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Buses vs. busses

In 21st-century English, buses is the preferred plural of the noun bus. Busses appears occasionally, and dictionaries list it as a secondary spelling, but it’s been out of favor for over a century. This is true in all main varieties of English.

After bus emerged in the 19th century as an abbreviation of omnibus, buses and busses (the logical plural of buss, an early alternative spelling of bus) vied for dominance for several decades. By the early 20th century, though, buses was the clear winner, and it has steadily become more prevalent. Today, buses appears on the web about 15 times for every instance of busses.

This ngram graphs the use of busesbusses, and omnibuses in English-language books and magazines published between 1800 and 2000:

Examples


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Buses is far more common than busses in edited news sources that publish online. Here are a few examples:

New vehicles and routes and added frequency have helped draw people on to buses this winter. [Financial Times]

In many cities around the world, there are simple established rules for riding buses. [New York Times]

Aucklanders will be waiting until November at the earliest to use a single card on buses, trains and ferries.  [New Zealand Herald]

But it’s easy enough to track down a few examples of busses in the wild:

Five school busses were required to transport Pueblo’s Heaton Middle School’s 180 band members and their equipment Saturday. [Canon City Daily Record]

Putnam County will provide shuttle busses to transport persons between the parking area and the funeral home. [Press release quoted on Patch]

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Comments

  1. To buss someone is to kiss them. So surely the  “busses” means “kisses”.

    • sdfasfdsafsd says:

      Thank you! I was waiting for the article to mention why ‘bus’ wouldn’t follow through to the logical ‘busses’.

    • Justin Cronkright says:

      Is that not a local meaning of buss? I would highly doubt a main variant of Bus coming about with two meanings!

      • Hussein Obama says:

        No, that is not the local meaning of buss. “Buss” has always been synonymous with “kiss”, and bussing synonymous with kissing. Even though “buses” does not follow the double-s rule, it is the traditional spelling of the plural of “bus.”

        I have a PhD. in English linguistics. I hate dictionaries. Webster’s has done more to bastardize the English language that any other single influence. Some versions of Webster’s say that “insure”, “ensure”, and “assure” are synonyms, even thought their meanings are quite distinctly different.

        Webster’s says that “gantlet” and “gauntlet” are synonyms, even though their meanings are completely unrelated. Some dictionaries even show the common misspelling of barbecue as “barbeque” as an “alternate spelling.” “Barbeque” can only be pronounced “barbeck.” There is no word in ANY language wherein the suffix “que” is pronounced “cue.”

        Dictionaries are a major factor in the dumbing-down of America.

        • D.A.Kelorii says:

          Ahhh, American English. Firstly, World English spells the word as “barbeque” and in that word “que” is pronounced “cue.” Notably, “queue” (a lineup) is also pronounced “cue.” There are others, but I’m lazy (save when it comes to spelling words -with- their requisite “u”).

          Interesting points above for buss and a point… insure, ensure, and assure – if the dictionary DOES link them as synonyms – are not synonyms at all… they are at best, homonyms.

          Ta~!

        • Leonardo Marino says:

          If you actually think that dictionaries have that much influence on American spelling then you can’t be American. But either way, for someone with a PhD in Linguistics, this is awfully prescriptive of you.

        • David Whitson says:

          Except for “barbeque”. Surely, someone with a PhD. in linguistics would be aware that languages evolve.

        • I guess it’s also back to whether dictionaries are descriptive or prescriptive. I can’t stand some of the recent “updates” either. I don’t mind when a dictionary DESCRIBES improper use and labels it as such – so I can understand the word’s use – but to say that “insure” and “ensure” and “assure” are the same is disgusting. And don’t get me going on “graduate” used in the sentence “I’m going to graduate college in May.”

      • Leonardo Marino says:

        That’s a verb though, so the “busses” form in that context is not a plural. But has anyone brought up the other meaning of bus? The one formed by analogy that is used in computing and audio production? “Bus,”when it has this meaning, is always pluralized as “busses,” for whatever reason.

  2. A few older diamond lane signs along freeway 880 in central California contain the alternate spelling (“BUSSES AND CARPOOLS OK”), but most have been replaced with the single-s version. No more kissing allowed?

  3. Interesting. Buses is fine as long as you remember it rhymes with abuses.

  4. I thought ‘busses’ was also a verb as in the group were bussed over to the conference center on several buses.

    • Velvet Android says:

      Ah now that’s an interesting one, the verb use: yes, you’d definitely be ‘bussed’ somewhere, if taken by bus, so is that by extension ‘bussing’ — and can one break it down as ‘I bus [someone to somewhere]’, ‘you bus’, ‘he busses’, ‘she busses’, etc., i.e. spelling the word with a double-S would be correct in that context…??

