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I'm wondering if there is a way, given an arbitrary word and without knowing the meaning, to switch it from plural to non-plural form and back? I know the common case is the trailing s, such as

  • disks -> disk,
  • car -> cars,
  • field -> fields

but then there are the odd cases like

  • deer -> deer,
  • person -> people,
  • mongoose -> [I don't know],
  • mouse -> mice

So is there a 'universal' (aka an exhaustive list of exceptions to the "s" rule) way to convert from singular to plural and back?

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The plural of person is persons. –  FumbleFingers Aug 8 '11 at 11:44
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2 Answers 2

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Is there a fully defined way to pluralize/unpluralize words in english?

No, there is definitely no way you can have a fully defined, one rule for all, generic method to pluralize/unpluralize words in English.

Several reasons exist for this. It could be due to the spelling of the word, the etymology of the word, and the type of the noun(countable, uncountable, irregular).
There's just so many factors, and so many exceptions, that there really isn't one way to do it.

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No, without knowing the meaning of the word you can't reliably get its plural form.

Take for example the animal mouse that has the plural form mice, while a computer mouse can have either the plural form mice or mouses.

I can't think of a word with double meanings that have distintively different plural forms right now, but I am sure that there are some...

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I don't think it necessarily helps to know the meaning anyway. Irregular plurals are just that, irregular. You might know the meaning of the singular, but not know it had an irregular plural. For regular words you can create the plural by standard rules without knowing the meaning. In short, "knowing the meaning" is largely irrelevant to knowing the plural form (but I do realise it was OP, not you, who put that idea into the frame). –  FumbleFingers Aug 8 '11 at 2:07
    
@FumbleFingers: I was saying that you can't always determine the plural form without knowing the meaning, that doesn't imply that you can determine the plural form if you just know the meaning. –  Guffa Aug 8 '11 at 6:48
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