Grammar Guy: Irregular nouns abound

English is weird. According to, the English language borrows up to 80 percent of its words from other languages. In fact, English words are composed of 350 other languages. No wonder we can’t spell.

I’ve written before about how many wacky animals don’t follow plural noun rules, such as “goose,” “deer,” “sheep” and “ox.” Animals are wild; they don’t play by the rules. Then again, most of them don’t speak English, either.

Some irregular nouns only exist in their singular form; these nouns are called “singulare tantum,” which means “can only be singular” in Latin. These types of nouns usually refer to uncountable, or mass nouns such as “bread,” “rice,” “salt,” “gravel,” and “water.” In order to quantify mass nouns, we need to qualify them: a tablespoon of salt, two cups of rice, a gallon of water.

Other irregular nouns only exist in their plural form; these nouns are called “pluralia tantum,” which is Latin for “can only be plural.” These nouns can’t possibly be singular. They include “clothes,” “scissors,” “goggles,” “remains,” and “suds.” There’s no such thing as “a sud” or “one scissor.” You can have “one item of clothing,” but you can’t have “one clothe.”

Now things go from weird to weirder: we have an entire category of nouns that have the same spelling in their singular and plural forms. They’re either called “invariant” or “indeclinable” nouns. Whatever you call this category of noun, here are a few examples: grapefruit, bison, furniture, news, aircraft, offspring, species, information, music and gymnastics. These nouns can be singular or plural, but only have one form of their spelling. They’re one of a kind (as long as the pair is the same).

So regardless of how many sheep you can fit on one hovercraft, the buffalo will inevitably be boarding the spacecraft. In the impending case of a zombie apocalypse, Earth’s crazy, irregular animals will undoubtedly join forces and attempt to escape in our various forms of transportation, leaving us wide open to our zombie demise. Did I just take that illustration too far? Perhaps I did. But, if you pass on this word of warning to your offspring, maybe they’ll survive the looming undead outbreak.

By Curtis Honeycutt first published on on May 26, 2020.

Curtis is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist.