Teeth vs. teethe

Teeth is the plural of tooth. It's only a noun. Teethe, with that third e, is a verb meaning to grow teeth. It's inflected teething, teethed, and teethes. Teethe is often used metaphorically to mean to pass through early stages of development. This sense is especially common in phrases such as … [Read more...]

Timpanum, timpani, tympanum, tympani

People familiar with music terms use timpanum for a single kettledrum, and timpani (the Latin plural of timpanum) for multiple drums. For all senses of the word unrelated to music (mainly in biology, zoology, and architecture), tympanum and tympani are the preferred spellings. Anyone not … [Read more...]

Conches vs. conchs

There are two ways to pronounce the noun conch---which refers to a variety of sea mollusks and their large shells---and how you pronounce it determines its plural. The more common pronunciation is with a hard k sound at the end, so that the word rhymes with honk. For this pronunciation, the plural … [Read more...]

Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a literary or rhetorical device in which two contradictory terms are used together for emphasis or poetic effect or to arrive at a unique meaning. A few of the most commonly cited ones are deafening silence, living dead, open secret, and controlled chaos. The word came to English via … [Read more...]

Last names (plurals and possessives)

Names are nouns, and they are made plural and possessive like other regular nouns. For instance, four men named John are four Johns, and the hats the Johns are wearing are the four Johns' hats. This is simple enough, yet when it comes to last names, there are several common errors that many people … [Read more...]

Calves vs. calfs

Calves is the standard plural of calf in all its senses. Two young cows are calves, and the back portions of your lower legs are also calves. Calfs has never been a widely accepted form, and some might consider it incorrect. Calf, incidentally, only works as a noun. The verb meaning to birth a … [Read more...]

Maxima vs. maximums

Ignore the reference books that say maxima is the standard plural of maximum and that maximums is a primarily American form. These books are behind the times. Maximums is the standard plural in 21st-century English, and it is far more common than maxima in most types of writing throughout the … [Read more...]

Fora vs. forums

fora-forums-english-1800-2000

Fora and forums are plurals of forum. The former conforms to the original Latin, which some people prefer, while others like the Anglicized form. Neither is right or wrong, and choosing between them is mostly a matter of preference. Be aware, however, that forums is by far the more common form in … [Read more...]

Politics

As a term for the art or science of governing or for the activities and methods of seeking political office, the noun politics may be either plural or singular. Writers of this century more often treat it as singular---e.g., "Politics is a dirty game"---but when the word is shorthand for political … [Read more...]

Fungi vs. funguses

Though fungus has Latin roots, it has been an English word for many centuries, so there is nothing wrong with pluralizing it in the English manner---funguses. But even though there is nothing wrong with the English plural, fungus is one of a handful of Latin-derived words whose Latin plurals are … [Read more...]

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