  5. noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo i like busses

  6. Bluehawk2008 . says:

    Buses looks like “bewz-iz” to me. The pronunciation of the plural of “bus” intuitively requires a second S to make the consonant long, so I’ve always used that minority spelling without really thinking about it. I guess I have to retrain myself now.

  7. Bubbha Whatchamean says:

    Hmm… I always thought it referred to what a busboy or busgirl did.
    He/she *busses* tables or *bussed* the table already.

  8. richardmullins says:

    you said…. busses (the logical plural of buss, an early alternative spelling of bus)
    your analysis is incorrect. Busses is a “logical plural” of buss, but Google ngrams shows that buss has only ever been a very rare spelling. So it is a red herring to introduce the spelling “buss” as an explanation for the existence of “busses”.
    Other writers to this blog have pointed out that “bussed”, “bussing” are currently used as verbs.

  9. Follet de Collserola says:

    “… and running over among the cabs and busses, he bought one for him…”, quoted from The Stock-Broker’s Clerk, a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1893 but probably set some years before. Here a pic of what is said.

  10. Follet de Collserola says:

    Pic

  11. druekberg says:

    I still prefer “busses.” The doubling rule (one of the most basic rules in English) says, “For one-syllable words ending in a consonant, double the final consonant when adding a vowel suffix.” (The same is true for multi-syllabic words where the accent falls on the last syllable and a vowel precedes the final consonant.) While “buss” does mean “kiss,” I don’t think this is a reason not to double the final “s” in when pluralizing “bus.”

    Similarly, what is the adjective form of “pus”? Does anyone spell it “pusy,” despite the possible confusion with the word _referring_ to felines?

    • Hussein Obama says:

      There are exceptions to many of the rules in English. The plural of “bus” is once such. The proper, traditional plural of bus is buses. “Busses” are kisses.

      I always get a kick out of showing my students how “ghoti” can be pronounced “fish” by using some of those exceptions. ;)

    • I can’t find confirmation of this (as my Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, along with my OED and “regular” reference books are still packed since I moved, argh!), but isn’t “pus” both singular *and* plural (like “fish” or “deer”)? That’s what I always thought.

      Also, “puslike” is the accepted adjective form.

    • Spiritman says:

      Pus is the fluid that collects in a wound or blister. If you mean cat, it’s ‘puss’, e.g. Puss In Boots.

  12. Hussein Obama says:

    A buss is a kiss. A bus is a large motor conveyance. Busses are kisses. Buses is the plural of bus.

    • Spiritman says:

      A buss is a channel in audio mixing. I am a well-educated Englishman of 45 years, have lived in England all my life, yet have never heard of buss meaning kiss. Is it an Americanism?

  13. Notwithstanding Great Caesar’s assertion regarding ‘busses’ as being a kiss (an archaic definition retained only in very few dialects), busses is commonly accepted as the correct form for the verb ‘to bus’ as in he/she/it busses. Buses is the plural of the noun ‘bus’. There are many authoritative sources for this, such as the Oxford Dictionary. There are many, much more common, words in the English language that have different meanings despite sharing the same spelling; they are differentiated through context.

  14. Skip Filgo says:

    So is the act of sending people to a location by bus not spelled bussing? Is it busing? isn’t that BOOsing?

  15. Soul Controlla says:

    It goes along with the rule to double the last consonant as you add a suffix after a short vowel sound. A rule that the commonwealth usually follows but is not followed in the US. So by that, it should be busses. The fact that it is the same as another word is irrelevant. There are many many English words that have multiple meanings.

  16. theoriginalkdp says:

    Surely, ‘fuses’ and ‘buses’ rhyme … as do ‘fusses’ and ‘busses’.

  17. No one has mentioned “bus” as in a computer system. Seems like two “s” would be preferable if plural.
    I prefer “busses” overall, but I guess I’ll try to be up-to-date and only use that for the verb related to cleaning up tables at a restaurant.

  18. Cindy Saffron says:

    I think you’ll find that the word bus is an abbreviation of the word omnibus. As such, when we add a suffix beginning with a vowel to a multi syllable word, we say the word and listen to where the stress falls within the word. If the first syllable is stressed, we just add a suffix without changing the base word. (Eg adding another s.) The word buses is taken from the abbreviation of omnibuses and that is why the s isn’t doubled. If the accent was on the final syllable of omnibus, the s would be doubled.

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