English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I was working on a crossword puzzle with the clue bearer of gold, frankincense, or myrrh. I immediately thought that the answer is obviously either "magi" or "wise man," but then realized that the puzzle called for a 5 letter word so neither fit. Eventually I figured out that magi is a plural Latin word, so its singular form would be "magus" which was the correct answer.

Is it normal to use the word "magus" in informal, or even formal, English? I've never seen it before. I have however often seen magi used as a singular noun.

share|improve this question
The English word (derived from magus) is mage, of which magi is an alternate plural, mages being more common. – Jon Purdy Jan 30 '11 at 8:56
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Both “magus” and “magi” are attested in dictionaries. For example, in the New Oxford American Dictionary:

magus (pl. magi) a member of a priestly caste of ancient Persia. (See also Magi.) • a sorcerer.

magi: plural form of magus .

“Magi”, with a capital M, is only used in the plural:

Magi (the Magi)

the “wise men” from the East who brought gifts to the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:1), said in later tradition to be kings named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

So, the most common use (those specific Magi) only exists in the plural, though the singular of the common noun exists.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.