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I guess “optional plural” is the correct term. I’m referring to things like

  • It can be found at the following location(s).
  • Please pick up your ticket(s).

But how do I do that to a word that ends in ‑y? Take category for example: “category(s)” doesn’t seem correct, because categorys is a misspelling. But everything else I have tried looks ridiculous.

What’s the correct approach here?

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There is no correct usage unless it's stipulated in a style manual. And then you must be sure that the style manual is the one you're supposed to be using. If no style manual is prescribed, then find one that you like and use that. – user21497 Nov 5 '12 at 14:44
Google reveals that both are used so this seems more of a style thing. Suggest you ask at Writers.SE? – Mark Beadles Nov 5 '12 at 15:22
Related: meta.stackexchange.com/a/9694/167443 – yoozer8 Nov 5 '12 at 16:26
This is not a question about a plural form or "optional plural" form (which doesn't exist). This is a question about abbreviation. See my answer. – MετάEd Nov 6 '12 at 0:09
up vote 25 down vote accepted

Words that end in -Cy regularly go to -ies, while those that end in -Vy regularly go to -Vys (where C means a consonant and V means a vowel).

  • bunny > bunnies, telly > tellies, category > categories
  • Monday > Mondays, boy > boys, monkey > monkeys

But money > monies is irregular.

You could write

  • Please select your preferred category or categories.
  • Please select your preferred category(-ies).
  • Please select one or more categories.

Stackoverflow Content

If you have a computer program that does the equivalent of:

printf("%d %s(s) selected.\n", count, thingie);

Then you are automatically doing it wrong. A computer should know how to count. And inflect. It is pure stupidity on the part of programmer to write

1 file(s) deleted.

That sort of thing is extremely aggravating. Please do not do it. In the specific case of having a category for a thingie, you would use

printf("%d categor%s selected.\n", count, count == 1 ? "y" : "ies");

Accept no substitutes.

In the more general case, you need an English noun inflector.

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I'm not struggling with making the word plural, I'm struggling with how to denote that it's optionally plural. – Jeremy Wiggins Nov 5 '12 at 14:44
@JeremyWiggins Then use (-ies). – tchrist Nov 5 '12 at 14:46
That “Accept no substitutes” notion is wrongheaded since your code doesn't work! It produces "SyntaxError: invalid syntax". Instead write print "{:d} categor{:s} selected.\n".format(count, "y" if count==1 else "ies");, which produces 1 category selected. when count==1 or 4 categories selected. when count==4. – jwpat7 Nov 5 '12 at 18:51
Stackoverflow content (since you opened the door): Assuming the only variation that needs to be covered is 1/(0 or many) will flunk localization. Localization is hard; no trivial solution will work universally. Mozilla's guidance contains 16 different sets of pluralization rules. developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Localization_and_Plurals – Dan Neely Nov 5 '12 at 19:14
@jwpat7 -1: He's obviously using C-like syntax, and you know what he meant: there's no excuse for not having your program automatically pluralize trivial English nouns. – Dave Nov 6 '12 at 4:33

When you write category(s), or category(ies), or whatever, you are not writing an “optional plural” form of the word category. You are writing an abbreviation of the noun phrase “category (or categories)”.

To see this is so, ask yourself how you would pronounce category(s) and convey the intended meaning? You couldn’t. You would have to say something like “category (or categories)”, and that, then, is also how you would write it out.

How you abbreviate that noun phrase is up to you (and your editor or style guide, if you have one).

And notice that this isn’t even a question about English. This question and its answer apply to any written language in which you want to abbreviate a noun phrase containing both the singular and the plural form.

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If you want to pronounce "category(s)" you just use air-parentheses. Like air-quotes, only, for parens. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Feb 20 '13 at 20:33

I can't find a reference, but I've always written "category(ies)".

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