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Are there words that have no plural counterpart, because they are, in fact plural? Words like rice or scissors come to mind.

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Your title and your question are phrasing this differently. Are you asking for words that are always plural or words that have no plural form? – MrHen Mar 22 '11 at 15:21
    
What does it mean to be "bi-contextual", and how are "rabies" and "rice" examples of this? – Kosmonaut Mar 22 '11 at 15:43
    
The word that came to mind for me was "deer". – user70848 Feb 2 at 1:18

Your title asks for nouns that are always plural, but your question seems to ask for nouns that have no plural. I'll answer the latter first.

Non-count nouns are very rarely used in the plural. Some examples include butter, electricity, ballet, and indifference. You could say We tested six butters to see which was best for baking, but this is rare, and the others couldn’t be used this way.

(Many proper names are rarely pluralized, just because there’s only one. But it can be done: “The Sun is so large a million Earths could fit inside”; “there are two Americas, not one”; “it would take nine Chuck Norrises to bring down one Bruce”; “conformable as other household Kates”.)

As for nouns that are always plural, there are a few. Scissors and thanks come to mind. You never give somebody a single thank. Some more are listed here. (They missed dregs though.)

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Also pants, trousers, shorts, knickers, etc. – Peter Shor Mar 25 '11 at 15:03
    
That boy has some smarts. – oosterwal Mar 25 '11 at 17:18
    
Picking nits. Technically, oat can be singular, especially if you're talking about the plant. When speaking of the seeds of the oat, sure it's usually always plural. – ghoppe Mar 25 '11 at 17:35
    
@ghoppe I think you're right. The phrase "the oat is" gets hundreds of thousands of google hits, many of which sound totally natural to me, so I've removed it from my answer. – Jason Orendorff Mar 25 '11 at 18:23
    
Kudos for the Chuck Norris reference - thechucknorrisfacts.com – user5531 Mar 25 '11 at 19:01

Rice is a mass noun, a noun that signifies unbounded amounts, such as liquid, small objects, and abstract or immeasurable concepts.

Scissors, like rabies, is a plural noun that is treated as singular. (Also called a plurale tantum.) The same as some other tools: pliers, tongs, or tweezers; the diseases mumps, rickets, or shingles; or the games darts, billiards or dominos.

OOPS

Due to a comment, I did some more research and since there is no singular form to rabies as it comes from the latin word rabiēs, from which we get the word rabid, it looks like it is also a mass noun not a plurale tantum. That final "s" can get confusing…

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+1; This is a good description of the original question's two examples. They have since been edited out. – MrHen Mar 22 '11 at 16:00
    
Do words like 'Pants' or 'Glasses' (for the eyes) have a different qualification than those examples? – JCooper Mar 25 '11 at 15:00
    
@JCooper Pants and glasses are in the same category as rabies. See en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_pluralia_tantum – ghoppe Mar 25 '11 at 17:14
    
@JCooper Guess I was wrong, pants and glasses are in the same category as darts, mumps, etc. but not rabies. Technicalities. :) – ghoppe Mar 25 '11 at 17:30

There are several different categories of nouns that might be considered to have no plural counterpart. The concept of "plurality" has several dimensions in English—meaning/semantics (does a noun refer to something made up of many identifiable sub-units?), form/morphology (does a noun have a plural suffix, such as -s?), agreement (when the noun is the subject of a clause, does the main verb take a singular form or a plural form?)—and these can all vary somewhat independently from one another.

Invariant count nouns

These doesn't really meet your requirement at all in my opinion, but I thought I'd mention them for the sake of completeness. Some singular nouns like deer have the same surface form in the plural: deer. But the meaning and grammatical agreement are different for the singular and plural forms, so rather than saying that these nouns lack a plural form, I'd say instead that the plural is identical to the singular.

The next categories are singular in form (morphology) but plural-ish in meaning or verb agreement.

Non-count nouns

(plural meaning, singular form, singular verb agreement)

Discussed in other answers. English has many non-count nouns (such as water), and they are grammatically singular, not plural, even though you might think some of them should be plural based on their meaning.

