Thursday, July 14, 2011

Clothes, information, suds, pants

A plurale tantum: “a noun that in a particular sense is invariably plural in form.” For instance, clothes. A singulare tantum is invariably singular. For instance, information.

Years ago, I explained this difference (minus the Latin) while doing literacy tutoring. My off-the-top-of-my-head example of a plurale tantum was suds. I’m surprised now to see that the Oxford English Dictionary includes the singular sud, but that word means “a soap solution,” not “the frothy mass which collects on the top of soapy water in which things are washed.” The frothy mass is plural.

Pants looks like a plurale tantum, but there is a singular form, “chiefly used in the retail clothing industry,” as the OED notes. You might know pant from the L.L. Bean catalogue. The use of the singular form was a nice detail in Alfred Gingold’s 1982 Bean spoof Items from Our Catalog.

[Definition of plurale tantum from Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage ((Oxford University Press, 2009). Says Garner, “catalogue is still the better form.”]

comments: 3

Rachel said...

An instance similar to "pant" is "shoe," as in, "You'll want to pair this trouser with a brightly colored shoe."

Because a single shoe is tres chic!

Anonymous said...

So I should have been able to write "sud" in my game of Words with Friends"?

Michael Leddy said...

I guess it depends on whether they’re really your friends. :)