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I was corresponding with someone about the misuse of a Latin phrase, puto qui, during which I said,

Instead of peppering his sentences with incorrect puto quis, he should have used the infinitive verb form in the subordinate clauses.

How are phrases or groups of words like this normally pluralized? I italicized the puto qui and not the s, but I am not sure if there is a conventional way to do this.

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Check out english.stackexchange.com/questions/9004/… –  JeffSahol May 31 '11 at 5:32
He is asking how to say things like "too many bob's your uncle's." Plural of a phrase, not just latin. –  Thursagen May 31 '11 at 5:52

3 Answers 3

Your example is indeed problematic. The rule is to use an apostrophe in plurals only when you absolutely need it to remove ambiguity. This includes plurals like s's and pi's, but not requiems.

In your example, puto quis could be read to include the Latin word quis—which also exists, as you probably know—instead of qui. If the phrase puto qui is sufficiently well known and available to your audience, you might not need the apostrophe; but my choice would certainly be to use one to prevent ambiguity.

With italicized words or phrases that are pluralized without apostrophe, I believe some would italicize all but the plural s, as you did—but only if the same s could not normally be used to inflect the word or phrase, as it could in soirées. This use of a roman s would include the plural s used with acronyms or separate letters and that used with words or phrases where it is not or could not be a part of the word or phrase, e.g. where it could not normally be used to pluralize the word in the foreign language it came from. This would include your example and requiem, because the latter is in the accusative and short for a phrase, Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine ("grant them eternal rest, O Lord").

However, I do not think this roman s is standard practice; I can't find a reference, but, unless used with an apostrophe, I'd recommend italicizing the s as well. I believe this is what most publishers would do. Whichever the case, any contrast between the italicized part and the roman s would be too inconspicuous to remove potential ambiguity. If an apostrophe is used, I think the s is generally not italicised.

Another reason to italicize is that there isn't always enough space to accommodate roman and italic letters so close together. This page won't allow it, but imagine what an italic g looks like directly followed by a roman s: the letters would get entangled in some fonts.

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Written like this.

puto qui's

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Using an apostrophe to indicate a plural is problematic; apostrophes signify possessives, not plurals. It's commonly done (e.g. "CD's") but that doesn't make it right. –  Monica Cellio May 31 '11 at 12:36
@Monica Cellio: That it is problematic doesn't make it wrong either. –  Kosmonaut May 31 '11 at 12:59
@Kosmonaut, do you know of an authoritative source (not "vox populi" :-) ) supporting this usage? –  Monica Cellio May 31 '11 at 14:40
@Monica Cellio: You'd have to define "authoritative". People are clearly not in agreement overall; it seems to be all over the place. I wouldn't consider someone's prescriptivist "rule" to be authoritative, as we have no English Language Board. I would consider a standard format for, say, newspapers/magazines (if one standard exists) to be a useful thing to know, but still not necessarily the be-all and end-all for any usage. A broad corpus study on actual usage would carry a lot more weight (but I am guessing probably wouldn't nicely select one over the other). –  Kosmonaut May 31 '11 at 15:18
@Kosmonaut, not trying to be prescriptivist here. My use of "authoritative", even with "an" rather than 'the", may have been ill-advised. A well-respected grammar source would be one answer, but if I also saw that the form were in use in the NYT, Telegraph, and several other publications, that too would be interesting. I haven't seen "'s" plurals except in casual writing and the usage strikes me as wrong, so I'm looking for evidence that it's not beyond "people do it". Again, not trying to be argumentative; just looking for sources. Thanks. –  Monica Cellio May 31 '11 at 16:46

I think your choices are to do what you did (which seems fine to me but is subtle and doesn't work in unformatted text), to put it in quotes with an "s" appended ("puto qui"s), or to rewrite the sentence to avoid the plural.

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+1 for rewriting! –  user1579 May 31 '11 at 15:27

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