Posted by: Jack Henry | August 5, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Latin Plurals and a Gardener with a Sense of Humor

When I was a kid, I remember my mom and dad correcting my plural endings for certain Latin words. “It’s not cactuses, it’s cacti.” “A lot of mushrooms aren’t funguses, they’re fungi.” So, like an obedient child, I learned appendix/appendices, criterion/criteria, curriculum/curricula, etc.

Imagine my horror, then, when I was double-checking the proper plural of apex or something, and I found that the rules had changed over the past forty years. I don’t remember if it was the Chicago Manual of Style or one of the books they published, but I learned that there is a movement to get away from the Latin endings of the words. The thought is that since we’ve adopted the words as part of English, we should apply English rules to the plural. Conversely, if we were speaking Latin, then we’d use the Latin rules for the plural words.

I’m sharing chunks of the list over a couple of days, but if you want to see the complete list in order, go ahead and check out Daily Writing Tips. You can see from the list that both English and Latin endings are given, if they exist. You can be the judge of which endings you still hear more often.

Words ending in a, plural -s or -ae

· alga: algae or algas

· antenna: antennas or antennae (only antennae is correct for the sensory organs on animals; antennas in more common in other contexts)

· formula: formulas or formulae

· larva: larvae or larvas

· nebula: nebulae or nebulas: the former ending is employed in astronomy, and the latter applies in medical contexts

· vertebra: vertebrae or vertebras (vertebrae is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to a single vertebra)

Words ending in ex, plural -exes or -ices

· apex: apexes or apices

· index: indexes or indices

· vortex: vortices or vortexes

Words ending in eau, plural -eaus or -eaux

· bureau: bureaus or bureaux (the latter form is rare for this word and the other two in this category)

· château: châteaus or châteaux

· plateau: plateaus or plateaux

Words ending in ion, plural -ia

· criterion: criteria [KC – I guess we’ll just call this “Forever Latin.”]

· ganglion: ganglia or ganglions

Words ending in on, plural -a or -ons

· automaton:automotons or automata

· phenomenon: phenomena or phenomenons

Words ending in us, plural -uses or -i

· alumnus/alumna: alumni or alumnae (alumnus refers to a man and alumna to a woman, alumni pertains to men or to men and women and alumnae to women; alumni is often employed in the singular, and alum/alums are used informally as gender-neutral singular and plural forms)

· bacillus: bacilli

· cactus: cacti or cactuses

· focus: foci or focuses

· fungus: fungi or funguses

· hippopotamus: hippopotamuses or hippopotami

· locus: loci

· narcissus: narcissi or narcissuses or narcissus

· platypus: platypuses or platypi

· radius: radii or radiuses

· stimulus: stimuli

· syllabus: syllabi or syllabuses

· terminus: termini or terminuses

Words ending in oo, plural -oos

· cockatoo: cockatoos

· kangaroo: kangaroos

· zoo: zoos


· cherub: cherubim or cherubs (the former alternative applies to angels and the latter pertains to depictions of winged children or to cherubic-looking people)

· rhinoceros: rhinoceroses or rhinoceros or rhinoceri

· seraph: seraphim or seraphs

And a great photo from Jane Gredvig. Happy Friday!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: