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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

3 Answers 3

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 - – 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.


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 – 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
+1 for mumps, rickets, shingles: these are very good examples. – sumelic Nov 12 at 6:27

Yes. Other answers have already talked about non-count nouns, and as they mention, non-count nouns in English are generally singular and can be pluralized if it comes down to it. But genuinely plural words without a singular counterpart do exist.

The word mores (pronounced "MOAR-eaze" /ˈmɔriːz/, or by some people, "MOAR-ayze" /ˈmɔreɪz/) is derived from a Latin plural and remains plural, but the Latin singular form is never used in English (not even as a noun modifier, like scissor kick, billiard ball, dartboard).

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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 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 at 8:26

protected by Andrew Leach Nov 12 at 7:11

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