This includes words like rice, gravel, furniture. It is possible to create plural forms of these words by adding -(e)s (rices, gravels, furnitures) but this is only possible by turning them into count nouns, which changes the meaning to "types of rice, types of gravel, types of furniture," and even with this semantic shift, the word may still sound awkward. (I can't think of any natural context for using furnitures, for example.) So you could say that these words lack plural counterparts.

Collective nouns

(plural meaning, singular form, singular or plural verb agreement depending on the variety of English spoken)

Some nouns that are singular in form can take plural verb agreement when used collectively to refer to a group of people. This issue has been discussed in other questions (Is “staff” plural?) Some of these words are commonly used in the plural as count nouns (teams, governments) but others cannot easily be used this way (?polices, ?staffs).

The next categories are plural in form (morphology) but singular-ish in meaning or verb agreement.

Pluralia tantum

(singular meaning, plural form, plural or singular verb agreement depending on the word)

Some words in English are plural in form, but refer to a "single" conceptual object, and consequently are not normally used in the singular. These are often called pluralia tantum (singular: plurale tantum.)

There are several types. The first refer to objects with two noticeable parts, such as pants, trousers, scissors, pliers, tongs, tweezers, spectacles, glasses, eyeglasses, sunglasses. Words like this take plural verb agreement. These nouns are generally not used in the singular by themselves. However, some of them do have singular forms that may be used in compound words such as scissor-kick (which coexists with scissors-kick) or trouser press. Others apparently do not, such as glasses (for which glasses case seems to always be used instead of glass case) and clothes (which has changed significantly in meaning and pronunciation from the singular cloth). Here's another question about this class of words: Does (or did) “a trouser” or “a scissor” have a meaning?

The next type have the plural suffix -s, but refer to somewhat abstract or formless concepts, and usually take singular verb agreement in modern English. This includes the diseases measles, mumps, rickets, and shingles, some nouns that end in -ics such as mathematics and physics, and the noun news. I haven't found much use of these in the singular even as the first element of compound words (for example, we use the plural in the compounds measles vaccine, mathematics teacher, aerobics class). Here is a Google Ngram Viewer graph comparing the relative frequencies of scissor, trouser, measle and mump.

The next words I'll discuss are more obscure. From Latin, the words kalends/calends, nones, and ides are all plural in form, but singular in meaning (referring to specific days in the months of the Roman calendar). Because of this, their names in Latin, from which these English words are derived, had no singular counterparts. Despite this, singular forms such as calend or ide have been attested in English, but they are now considered obsolete. Whether the forms ending with s are treated as plural or singular for the purpose of verb agreement seems unclear; Wikipedia uses singular agreement, but other sources (here for example) seem to avoid this.

Foreign words where only the plural form has been established in English

The word mores (pronounced "MOAR-eaze" /ˈmɔriːz/, or by some people, "MOAR-ayze" /ˈmɔreɪz/) is derived from a Latin plural and seems to always take plural agreement in English. There was a corresponding singular form in Latin (mos), but it is never used in English. A back-formed English singular more is occasionally seen, but is not widely accepted by prescriptive guides to usage.

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"The safest way to know a social more does not exist is when an artist is praised for “testing the limits” of that norm." A mistake? There are many more, from equally reputable sources. – JEL Nov 12 '15 at 8:16
    
@JEL: Yes, I would call it a mistake. It's a weird word that most people don't learn naturally, but through reading. I used to pronounce mores as /ˈmɔrz/ in my head; that was also a mistake. Using "more" as a singular form is non-standard, and since it's a word that's basically confined to higher registers of the language, I don't see any circumstances where a person aware of the word's standard usage would want to use this non-standard singular form on purpose. – sumelic Nov 12 '15 at 8:26
    
Also relevant: Where did the singular “innings” come from? – sumelic Jan 27 at 16:01

protected by Andrew Leach Nov 12 '15 at 7:11

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