Antennae vs. antennas

In the U.S. and Canada, the plural of the noun antenna is antennae when the word denotes the flexible sensory appendages on insects and other animals. But when the word refers to a metallic apparatus for sending or receiving electromagnetic signals, American and Canadian writers usually use antennas. British writers tend to use antennae for both purposes. Australian and New Zealand writers are split on the matter, using both plurals for the metallic devices.


Publications throughout the English-speaking world use antennae as the plural of the animal appendage—for example:

Her gold face, with black-edged jaws, coral-like antennae and those deep black eyes, was cracked. [Guardian]

The scientist explains how lobsters use their antennae to communicate during mass migrations. [Wall Street Journal]

[I]ts antennae have an additional fixation point to help stabilize it during jumping. [Nigerian Daily Independent]

American, Canadian, and some Australian and New Zealand writers use antennas as the plural of the metallic receiver:

As well as installing and providing the set-top boxes, the government’s scheme will adjust antennas. [Sydney Morning Herald]

They also finished wiring up antennas, work left over from the first spacewalk. [USA Today]

The only noise that could be heard was that of Canucks flags secured to antennas and side windows flapping in the wind. [Vancouver Sun]

British writers often (not always) use antennae for both purposes—for example:

Each wire, in close proximity to passengers’ seats, acts as internal antennae allowing phones to operate at very low power levels. [Daily Mail]

Information gathered by the cars’ antennae could include parts of an email, text or photograph. [Telegraph]

12 thoughts on “Antennae vs. antennas”

  1. Common usage does not equate to correct usage. Correct usage according to all the references I’ve found show “antennae” for biological and “antennas” for radio. Also “antennas” is specifically shown in some references as the technical term. Part of the problem is that “antenna” is used nearly exclusively to refer to a biological fixture in the UK, and “aerial” to refer to a device used to transmit and receive radio signals.

    • “Correct” is antennae. Always. In every case. But “correct” is in quotes for a reason. The language has drifted / will drift. Common usage eventually shoves out “correct” usage unless something comes along to redirect that vector of change. The antennae used for technical applications borrowed the term from the world of biology … from the world of science. But these were engineers not scientists. Thus, common parlance trumped accuracy in their world and you find the spelling as “antennas”. *shrug*

      • Don’t know about what is “correct” — with or without quotes — but I can tell you that in America, the tall metal devices used to enhance radio signals have been called “antennas” for at least a century.

        A 1916 issue of QST, the world’s leading amateur radio magazine, contained an item about how the “master of the vessel” on foreign coal steamers would not be required to dismantle his radio or “lower his antennas.”

        Likewise, any modern-day American newspaper that publishes a story about a ham radio operator’s “antennae” should report this rare species to a cryptozoologist.

        • And… it is still an incorrect, even in 1916 (they weren’t somehow more accurate in 1916). In the military, we lowered our “antennae”. But then again, we also use the metric system predominantly in the US Army, so there you go.

          Any modern day newspaper that publishes a story about ham radio in general is a rare species. :)

  2. language does change over time … and so does common and correct usage. Though you are right – common does not [always] equal correct, but it can…

  3. Poor education in the English speaking countries, where little understanding of other languages means people don’t appreciate plural endings are not always the same as in English. This can also be attributed to the demise of Latin in schools, where it would be well known that the correct ending is “ae”.

    • But interestingly, the plural “antennas” has been an American radio term for at least a century. You can find it in early-20th-century issues of the amateur radio magazine QST.


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