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If interrogative words are used as nouns, how are they pluralized?

Example: This will answer your hows and whys.

What is the correct form?

  • whys (the same as most English words?)
  • why's (following the rationale of pluralized acronyms?)
  • why (they cannot be pluralized?)
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I wouldn't say that these interrogative words are true nouns here, they are in some sense by metonymy shortened forms of "'why' questions", that is, the interrogative word is being quoted, used as a modifier, then the thing modified is dropped. – Mitch Jan 11 '12 at 16:08
@Mitch: It's a moot point whether this usage of how is best described as metonymy, ellipsis, or something else. But whichever way you look at it, how and why are functioning as nouns in OP's example, and should thus be pluralised in the normal way, as Irene says. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '12 at 16:53
@FumbleFingers: As in W S Gilbert: 'Never mind the why and wherefore'. – Barrie England Jan 11 '12 at 17:20
@Barrie: Because the G&S context is famous, that gets several thousand hits on Google Books. But the pluralised version also gets over 100 hits, none (or at least, very few) of which seem to be related to the HMS Pinafore reference. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '12 at 17:25
@Mitch: Wonder if a metonymy ceases to be a noun? What would a noun become when 'metonymized', then? – Kris Jan 12 '12 at 12:53
up vote 11 down vote accepted

They are pluralised regularly adding the -s at the end of the word: why/whys, how/hows, etc.

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+1 Right, but why? :) – Kris Jan 12 '12 at 12:54
@Kris: If you look up the word "why" in Oxford Dictionaries Online, you will see that it is listed as a noun, among other uses. As a noun, it can be pluralised just like any other English noun (as long as it doesn't belong to any particular category that forbids normal pluralisation, that is). – Irene Jan 12 '12 at 13:29
The plural of sty is sties; therefore the regular plural of why should be whies. – tchrist Feb 4 '13 at 0:22

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