The category of Number

This category is constituted by the opposition of the plural form of the noun and its singular form. The plural categorial form is the strong or marked member of the   . opposition for it bears the formal mark of the category — the suffix -(e)s. It correlates with the categorial form of the singular regarded as weak because of the absence of the number suffix. This way of the plural number forma­tion is conventionally called productive since it is typical of the majority of English nouns.

The productive way of the number formation

In accordance with the general rale the plural suffix -(e)s is pronounced [z] after vowels and voiced consonants: cars, factories, pens, tables, [s] after voiceless consonants: books, cats, roofs, healths, tips, [iz] after sibilants: glasses, boxes, sizes, bridges, matches, bushes.

At the same time there is a number of exceptions to the rule in which the final voiceless consonant of the root-stem is changed into its voiced correlate [z] when the suffix -e(s) is added. This refers mainly to some nouns ending in a) -/ and b) -th.

a)   calfcalves halfhalves knife knives leaf — leaves life lives loafloaves sheaf — sheaves

b) bath — baths lath — laths oath — oaths path — paths

shelfshelves thief— thieves wife wives wolf— wolves.

However, in a small number of cases nouns with fi­nal -/or -th may have double plural forms : hoofhoofs, hooves, scarfscarfs, scarves, wharfwharfs, wharves. In some words the double pronunciation is not revealed by spelling: cloth — cloths  , truth truths , youth youths.

The group of exceptions includes also the noun househouses.

Derivative nouns form their plural in the same way: dictation dictations, handful handfuls, weakness weaknesses.

The plural of the compound nouns may be formed differently. Compounds spelt as one word form their plu­ral by adding -s to their final components: a bathroom bathrooms, a roommate — roommates, a manservant — menservants (plural in both first and last elements), an overcoat — overcoats, a bygone bygones, an overall overalls, a blackbird blackbirds, an outlook outlooks, an overlap — overlaps.

As a rule a compound hyphenated noun consisting of one or more nounal stems takes the form of the plural number by adding -s to the first nounal component: a commander-in-chief commanders-in-chief, a mother-in-law — mothers-in-law, a passer-by passers-by, a hanger-on — hangers-on.

If there is no nounal stem in a compound the plural is formed by adding -s to its last component: a close-up —

close-ups, a grown-up — grown-ups, forget-me-not forget-me-nots, merry-go-round merry-go-rounds, a sit-in sit-ins, a take-off — take-offs.

The same way of the plural number formation is typical of most unstable compounds: language change — linguage changes, grammar rule grammar rules, speech sound speech sounds, language origin language origins.

However, in the cases like gentleman farmer, woman doctor, etc. the plural form is taken by both the first and last elements: gentlemen farmers, women doctors.

Very rarely unstable compounds may be plural in their first element: notary public notaries public, attor­ney general attorneys general (attorney generals is also possible).

The non-productive ways of the number formation

On a par with the productive suffix -e(s) there exist some non-productive means of expressing the number op­position. They comprise a) vowel interchange: man men, woman — women, goose geese, foot feet, mou­se mice in simple nouns and in compounds ending in -man without any change in pronunciation: postman — postmen, rifleman riflemen, note that words like Norman, German are simple and form their plural in the productive way; b) the archaic suffix -en, in some words together with vowel change: ox oxen, child children, c) homonymy of singular and plural forms: sheep, deer, fish, trout, cod, salmon, pike, swine, means, aircraft,

series, species, etc. d) special nounal suffixes inherent to Latin, Greek and French borrowings which in turn may be classified as follows:

1)  singular nouns ending in -us in the plural have -i  radius — radii, cactus — cacti, nucleus — nuclei, terminus — termini;

2)  some singular nouns ending in -us in the plural have -era/ora : genus genera, corpus corpora,

3)   singular nouns ending in  -a in plural have  -ae  amoeba — amoebae, antenna — antennae, formula — formulae,

4)  singular nouns ending in -on or -um take in the plural  the   ending   -a phenomenon   — phenomena, curriculum — curricula, datum — data, me­dium media, stratum — strata,

5)  singular nouns ending in -is in the plural have -es   axis — axes,  basis — bases,  crisis — crises, hypothesis — hypotheses, oasis — oases;

6)   singular nouns ending -ex or -ix in the plural acquire   -ices :   index  —   indices,   ap­pendix — appendices, matrix — matrices;

7)  singular nouns ending in -eau in the plural take -eaux plateau   — plateaux, bureau — bureaux.

A limited number of nouns may have both productive and non-productive plural forms: formula — formulas formulae, brother — brothers brethren, penny — pennies — pence, genius — geniuses — genii, index — indexes — indices, staff staffs — staves. Sometimes plurals of the kind differ in meaning: — brothers — «male relatives with the same parents»,

brethren «male members of a religious group»; pen­nies — «coins», pence «amount of money»; geniuses — «men of genius», genii «spirits»; indexes «alpha­betical lists at the back o’f books», indices (and indexes) — «the system of numbers by which prices, costs and so on can be compared to a former level, usually fixed at 100», staffs — «military staffs or staffs of an institution», sta­ves — «sticks».

To conclude:as it has already been shown, the category of Number is manifested in countables, i.e. ba­sically common concrete class nouns as well as in some proper and abstract nouns which form their plurals by either productive or non-productive means. Yet in quite a number of cases the category of Number turns out to be unexpressed. This group of nouns consists of a) uncoun-tables (See 1.2.3.) and b) nouns used only in plural: clothes, trousers, scissors, spectacles, eyeglasses.

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