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After a discussion on the topic I found out that the oxford dictionary describes that

Historically, dice is the plural of die, but in modern standard English dice is both the singular and the plural: 'throw the dice' could mean a reference to either one or more than one dice.

and

dice. NOUN (plural same)

Source: oxforddictionaries.com

Which unsurprisingly surprised me. Now, I have long ago accepted that languages are living things and I am fine accepting change, however in this particular case I am not sure just how accepted this use is. The Oxford dictionary makes no mention of this use being slang which suggests it should be valid in 'proper' English as well and no reference is even made to die except as a 'see also' and the historical use.

So, does this mean uses like

We lost one dice whilst playing the game yesterday.

and

The 3D artist was developing a dice model, to be printed later.

are both valid?

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If in "die model", you mean "die" in the sense: die (noun) a tool that is used for cutting, shaping, or stamping a material or an object, the plural for that usage is, and has been for at least the last century or two, "dies". –  Peter Shor Apr 29 at 21:46
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In the OED, the last listed usage of "dice" as a singular noun occurred in 1751. If that makes me a fashionista for looking down on "dice" as a singular noun, then so be it! It's a little confusing to me that the Oxford Dictionary contradicts the Oxford English Dictionary on this point, and I have never encountered any evidence that supports the claim that, as the Oxford Dictionary has it, "the singular die (rather than dice) is increasingly uncommon." But then I guess I'm not a linguist... –  senderle Apr 29 at 23:41
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You keep saying “oxford dictionary”. I have no idea what that means, especially in lower case. If you mean the OED, then say that; if you do not, please do not make it appear that that is what mean when you don’t. –  tchrist Apr 30 at 0:18
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@DavidMulder There’s more than one “Oxford” dictionary just as there’s more than one “Webster” dictionary, and they’re not all equally helpful, respected, or authoritative. Please edit your question to indicate whether you mean the Oxford English Dictionary, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, or something different. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 30 at 2:50
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David - I think the tchrist's comment shows that he does know his dictionaries, not that he doesn't. Your question says things like, "The Oxford dictionary makes no mention of this use being slang". @tchrist speaks for many of us when he wonders, "Which Oxford dictionary are you talking about?" Links, please. –  J.R. Apr 30 at 9:49

11 Answers 11

up vote 90 down vote accepted

I have never heard of "dice" being used as a singular instead of die. As a collective noun which could include one, sure:

Go on and roll the dice. How many dice do I roll? Just one.

But as a straight, unambiguous singular?

Roll one dice

or even worse

Roll a dice

sounds off to me. So I went to check published usage to see if I was being overly pedantic.

I ran a Google books search for the phrases "roll one die" and "roll one dice." I got:

  • 5,540 results for "roll one die"
  • 139 results for "roll one dice"

Browsing through the first page of results, a lot of the hits on "roll one dice" seem to be either self-published books or false positives for phrases like "roll one's dice" or "re-roll one dice roll," neither of which support Oxford's rule.

Running an Ngram...the Ngram viewer had no trouble with "roll one die" but could not find "roll one dice" at all.

Add to this the fact that "die" is commonly used in idioms like "The die is cast"--this doesn't guarantee that it's current and understood (see "short shrift") but it is another piece of evidence on the pile.

Based on this--and my experience--I would respectfully disagree that "roll one die" is archaic or obsolete in modern English. Even if "roll one dice" is gaining ground as an alternate form, "roll one die" is still the preferred singular, at least in formal writing.

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3  
Do you use datum for the singular of data? –  mgb Apr 30 at 2:51
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FWIW: I find one dice or a dice to be strange, possibly because I have distinct childhood memories of being corrected and told that the proper singular form was die. However, in my experience (US), a command to hurry up and roll the dice is common even in the context of a game with a single six-sided piece. I'd venture a guess that the acceptability of the identical phrase when referring to multiple dice allows it to feel more natural in the singular case. –  WinnieNicklaus Apr 30 at 15:21
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@WinnieNicklaus So you're downvoting a search of corpora in favor of... what? Instinct? Even if the format isn't ideal (and keep in mind sources like self-published books are included), I don't see why we should be chasing off attempts to make evidence-based arguments. –  emodendroket Apr 30 at 19:35
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@WinnieNicklaus - RE: "While written corpora can be helpful in gauging the frequency of various constructions, I would be extremely cautious in using them to assess irregular forms which are likely influenced by prescriptive norms." Me, too. That said, I couldn't find anything reckless in this answer. No dogmatic conclusions were drawn from numeric totals, and chapka went so far as to at least sift through a few results and report on the findings. We can agree to disagree, but this seemed like a responsible use of the tool to me. –  J.R. Apr 30 at 20:10
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Moreover, restricting to British English makes the gap much smaller again --- while roll a die is still consistently more popular, I think that search shows pretty unambiguouly that in British English, roll a dice is an acceptable alternative. Edit: and, oddly, with throw a die/dice, the situation changes further --- since 1990, throw a dice has been more common. –  PLL May 1 at 23:51

In my experience, "die" is the singular of dice. Dictionary.com has my back on this one.

