# re: About English Plural 'S'?page 2

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'Five books' is a piece of idea. From the word 'five' we know it means more than one book. The question is why we put an extra 's' to denote it is a plural? If we don't put this 's', shall somebody mistake what we mean to say? This is another example of double expressing. Of course the following question would be why and when shall we double express and why and when we express the same idea one time or three times. For five books, it is easy to get an integer number. Yet, if we want to express something in fraction, it would be a nuisance. 1.23 pies comparing 0.23 pie, are they two different things? Something like 1.0000001 dollars, we put 's', while 0.99999 dollar we don't. Beside this, we have to know the different among 1.0001 percent, 0.999 percent, 101 percent, 99 percent etc. There is no logical reason but just rote. Sometimes, a number we can't see it directly such as log7.8+sin46/tg7=? Voltage(s). In other case, a question itself is about whether a certain value is greater than one or not. If a teacher ask students, that A/B apple(s) is (are) greater than one apple or not, it would be very hard for the use to put 's' or not. For either put or not will tell the answer too. As for the negative number, there is some thing more to learn. In positive number we know that the number greater than one, we put 's' as plural, while for the negative number, we put 's' after the number less than -1 and when it greater than -1 we won't. That means to say, when the absolute value smaller than one, we don't put 's' and when the absolute value greater than one we put. Do you think we can explain this to a toddler? If not then, what we tell them is an unstable knowledge and no one can remember an unstable knowledge as well as a stable knowledge. All these troubles are from the ancient usage of 's'.
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SCZ wrote:
I think the irregular plural can save one 'phonetic pattern' comparing with the regular plural. You may repeat several time of 'mans', 'womans' and 'gooses' etc. to find it take longer time then 'men', 'women' and 'geese'. So it is stil an example for memory exchange speed. We spend time to remeber them in order to get faster speed.

The question then becomes: is infixation, with its irregular forms (a, e, i, o) and infilling process (i.e., altering the internal structure of the word) really all that more 'efficient' than adding -s?

Furthermore, even if the irregular forms were to change to more 'regular' forms, there'd be the chore of having to re-learn new forms, along with the old forms, otherwise all the books, and all that history and information that's been written down so far would be in the old way, and if new learners are to be able to read that stuff, they'll need to know what it means. It would be comparable, in a way, to a modern day English major studying Middle English. One needs to know the way it was done so as to be able to understand the text.

Change takes time. But then again, there's so much history housed in English spelling. Why paint over it?
The "-s" is the most common suffix left in English by now, it took over several functions:

a) plural indicator: one apple - two apples
b) 3rd ps sg inflection indicator: sing - he sings
c) genitive ending: Jon's house

In my opinion, the -s in b) will certainly disappear sometime, it was already mentioned, that it is very often dropped already. In Scandinavian languages, such as Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, the inflection endings have vanished completely already and all persons take the same form of the verb.
The -s will also disappear in the function of genitive indicator. There's a tendency to replace it by the preposition of and the following noun in the object case. E.g. Jon's house --> The house of Jon (this will get more common also in these cases with people, not only items).

But the -s will certainly not disappear in its function as a plural indicator, I'd rather say that it will get more common as it already is by now. More and more irregular plural forms will vanish and be replaced by -s instead, also 'sheeps' instead of 'sheep' as the plural form is more probable than keeping the irregular form 'sheep'.
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The "-s" is the most common suffix left in English by now, it took over several functions:

a) plural indicator: one apple - two apples
b) 3rd ps sg inflection indicator: sing - he sings
c) genitive ending: Jon's house

It would be erroneous to say that the suffixes in a), b) and c) are the same. Orthographically maybe, and that only would be for a) and b). Even then only for regular plurals and verbs. c) has an apostrophe which makes a world of a difference. They are different suffixes sharing some similar properties.

eq
'Five books' is a piece of idea. From the word 'five' we know it means more than one book. The question is why we put an extra 's' to denote it is a plural? If we don't put this 's', shall somebody mistake what we mean to say? This is another example of double expressing..... There is no logical reason but just rote.

You are absolutely right. I assume from your name that you speak Mandarin Chinese. Simiar "useless" phenomena apply in Chinese, where you have classifiers, which serve no purpose as well:

1) wu ben shu
2) *wu shu

Chinese is a language which does not inflect, unlike english. So the plural -s that you refer to in english exists purely for agreement reasons. The suffix depends as much on the "amount" of the object in question but also the determiner that precedes it. Singular determiners take singular nouns:

3) A book
4) The book(s) (the definite article 'the' can be both sg or pl)
5) Two books
6) All the books
7) *All the book

In 6) and 7) the agreement of the noun agrees with the quantifier all. It is conceivable (though silly) to think of 6) as referring to one book. For example, "move all the books from the room". You may go into the room and discover that there is only one book, or many.

Such idiocyncracies are the joys of learning new languages.

eq
>Furthermore, even if the irregular forms were to change to more 'regular' forms, there'd be the chore of having to re-learn new forms, along with the old forms, otherwise all the books, and all that history and information that's been written down so far would be in the old way, and if new learners are to be able to read that stuff, they'll need to know what it means. It would be comparable, in a way, to a modern day English major studying Middle English. One needs to know the way it was done so as to be able to understand the text.
That is right. The evolution of language is very slow but never stopped. Every language went the same way. If we know the change before it happened, we can make the languages of this world compromise each other in some way.
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korin said:
>Over approximately 1500 years, the mammoth set of inflections of the Old English has virtually been discarded leaving only 's' (plural nouns, 3rd person singular verbs, and saxon genitive) in modern English. English has become a rather analytic lg, where most of the syntactic relations within a sentence are expressed by means of word order.
I always confused by the 3rd person singular verbs. If some one like, can you explain the following sentence, for me?
"Jones shake(s) hand(s) with Tom."
The question is that how we calssify the subject and object, singular or plural? I always wonder that the shaking hand(s) is like the meaning of shaking a bar. For shaking hand(s) means that you wave your hand and cause other hand waving. So it should be 'Jones shakes Tom's hand', not 'Jones shakes hands with Tom'. For Jones' hand is initiative and Tom's hand is passive. If you regard both hand were shaken simultaneously, then, who are (is) subject? Are both Jones and Tom are subject? Then we have to say, 'Jones and Tom shake hands.'
"Jones shake(s) hand(s) with Tom."

If you regard both hand were shaken simultaneously, then, who are (is) subject? Are both Jones and Tom [the] subject?

Good question, SCZ.

to shake hands is reciprocal: to shake [each other's] hand.
equivocal
It would be erroneous to say that the suffixes in a), b) and c) are the same. Orthographically maybe, and that only would be for a) and b). Even then only for regular plurals and verbs. c) has an apostrophe which makes a world of a difference. They are different suffixes sharing some similar properties.

Oh, I didn't say that, of course they're (historically) not the same, but all the forms fell together!
In today's English, the "-s" IS the indicator for plural, 3rd person pres. and genitive.

Even though you still SEE a difference in the genitive (apostrophe), in spoken language, you can't decide whether "mother(')s" is plural or genitive case unless you know the context.

You can't know in spoken language either, whether "show(')s" is plural, genitive object, or 3rd ps pres. ending, if it's out of context.
(There are two shows this evening, The show's highlight, He shows him a secret).
This shows that the function of -s has been widened, the actual forms fell together.
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