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My research has shown that hoofs and hooves are correct plural forms of hoof. That being said, which is preferable? Which came first in the English language?

  • It looks like hoofs has been the preferred spelling until about 1975. Now they're about equal: books.google.com/ngrams/… – dcaswell Sep 17 '13 at 3:29
  • As for the "f" sounding like a "v", you only have to look at the two English words "off" and "of" where the former has the "f" sound and the latter has the "v" sound. For more examples just look to the Welsh language! – user174674 May 11 '16 at 7:35
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The Old English word was hof; its plural hofas would have been pronounced with a v sound—[hoːvas]. Hoofs may be older by spelling, but hooves is probably the older pronunciation. This is backed up by the Middle English spellings houes and hooves, pronounced [hoːvəs]. So you can make an equally compelling case for each.

I like hooves, elves, dwarves, &c. but it’s a matter of personal preference.

  • OK, now I'm intrigued, if you have the time, can you give us some more on why hofas would have been pronounced [hoːvas]? Is that how the f was pronounced? When would this be? – terdon Sep 17 '13 at 4:34
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    @terdon: In Old English, the unvoiced f, s, and þ (unvoiced th) were pronounced v, z, and ð (voiced th) between vowels or voiced consonants. hof is a strong noun, so its plural ending is -as in the nominal case, and that rule comes into play. The earliest evidence for this phenomenon is somewhere in the latter part of the Early Old English period, around the year 900. Wikipedia has a good table of information on the various sound changes that occurred over the history of Old and Middle English. – Jon Purdy Sep 17 '13 at 4:56
  • Thanks, I find these things quite fascinating, I really need to hang out on linguistcs.se more. – terdon Sep 17 '13 at 4:59
  • +1 for the comment expanding on the answer as well as the answer! – Chris H Sep 17 '13 at 10:07
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Well, as you can see in this NGram, hoofs is much older but has steadily been losing ground. Hooves seems to be the most common version today and has been for the past few decades:

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The result is pretty much the same when comparing horse's hoofs to horse's hooves so it is not an issue of hoofs being used as a verb (as in he hoofs it). The pattern is also essentially the same for American and British English so it seems safe to assume that the variant hooves entered the language around the 1920s and has been gaining ground ever since.

  • Extending the graph to 2008 as @user814064 did shows hoofs making a comeback though. – terdon Sep 17 '13 at 3:38
  • That does look suspiciously like Google Books coming on line though, with 75+ year old usages. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 17 '13 at 3:55
  • @PieterGeerkens you mean the 'comeback'? I guess that would make sense. – terdon Sep 17 '13 at 4:35
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    I have noticed a few instances recently of N-Grams showing resurgences of outdated phrases over the past 10 years, and I think this is a common factor. It sort of limits usefulness of N-Grams. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 17 '13 at 4:52
  • @PieterGeerkens I generally take N-Grams results after 2000 with an even bigger pinch of salt as for those over the last couple of centuries, as there are some very implausible spikes in the 2000-2008 period that suggests that what is reflected is the quality of data rather than any underlying trend. – Jon Hanna Sep 17 '13 at 9:17

protected by user140086 May 11 '16 at 9:11

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