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I've come into a situation where I need to use the plural form of corpus, but I'm a bit confused about which plural form to use.

Merriam-Webster says the only plural form is corpora, for all senses of the word. However, Random House/Dictionary.com says it's corpora for every sense except the linguistic sense:

Linguistics . a body of utterances, as words or sentences, assumed to be representative of and used for lexical, grammatical, or other linguistic analysis.

In this sense, it's corpuses.

In my specific situation, I have a collection of data—to be processed—about a class of objects that can be swapped out at will (thus the reference to more than one corpus). To me, this satisfies the first sense of the word ("a large or complete collection of writings")—where the plural is corpora—as well as the linguistic sense of the word—where the plural is corpuses.

So what's the significant difference between these two senses of the word? When is corpora correct, and when is corpuses correct?

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It sounds like nobody will ever think you're wrong if you use 'corpora', since according to one source it's always right, and according to the other, it could just as well be right for your use. –  Flimzy Nov 25 '11 at 18:08
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The word as used in linguistics is not at all different from its general meaning: I see no reason, stylistic or otherwise, to differentiate plurals. A collection of sentences etc. is just a specific sub-sense. I and everyone I know just use corpora for everything. –  Cerberus Nov 25 '11 at 18:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The OED records corpora as the only plural, and that’s all I’ve ever seen in a linguistics context, or in any other for that matter. The entire OED has 71 citations that include corpora (admittedly with various meanings) and only one that includes corpuses. Corpus data also shows a far higher frequency of corpora over corpuses. Still, corpuses certainly exists, and with no apparent difference in meaning. If you’re conservative, use corpora. If you’re feeling adventurous, use corpuses.

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So if it shows both corpora and corpuses, it stands to reason there's a sense in which corpuses ought to be used and not corpora. That's what my question is about: when to use corpuses over corpora, not how frequent it appears in the OED. –  user2512 Nov 26 '11 at 19:18
    
@MarkTrapp: When I say ‘corpuses’ appears once in the OED, I mean it appears in only one citation against the 71 in which ‘corpora’ appears. The OED itself records only ‘corpora’ as the plural, although Oxford Dictionaries Online gives both plurals. –  Barrie England Nov 26 '11 at 19:31
    
Can you update your answer to explain when I'm supposed to use corpuses and when I'm supposed to use corpora? That was what I'm interested in, not its frequency of use in a dictionary. I'm assuming now your answer is that corpuses is always wrong because it only appears once in the OED: is that a fair assumption? If so, why would it be in the OED at all if it's always wrong? –  user2512 Nov 26 '11 at 19:34
    
@MarkTrapp:Frequency in dictionary citations is relevant, just as frequency in a corpus is relevant. In summary, ‘corpus’ has two plurals, ‘corpora’ and ‘corpuses’ with no difference in meaning, although ‘corpora’ is found more frequently. The choice between the two really makes very little difference, but, at least for the moment, you have the weight of the majority on your side if you use ‘corpora’. –  Barrie England Nov 26 '11 at 19:55
    
Can you update your answer to include your conclusion about your findings? Taken as it is now without these comments, I have no idea how I'm supposed to interpret the frequency of the word occurring. –  user2512 Nov 26 '11 at 19:59

As with many 'correct' Latin terms, the rules for pluralising seem to be changing to adapt to the English language. If your use is formal, then stick with the corpora, but if it is a more casual usage, then the (technically incorrect, but accepted in many places) corpuses may be used without harm.

(BTW my spell checker complained about corpuses but didn't have a problem with corpora.)

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Do you have a source for the formal/informal distinction between the two pluralizations? –  user2512 Nov 26 '11 at 19:19

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