"One die" sounds better to me than "one dice."

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I have to disagree, die sounds really weird to me when used as singular of dice. –  nyuszika7h Apr 30 at 22:16
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@nyuszika7h Then, with all due respect, you have a strange perception of english. –  Waterseas May 1 at 22:14
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@Waterseas As much as I cringe when I hear it, as much as when people say "Shedgule" instead of "Skedgule" or "Ay-Gain" instead of "Uh-genn", I have heard dice to refer to a single object in all corners of North America. –  corsiKa May 1 at 23:16
    
Since the question already starts out by quoting one authoritative dictionary in support of singular dice, a good answer really needs to be based on more than just the answer's judgement and one other dictionary. –  PLL May 1 at 23:30
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@nyuszika7h Does mouse also sound really weird to you as singular of mice? –  Jubobs May 2 at 13:03

Both forms are currently widely used. Singular die remains more frequent overall, but singular dice is also reasonably common, even in formal writing, and especially in British English.

throw a die vs. throw a dice --- Google ngrams, general English corpus

A google ngrams graph for throw a die vs. throw a dice shows that die has remained consistently more frequent, but that the difference has been generally shrinking over time. In recent decades, throw a die wins by a factor of about 1.5--2. Comparing roll a die/dice gives a larger difference, a factor of about 7--10.

Restricting to UK usage, however, the story changes. In roll a die/dice, die is still the winner, but by a much smaller margin; and with throw a die/dice, they have been close to equally popular for a while, with dice more common since 1990 but die regaining ground recently.

(I speculate that the reason for the throw/roll difference is that throw is mostly used casually, while roll is preferred by serious gamers.)

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1  
It might be a regional difference, too..."throw the dice" may be more common in the UK, where "dice" is also more acceptable as a singular form. –  chapka May 5 at 17:32

DIE, n. The singular of "dice." We seldom hear the word, because there is a prohibitory proverb, "Never say die." At long intervals, however, some one says: "The die is cast," which is not true, for it is cut. The word is found in an immortal couplet by that eminent poet and domestic economist, Senator Depew:

A cube of cheese no larger than a die
May bait the trap to catch a nibbling mie.

— Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

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Now, that's my kind of dictionary! :) Sometimes it takes sarcasm to stump people who talk more than they think. Best answer here. –  Henrik Erlandsson May 2 at 12:10

Even if it is legal, I would only use "dice" in a plural sense, because either the plural sense definition appears before the singular definition, or most of the examples for "dice" are plural, and because of the fact that "die" is specifically listed as the singular of "dice":

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dice

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dice

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/dice

The problem is that according to the Oxford dictionary, "dice" can be interpreted either as singular or plural, making the definition ambiguous. If the reader knows the sentences are written in Modern Standard English, using the word "one" before "dice" could resolve the problem. How would the reader know the sentences are Modern Standard English and were not written before the time when this became a standard, or know that the sentences didn't contain older references?

In this sentence, dice is not ambiguous because of the word "one":

"We lost one dice whilst playing the game yesterday."

However, in the following sentence:

"We lost dice whilst playing the game yesterday."

This sentence could be also interpreted to mean that "we lost one (pair of) dice", E.G. that you actually lost 2 dice.

Even though this usage is valid according to the dictionary, without the use of the word "one", anyone who has seen the word "die" used as the singular or found a dictionary entry listing "die" as the singular will have to guess as to whether "dice" is being used in the singular or plural sense.


In this sentence:

"The 3D artist was developing a dice model, to be printed later."

The word "a" before "dice model" suggests that there is only one actual model to be printed, but it's not clear whether a dice model refers to one model of only one die, or to one model of multiple dice.

Could either of these sentences be used?

"The 3D artist was developing a model of only one die, to be printed later."

"The 3D artist was developing a model of (two, three) dice, to be printed later."

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In addition to the other answers here, I would like to add two more things I found and noticed whilst researching this topic a bit more. Originally I believed that doing a Google search was impossible as the “a” in a search for “a dice” will be ignored by Google. However, replacing “a” with “one” does work. The only problem is that “one die” is also present in sentences like

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die.
(Romans 5:7, King James Version)

However it is still illustrative that one die gets 370,000 results and one dice still gets 170,000 results (both the same order of magnitude, and even quite close).

However, Google Ngrams, which graphs the use within books rather than on websites, gives a totally different view where one dice is used 30 times less than one die (where one die again is over represented for the reasons mentioned earlier).

Either way, this supports the notion that one dice is still only slang, but is gaining traction quicker than the other answers suggested.

