Literary Discourse: Number: Special Plurality Part One

In a previous essay, we discussed the ungrammatical application of the noun CRITERIA in Ghanaian English. Today, we examine SPECIAL PLURALITY, an aspect of NUMBER, which constitutes a source of confusion and misapplication. It is instructive to note that CRITERIA and related nouns belong to the category of SPECIAL PLURALITY. But before we go to the main discourse, we need to maximize our understanding of NUMBER as a grammatical concept and its significance in English communication. This would help us understand the topic under discussion holistically and avoid errors in relation to it largely.

Learning Outcomes
By the end of this discourse, fellow learners/readers should be able to enhance their ability to:

Understand Number in Grammar
Identify nouns and pronouns as elements of Number
Know singularity and plurality as cases in Number
Differentiate ordinary/simple plurality from special/complex plurality

NUMBER is an important feature of English Grammar and tool of comprehensible communication. This is because it helps writers and speakers (to) obey the Rule of Concord, which checks ambiguity and verbosity. NUMBER simply refers to the grammatical quantity expressed by nouns and pronouns in English. It is, therefore, categorised into Singular and Plural. Examples are book [singular], BOOKS [plural]; he [singular] THEY [plural]; this [singular], THESE [plural]. 

Comparative Linguistics establishes that English, unlike other languages, has only the Singular and Plural cases as NUMBER. For instance, Arabic has, as part of NUMBER, the Principle of Duality in nouns, pronouns and other lexical categories. Moreover, NUMBER in French covers word classes such as verbs, pronouns, adjectives, and articles – definite and indefinite.

Special Plurality
Most words in English undergo plurality when we simply add to them the morpheme “S.” Examples are pen [singular], PENS [plural]; house [singular], HOUSES [plural]. However, there are many exceptions to this rule when dealing with the plurality of irregular nouns such as: child [singular], CHILDREN [plural]; consortium [singular], CONSORTIA [plural]. These are nouns under special plurality with varied lexical forms and features. Below are some of them:

S-ending Plural Nouns of Special Meanings
It is important to mention that certain nouns ending with “S” have plural forms only with certain meanings. WhiteSmoke, (2010) gives examples of such nouns as follows: CUSTOMS (at the airport/border, not practices), GUTS (courage, not intestines)

QUARTERS (lodgings, not 1/4s), CLOTHES (garments, not fabrics) GOODS (merchandise, not the opposite of bad), ARMS (weapons, not limb). For better understanding, let us use these words in sentences.

Atampugre and Kofi are CUSTOMS officers at Kotoka International Airport.

Professor Lungu has the GUTS to question the existence of God!

Abigail stays at Nanton police QUARTERS.
Rosemary exports Ghana-made CLOTHES.
 Cocaine and marijuana are among illegal GOODS in international trade.

Dr. SAS, a renowned lawyer, is the defence counsel for Kojo, who is on trial for unlawful deals in ARMS.

It is instructive to state that these words should NOT be confused with S-ending Singular Nouns.

S-ending Singular Nouns
Among irregular nouns in English are those that end with “S” but are usually singular. So, in concord, they take singular verbs with an “S” ending in Present Simple Tense. Examples are: MEASLES, RABIES, DIABETES as diseases. 

In the fields of study and occupation we also have: ECONOMICS, ETHICS, LINGUISTICS, POLITICS, PHYSICS, AND GYMNASTICS.

It is, therefore, ungrammatical to say:
MATHEMATICS are difficult  
MEASLES are very painful.
Rather, the correct constructions are:
MATHEMATICS is difficult  
MEASLES is very painful.
Both of the nouns, as stated earlier, are singular and must take the singular verb “is” to satisfy the requirement of Concord. Similarly, we could say or write:

POLITICS has (not have) been a major cause of conflict in Africa.

ECONOMICS has (not have) been one of Azinpaga’s best subjects.

S-ending Nouns of Both Singularity and Plurality

Some nouns have an identical form of “S” ending for both singular and plural. Examples are SERIES, BARRACKS, MEANS, HEADQUARTERS, SPECIES, and CROSSROADS. See some of these words in sentences:

THE HERITAGE, a TV SERIES on African History on GTV, is interesting. [Singular sense].

Many TV SERIES on many TV stations are patronized by many people in Ghana. [Plural sense].

Money is a MEANS to an end. [Singular sense].

Newspapers and TV are MEANS of mass communication. [Plural sense].

There is one SPECIES of humans. [Singular sense]

There are many SPECIES of cats. [Plural sense].

To be continued.
By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale

Email: [email protected] Tell: 0244755402

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