"Plural-Only Nouns" in English Grammar

Plural-Only Nouns

Here, we will discuss some nouns in the English language that are always used as a plural noun, i.e. they don't have a singular form. Let's get to it!

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"Plural-Only Nouns" in English Grammar

What Does 'Plurale Tantum' Mean?

Plurale Tantum/plʊəˈreɪlɪ ˈtæntəm/ (also known as lexical plurals) is a Latin phrase meaning 'plural only.' It refers to those nouns in English which almost always appear in the plural form and normally do not have a singular form.

What is Considered a 'Plurale Tantum' in English?

In English, a plurale tantum is often a word which designate objects that function as pairs or sets. We can classify these words roughly as follows:

Outer Garments

jeans, trousers, pants

bell bottoms, dungarees, slacks

Undergarments

panties, boxer shorts, briefs

shorts, tights, trunks

Eyewear

sunglasses, eyeglasses, glasses, bifocals, binoculars, goggles

Tools

Pliers, snips, scales, tongs

shears, tweezers, scissors, headphones, nutcrackers

Money

coffers, alms, belongings, earnings, funds, valuables, wages

Problems

blues, condolences, creeps, fiddlesticks, handcuffs, remains, shenanigans, troubles

Warning

It is considered nonstandard to say 'a pant' or 'a scissor' on their own.

Outdoors

backwoods, outskirts, surroundings

Health

measles, mumps, shingles

Food

breadcrumbs, dregs, leftovers, slops

Sport

aerobics, billiards, Reeboks, stirrups

Celebrations

banns, congratulations, hysterics, jitters, nuptials, thanks, tidings

Time

annals, bygones

War

arms, civvies, fatigues, guts, heroics, munitions

Miscellaneous

contents, furnishings, looks, manners, optics

What If We Use Them As Singular Forms?

In English, the singular form of some plurale tantum nouns are used only as a noun modifier (a noun that functions as an adjective), such as:

  • trouser pocket
  • scissor kick
  • spectacle case
  • shoe lace

Some pluralia tantum are used in the plural form even as attributive nouns, such as:

clothes peg, glasses case, arms race, jeans maker

Tip!

In English, some pluralia tantum have different meanings when used in singular forms. For example, the word 'glasses' is plurale tantum. In contrast, the word 'glass' may be singular or plural.

Singulare Tantum

The opposite of a plural tantum is singulare tantum. It means a noun which appears only in the singular form (especially uncountable nouns) such as information, dust, and wealth.

We can classify singularia tantum in three groups:

  1. mass nouns, such as wood and air;
  2. abstract nouns, such as anger and hatred;
  3. collective nouns, such as fruit and rice.

How to Turn Pluralia Tantum Into Countable Nouns?

Pluralia Tantum can be turned into ordinary countable nouns by using the phrase:

  1. A pair of
  2. Pairs of

I tried on two pairs of jeans and none were a fit for me.

Wear a pair of black tights with that dress. It's more classy.

What Pronouns to Use with Plurale Tantum?

It is not correct to use the pronoun 'it' to refer to these nouns. Instead, we should use 'They' even if there is only one pair being referred to.

I bought a pair of shoes. Look at them! Aren't they gorgeous?

Tip!

Learning about these nouns can be difficult for the learner of a second language since there is no reason or rhyme on how to use them! So you must try to memorize them by heart. For native speakers, their use may seem logical but for a new learner, it might be confusing.

Plural Tantum or Countable Nouns

You might bump into some words in English that are used in both plural-only and countable forms. The important point is to know that these words as countable nouns have different meanings. For example:

The town was full of smashed brains after the war.

In this example, the word 'brains' refers to a number of different brains as a body organ.

His sister has the brains to stablish a laboratory.

In this example, the word 'brains' refers to the intelligence of a person.

There were many glasses of red wine on the table.

Here, the word 'glasses' refers to containers that filled with red wine.

He used to wear glasses.

In this example, the word 'glasses' refers to an object that somebody wears to have a better sight.

Review

In English, a 'plurale tantum' is often a word that designates objects and functions as pairs or sets.

The opposite of a 'plural tantum' is 'singulare tantum'. It refers to a noun that appears only in singular form.

Plural Tantums

Here are the most common plural tantums:

outer garments trousers, jeans
undergarments tights, trunks
accessories eyeglasses, sunglasses
tools tweezers, shears

Singular Tantums

Here are the most common singular tantums

wood, air
anger, hatred
fruit, rice

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