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Additional information like this should probably be edited into the question rather than posted as an answer. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 30 at 2:54
    
@BraddSzonye: This is an answer to the original question: It answers the question that the sentences are valid, although not yet in formal language and has the best set of sources. –  David Mulder Apr 30 at 11:32
    
@TRiG: Thanks for the edit, do say, was my original languages just 'imperfect' or actually bad? (Not a native english speaker, but I do speak about as much (if not more) english as (than) my native language) –  David Mulder Apr 30 at 11:54
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My main reasons for editing were to properly attribute the quote and to use italics rather than code style. Other changes were incidental. I think the only one which was actually necessary was searching for "a dice" will get the "a" ignored by google, which set my teeth on edge a bit for reasons I'd find hard to explain. –  TRiG Apr 30 at 12:16
    
@TRiG: Thanks for the explanation :D –  David Mulder Apr 30 at 12:20

When one studies the word dice in various dictionaries - older and newer ones - one can only say there is a lot of insecurity about singular and plural, and even about the etymology.

I think I remember to have read in an older source that dice would mean a pair of these cubes and for one cube one should say one of the dice". I think to use the word as singular and plural is the simplest way to have this insecurity eliminated.

As to the etymology etymonline says the origin is uncertain. But they give as probable origin Latin dare/datum to give/ given. I think I remember to have read about the Latin source digitus, and digits. I have not the time to check all sources, this is only meant to show there is a lot of insecurity.

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From my bygone days of playing Dungeons and Dragons, and can attest that the term for a single simple device for generating a random integer is in fact "die". I'm sure that some people will say "dice" but most D&D players will say "die".

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Why the downvote? If I can improve the question, then please let me know how. –  dotancohen Apr 30 at 12:30
    
But saying "die" in D&D could be deemed as archaic roleplaying could it not? –  Octopus Apr 30 at 16:07
    
I suppose that it could be, but at least my DM did not do anything archaic for the sake of old times, at least as far as I could tell. Of course, that was 20 years ago so maybe I didn't know to identify it then. –  dotancohen Apr 30 at 18:19
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@dotancohen: kids these days probably think we were speaking Middle English in the 90s, and as such 20 years ago is "archaic" ;-) –  Steve Jessop Apr 30 at 20:42
    
Would D&D players say "die", or "D6" [or D12, D20, or whatever]? –  supercat May 1 at 5:43

Since there are several answerers saying they've basically never heard of 'dice' being singular, I'll just throw in my own (UK) experience:

'Dice' is always the word I've used for singular and plural, in the manner of 'fish' or 'sheep'. In the past if I ever heard 'die' I guess I imagined it was non-standard or a sloppy translation. In recent years I've gradually noticed that 'die' is also common (more common?) and is accepted too, although it always causes me to notice it -- it never feels completely natural.

We lost one dice whilst playing the game yesterday.

To me this sounds technically correct, but clumsy. It should usually be 'a dice', not 'one dice', and 'while' flows better than 'whilst'; then it's fine.

The 3D artist was developing a dice model, to be printed later.

This sounds perfect. (On the other hand, if you said 'die model' I'd hear only 'dye model' and wonder what it was about.)

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It is most definitely an issue of national usage patterns. "Die" has historical precedence as the singular, but I can attest that "dice" is presently the preferred singular in Australian English, and others have indicated the same for UK English. A preference for "die" seems to be characteristic of US English.

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"Passage, a game at dice, played by two persons using three dice." -A glossary and etymological dictionary of obsolete ... . Toone, William.

"I've had a lucky hand these fifteen years At such court-passage, with three dice in a dish.-" O.P. Women Beware Women -The works of Thomas Middleton, now first collected, ... v.4. Middleton, Thomas, d. 1627

"RAF'FLING (of raster, F.) a play with three dice, wherein he that throws the greatest pair, or pair-royal, wins." -An universal etymological English dictionary ... v. 2. Bailey, N. (Nathan), d. 1742.

"To COG, to cheat at Dice. To cog a Die; to conceal or secure a Die" -An universal etymological English dictionary ... v. 2. Bailey, N. (Nathan), d. 1742.

&

"Dice Picker (dice) A houseman whose job is to pick up the dice that have fallen from the table. Die (dice) Singular of Dice." -Dictionary of gambling. . Salak, John S.

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Could you please be more explicit about what this answer is supposed to mean? I can guess that you're offering evidence that die is the common singular of dice, but it'd be better if you simply wrote that. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 30 at 2:53
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Alea Iacta Est - the die is cast –  SQB Apr 30 at 8:15
    
Please improve this answer by making it an actual answer. Presenting usage quotes, without your own commentary, doesn't sufficiently address the question here. –  bignose May 1 at 1:45
    
There are loads of examples of "dice" plural here, but no-one is questioning what the plural form of the word is. The first three examples are therefore irrelevant. The fourth is relevant (singular) and the fifth is relevant (but the bold is in the wrong place, it should be on the singular form, not the plural.) –  steveverrill May 1 at 13:26
    
This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. –  RyeɃreḁd May 1 at 17:01

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