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plurale tantum

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plurale tantum

Scissors: an example of plurale tantum

Definition:

A noun that appears only in the plural and does not have a singular form. Plural, pluralia tantum. (A noun that appears only in the singular form--such as dirt--is known as singulare tantum.)

See also:

Etymology:

A Latin phrase meaning "plural only"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Richard Lederer [in Crazy English, 1990] asks, 'Doesn't it seem just a little loopy that we can make amends but never just one amend; that no matter how carefully we comb through the annals of history, we can never discover just one annal; that we can never pull a shenanigan, be in a doldrum, or get a jitter, a willy, a delerium tremen, a jimjam, or a heebie-jeebie?' Lederer is alluding to pluralia tantum: Nouns that are always plural. Because they are not the result of pluralizing a singular, the complete plural form, -s and all, has to be stored in memory. Pluralia tantum in a sense are irregular regulars, and indeed they are happy to appear inside compounds: almsgiver (not almgiver), arms race (not arm race), blues rocker (not blue rocker), clothesbrush, Humanities department, jeans maker, newsmaker, oddsmaker, painstaking."
    (Steven Pinker, Words and Rules. Basic Books, 1999)


  • "Let's take a look at other pluralia tantum in the pants/trousers family:
    • Outergarments: pants (orig. pantaloons), trousers, slacks, breeches/britches, bloomers, jeans, dungarees, bell bottoms, chinos, tights, shorts, trunks, Bermudas (extended to brand names: Levis, 501s, Wranglers, Calvins)
    • Undergarments: underpants, long johns, skivvies, drawers, panties, knickers, boxers, briefs, undies, tighty-whities (extended to brand names: BVDs, Fruit of the Looms, Jockeys)"
    (Mark Liberman, Language Log, Feb. 15, 2007)


  • "The definitional property of having no singular turns out to be shallow and sometimes accidental, often (as in English) practically impossible to define and circumscribe. The state of affairs resembles the status of the mass-count distinction. . . . While they remain necessary as descriptive concepts, mass and count cannot be defined as grammatical properties of lexical items outside of a context, as Borer (2005) cogently shows. In the same way, I think, pluralia and singularia tantum are indispensable descriptive concepts, but they are not genuine linguistic classes. Therefore, we cannot build a notion of lexical plurals around that of pluralia tantum."
    (Paolo Acquaviva, Lexical Plurals: A Morphosemantic Approach. Oxford Univ. Press, 2008)
Also Known As: lexical plural

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