of whether we should follow the Latin pattern or regularize it as an English word. It does seem to me entirely reasonable that an organization concerned with Latin should use the Latin plural.
  32. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    But syllabus isn't a genuine classical word at all. There is no 'syllabus' in the Oxford Latin Dictionary, nor a 'sullabos' in Liddell and Scott. The word would appear to be a modern Latin invention, based on the Greek 'sullambano' and turned into a fake Latin noun, one without ancient authority.

    This was why I felt that an organization concerned with Latin should use the English plural.

    Here is an attack on the view that the word is to be found in St Augustine. Note that Lewis and Short hold the idea that the word is found there to be based on a misreading.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2011
  33. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Quite seriously, I believe there comes a point at which a word, borrowed since 1066, (i.e. of non-Saxon, non-Norman origin) becomes English (as opposed to a loan-word) and will, by common usage, conform (rightly or wrongly) to local rules. That syllabus has a permissible plural of syllabuses, indicates that the transition is occurring and that syllabi is being kept needlessly alive to confuse the many and delight the few.

    I could take it further and suggest that anyone who wanted to use syllabi should also be forced to decline it wherever it appears in a sentence. :D

    And don't get me started on hippopotamus...
  34. ThreeKeys New Member

    English-United States
    Finally, we come to crux of it! I have always found it a pretentious faux Latin pluralization of a word that has solidly transitioned to English. But, notice my vocabulary choices in the last sentence. Academia is nothing, if not pretentious! I have a very thick, very pretentious copy of the Oxford English Dictionary at home, and low and behold, it offers up both options as the plural form of syllabus. Come to think of it, I adopted syllabi early on (after looking it up in my trusty OED), because other, perhaps pretentious colleagues had already made that choice. Far be it for me, a newcomer, to challenge their esteemed faux Latin choice. Thus, as I stated rather far back in this thread, when asked for syllabi, I comply.
  35. El Alacrán Member

    EEUU Inglés
    Wow...look what this morphed into! I'm the original poster, or OP in street lingo... My reason for asking about this in the first place was my annoyance at some people's rigid insistence that only the supposedly Latin plural be used for "syllabus". To me there's no reason for that, since all languages are their own thing, and evolve as they do, and since English isn't even a Latinate language to begin with, it seems grotesquely unthinkable to insist that words of Latin origin in other languages be pluralized according to the rules of Latin pluralization. I mean, real Latin languages like Spanish, Portuguese and French don't do that...even Italian doesn't do it precisely the same way that Latin did, so to me there's no reason to insist that "radius" absolutely must be pluralized as "radii" and not "radiuses", or "corpus" as "corpora" and not "corpuses", etc. I have nothing against using "radii", "corpora" and "syllabi", but I'd just as soon accept multiple pluralization options, rather than insist on some supposedly "original" ending just because that's the way it was once...supposedly.

    What a surprise to see how lively this thread got. Thanks everyone for all your input. This has been a most pleasant surprise to read all this when I least expected it.
  36. ThreeKeys New Member

    English-United States
    You are very welcome. I was glad to find the discussion already in progress when I went googling for an answer! I'm very much a rascal when it comes to the issue of evolving language. How did you like my teaser in the last sentence?
  37. Garimakaushik

    Garimakaushik New Member

    I was mailing a Syllabus PDF to my friend & I wrote "CSIR NET Syllabus" throughout the mail. I found it right as it was for a single subject but he reverted saying that I should have used syllabi instead.
    Please suggest what to use, with example.
  38. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Your link leads to a webpage offering more than one syllabus. Maybe that is why your friend thought you should have used the plural <form>.

    You could ask your friend, why they thought the plural form was needed.

    < Edited to correct typo. Cagey >
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2017
  39. Garimakaushik

    Garimakaushik New Member

    I guess you are right, I must ask him about it.
  40. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    This appears to be correct.

    When we consult Lewis and Short's online Latin Dictionary (first edition, 1879), we find it quotes the word 'syllabus' as from Augustine's Confessions 13.15.18.

    However, the phrase Augustine uses is 'sine syllabis temporum' and it is clear from other passages that he is using the word 'syllaba' (meaning 'syllable') in its ablative plural form. The Latin phrase means 'without syllables (i.e. units) of time'. By this he means to express how the angels read in God's face what his will is. They are supposed to perceive it as something eternal, not measured by units of time. (This reminds us of Shakespeare's 'To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time' - which may well be an echo of this passage of Augustine.)

    I have not checked a later edition of Lewis and Short, but apparently that mistake (reading 'syllabis' as coming from a non-existent word *syllabus) was corrected in later editions.
    Without having checked this myself, I take it to be correct.

    Once we accept that it is a pseudo-Latin word of modern invention, we have no reason to say that either plural form, 'syllabi' or 'syllabuses' is incorrect.
    Each is as correct (or incorrect) as the other.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2017

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