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The plural of "person" is "people". The plural of "people" is "peoples". Person-people-peoples is the only sequence like this that I know of, but I'm looking for another.

(The equivalent question is, is there another plural noun which has become a singular countable collective noun?)

EDIT

For those of you that think that people is nothing but a collective noun (and not an irregular plural, like mice), I urge you to consider:

  • Do you treat other collective nouns as plurals? One person, two people, but one star, two galaxy?
  • Do you treat other plurals as collective nouns? You can certainly say "a galaxy of stars" but do you say "a mice of mouses"?

For those of you that think the customary plural of person is persons, try it on the next three, uh, persons you see: "Finish this sentence: 'one person, two _ ?' "

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I don't really get this Q. The plural of the word 'person' is 'persons'. 'People' is just a sometime synonym. –  FumbleFingers Jul 5 '11 at 22:08
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@Fumble he's asking about collective nouns and their plurals, as I see it. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Jul 5 '11 at 22:09
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@Adriano Varoli Piazza: So why go from 'person' to 'people'? I could go star -> galaxy -> cluster -> megacluster -> universe -> multiverse. What's the point? –  FumbleFingers Jul 5 '11 at 22:20
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People is both a simple plural (the plural of person) and a collective. The two uses have different meanings. –  bye Jul 6 '11 at 1:52
    
1 cop / 2 cops; 1 copse / 2 copses –  Mechanical snail Dec 18 '12 at 17:17
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7 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Fish, fish, fishes: one salmon, one fish, two, two fish; salmon is one fish, haddock another, so two fishes. Works with any noun where the singular and plural are irregularly identical, and the regular plural is used for categories or groups; in a more painfully literal fashion, this also applies to words where the plural has become singular in the common case: one agendum, two agenda; one agenda, two agendas.

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The common plural of person is people. Persons may be common in legalese, but it is very uncommon in day-to-day speech. One normally counts, "one person, two people, three people," etc. When using the word people in this way, the word is not a collective noun, it is a simple plural.

But people is both a plural and a collective -- you can say "two people", but you can also say "a people". That is normally an identifiable national or ethnic group -- and most assuredly not a simple assemblage of more than one person. It's not a collective noun in quite the same sense that flock, herd or murder is; it usually carries ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious or political overtones to the fore. Used in this way, one can talk of "two peoples", "three peoples" and so forth.

As far as I know, the word people is unique in that regard.

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Not sure if this entirely meets your criterion, but there is "medium->media->multi-media"....

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bit->byte->kilobyte->megabyte->...? –  FumbleFingers Jul 5 '11 at 22:05
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No, those are just order of magnitude prefixes above byte. –  Optimal Cynic Jul 5 '11 at 22:16
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I've occasionally seen "medias", which would definitely fit, but I wouldn't consider it standard. –  psmears Jul 6 '11 at 9:26
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  • fish -> shoal -> shoals
  • lion -> pride -> prides
  • sheep -> herd -> herds
  • seagull -> flock -> flocks
  • scot -> clan -> clans (yes, I'm pushing it with this example :) )

Basically, many collective nouns are singular and countable. "Peoples" is a bit unintuitive compared to shoals or flocks, for example.

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But people, as a plural of person, is *not a collective noun. It doesn't fit this pattern at all. –  bye Jul 6 '11 at 4:12
    
@Stan Is it not? What is "The Jewish People"? –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Jul 6 '11 at 13:15
    
"A couple of Jewish people" is a plural; so is "the Jewish people over there". "The Jewish People" is a collective. They're not the same thing, even if the same word is being used. –  bye Jul 6 '11 at 21:38
    
@Stan yes, I hadn't read your answer when I wrote my comment. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Jul 7 '11 at 13:24
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I think I can justify these collective nouns. Person, people, peoples, for example: A person is a person. More than one person, persons. However, "people" is a group, whether all humans ("people") (plural), or a group ("a people", whether national, ethnic, political, etc.). We might call the collection of one of these groups "the people" (plural). So there is the singular "a people", whose plural is "peoples" (or multiple groups), there is the plural term for the collection of a group of "the people", and also there is the plural "people", which is a synonym for "humans". These words are used thus in these numerous senses, complicating the grammar, so correct me if I'm mistaken.

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One answer that might be fun to point out is:

single, plural, plurals.

But that is trite, and not really correct. However, you could go with:

system, systems, meta-system

Or some variant of that.

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Crow->Murder-> Murders

Also:

Star -> Galaxy -> Galaxies

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