Deer vs deers

Deer is the preferred plural form of deer, a hoofed mammal. Deer are ruminants. In most types of deer, only the males produce antlers. Deer antlers are shed annually. Some species of deer are white-tailed deer, red deer, caribou, moose, fallow deer, mule deer, roe deer and elk.

Deers is an accepted plural, but it is rarely used.

The word deer comes from the Old English word, deor, which means four-legged animal, beast. Also the Dutch word, dier and the German word, tier.

Deer is one of a set of words with irregular plural forms, such as sheep and fish.


Officials recently said Michigan’s 2014 deer hunting harvest was down about 15 percent from 2013, due in part to severe winter weather in recent years. (The Detroit News)

The company sells breeding stock, while trying to improve offspring to produce male deer, known as bucks, with the big antlers and other characteristics often favored by hunters and game farms. (The Journal Times)

“The number of deer harvested hit a low in the early 1970s at below 100,000 statewide,” Creagh said. (The Daily Journal)

“People assume deer will learn to look both ways, and the dumb ones will be selected out of the population,” said Sandra Jacobson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in Davis, California. (Helena Independent Record)

According to the details submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by Gujarat forest department, the floods claimed lives a whopping 1,670 blue bulls (nilgai), 80 spotted deers, around 10 black bucks and even wild boars that all form the prey base of Asiatic lions. (Daily News and Analysis India)

As a result, unexploded ordnance litters the 18sq km area, posing a threat to the deers, boar and foxes that roam its lands – as well as humans. (The Guardian)


4 thoughts on “Deer vs deers”

  1. Other languages are far clearer about the specific plural-form of some words than English. As the article’s author mentions, we have quite a few irregular plural (or singular, for that matter):

    sheep (s) → sheep (p)fish (s) → fish (p)

    And as things go, there are words that seem to harken from the Germanic mother tongue(s) from which English evolved.

    ox → oxenbrother → bretheren (collective plural, religious)child → children {various}man → {various}men

    But not

    chick ← ! chickenkitt ← ! kittenliche ← ! lichenmaid ← ! maidenpoll ← ! pollen ( is pollen ever distinctly singular? )

    To me the [chick → chicken] pair is most odd, especially when one considers [child → children]. Both commonplace, both dating back to antiquity, both seemingly using the Germanic (-en) suffice to pluralize the noun. Yet, one can care for a single chicken now, but never a single children. And chick now always refers to the immature chicken (s); chicken (s) can be the plural “they had several dozen chicken before the fox ate them all”, without sounding odd.

    And why on earth a Fox might have kits, and a Cat has kittens … is somewhat beyond my ability to grok.

    Anyway … musings


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  2. I must admit I like and respect Grammarist for support and insight beyond solid language construction. Especially when trying to explain connotative meaning in business.
    That being said, I have real difficulty accepting that “s” plurals for fish, deer, etc. are in any way legitimate. I notice you offered the “s” plural as accepted but rarely used. In what way is it accepted and by who? I don’t ask in order to be argumentative, intellectually I can’t rationalize the “s”.
    What say you?

    • First, “they” never seem to respond.

      Second, I don’t think there’s much of a stretch to imagine that at least some of the irregular plural nouns might have regular pluralizations that mimic most-every other word that sounds to have been built from similar roots.

      dish → disheswish → wishesdervish → dervishesknish → knishesfetish → fetishesgarnish → garnishes

      So why not [fish → fishes]? Its not that weird: especially since there are so many ‘cutesy’ adaptations of fishes that have become widely repeated phrases: “All the fishes in the Sea”, and kin. Oddly though, the -fish suffix does seem to conserve well the idea that it is already in plural form. One never hears of swordfishes (tho’ the spell checker doesn’t seem unhappy with the construction!), but swordfish. “We caught several swordfish today, along with a fair snag of bonefish”. Aquarium owners are fond of accepting “fishes” to refer to the plurality-of-types, but not the plurality-of-number. Its an odd word indeed.



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