In what sentence would you need to use the plural of beef? The plural is beeves.

Plural form of beef (sense 1 of the noun). [OD]

I have tried every sentence that it could be necessary but I cannot find one.

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    "Sense 1" without a reference is not helpful. But beef can also mean cattle, as in "a hundred head of beef"; beeves is a (largely archaic or dialect) extension of this. – Tim Lymington Jul 31 '14 at 12:12
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    In short, in modern English, we wouldn't. Nowadays, "beef" is used as a mass noun, which can't take a plural. If we want to distinguish a particular piece of beef, we'd do just that: say "a piece of beef", whose plural would be "pieces of beef". Other quantifiers are possible (e.g., cuts, slices, chunks, etc). – Dan Bron Jul 31 '14 at 12:14
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    If you are an English-language learner, you might enjoy our sister-site for English Language Learners. That’s because our sister-site is a Q&A site especially made for learners, in contrast to the current English Language and Usage site, which is instead “a Q&A site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts”. – tchrist Aug 3 '14 at 18:38
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    For anybody who is a language learner, 'beef' is a mass noun in Modern English. 'beeves' is only a joke. In the rare occasion that more than one beef needs to be referred to, 'beefs' is appropriate. – Mitch Aug 4 '14 at 4:45
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    @Mitch Yes to the first part (“beef a mass noun”) but no to the second (“sometimes you can say beefs”). It is only possible to have several “beefs” when beef has the sense of a quarrel, which is necessarily a count noun. When you have several types of dead-cow beef, then it is just as it is with sheep: you have several types of beef or sheep, not several beefs or sheeps. In other words, you use a partitive construction on the mass noun. – tchrist Aug 4 '14 at 5:20

10 Answers 10


beeves (n.)
original plural of beef (compare boevz, plural of Old French buef), now only in restricted use.

beef (n.)
c.1300, from Old French buef "ox; beef; ox hide" (11c., Modern French boeuf), from Latin bovem (nominative bos, genitive bovis) "ox, cow," from PIE root *gwou- "cow, ox, bull" (see cow (n.)).

Original plural was beeves.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary

Essentially, as has been said numerous times already, we wouldn't really use it anymore.

Here's a source describing beeves as referring to several different kinds of beef.

The meat from the Ox? That’s beef. The meat from the Bull? Why, we call that beef, too.

You can extend this explanation to include the animals themselves. Say I have several oxen and bulls I'm raising for meat. I have quite a few beeves.

At any rate, very interesting question. I never knew that word existed before today.

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Today—in U.S. English, at least—beef is used to refer to meat from various breeds of what Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) calls "bovine animals" (cows or oxen). It is thus on a par with mutton (sheep meat), pork (pig meat), and venison (deer meat). All of these meats are interpreted collectively, so there is never an occasion to refer to these meats as muttons, porks, venisons, or beefs.

But in the past, beeves was often used to refer to the living animals that yielded beef. For example, from a footnote in The Natchez Court Records, 1767–1805: Abstracts of Early Records (1979):

John Bisland petitions that during the time of the revolt, Alexander Grading did kill and cause to be killed a number of beeves for the use of himself and company which said beeves were the property of your petitioner for which Mr. Grading had no order from his commander, Mr. Blommart, as Mr. Blommart afterwards declared upon his word of honor. Mr. Grading them before setting off for the Chickasaw Nation offered your petitioner a note of hand for a part of the beeves in the present of Mr. Spell... April 18, 1782 // To be communicated, To Alexander Grading debtor to John Bisland. Six beeves which you killed at $20. ... Deposition of Sterling Spell that he was present when Grading killed two of the beeves and also when Grading said he would pay for them. // Parties and witnesses heard, we do condemn Alexander Grading to the payment of $80 in month of December next, being the value of four beeves killed by him belonging to Mr. Bisland, during the revolt. Sig: Grand-Pre.

And in an 1866 diary of a longhorn cattle drive from Texas northward, in Paul Wellman, The Trampling Herd: The Story of the Cattle Range in America (1988):

Next day the diary noted "Hunt cattle again Men all tired & want to leave. am in the Indian country am annoyed by them believe they scare the Cattle to get pay to collect them. ... Two men and Bunch Beeves lost— Horses all give out & Men refused to do anything." And on the succeeding day: "Hard rain & wind Storm Beeves ran & had to be on Horse back all night. Awful night, wet all night clear bright morning. Men still lost quit the Beeves and go Hunting Men is the word—4 p.m. Found our men with Indian guide & 195 Beeves 14 miles from camp. allmost starved not having had a bite to eat for 60 hours got to camp about 12 m Tired."

The second example is especially interesting because the diarist uses the term beeves and the term cattle in slightly different ways: He uses cattle (twice) when referring generically to the herd being driven or the portion of it that the cowboys need to hunt after they stampede. But beeves seems to refer to countable animals that are intended to be sold for slaughter at the end of the drive.

Another notable thing about both excerpts is that, despite multiple mentions of beeves, they never use the term beef (singular) to mean a live cow or ox. That does happen, however, in Laban S. Records, Cherokee Outlet Cowboy (1937):

Frank Bates was friendly with all of us, but did not enjoy camping out. He liked to be with when we were cutting out beeves. On one occasion he hitched Bob and Dirk, his favorite horses, to his top buggy an drove out where we were at work. He motioned to me, "Don't you think I could drive Bob and Dirk into the herd and pick out a beef just as good as you?"

"Frank you know what would happen if you made a dash at a steer with the team and buggy; you'd have a stampede!" I replied.

Here, beef and beeves seem to be used for animals about to be dispatched, while steer refers to any (castrated male) animal in the herd (steers were the animals usually involved in cattle drives). Elsewhere the author refers to the entire herd as the herd or the beef herd.

Webster's Dictionary of the English Language (1852) goes into some detail about how the term beef was used in the middle of the 19th century in the United States:

BEEF, n. 1. An animal of the bovine genus, whether ox, bull, or cow ; but used of those which are full grown or nearly so. In this, which is the original sense, the word has a plural, beeves. 2. The flesh of an ox, bull, or cow, or of bovine animals generally, when killed. In popular language, the word is often applied to the live animal, as, an ox is good beef ; that is, well fattened. In this sense, the word has no plural.

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  • We sell our grassfed beeves by live weight.

  • Half and Whole Beeves Information

Both lines above are from the Mother Earth Meats website.

This one is from the Unused Words website.

If, however you order the selection of beeves, you, my friend, are a fully-fledged gourmand.

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  • Sure. I'd just spell it "beefs" though. – Fattie Jul 31 '14 at 17:18

In certain parts of Chicago, we refer to multiple Chicago style beef sandwiches as "beeves".

As in, "I'm going down to Luke's to pick some beeves, you want one?"

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  • Hello, Vian. Can you add some documented evidence (eg a quote from a newspaper)? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 28 '15 at 21:52

I have heard cattle ranchers use this word, mostly out of a mild frustration with the lack of a common, gender-neutral word for cow/bull.

Not that they are PC. For some purposes, cows and bulls are very different (a herd of 100 cows might have only a single bull), but sometimes, you need a word for them collectively. For example, "That new alfalfa is not as popular with my __."

So they say beeves, more or less jocularly.

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    I can see no reason why not to use cattle in your sentence with the blank in it. – tchrist Aug 4 '14 at 5:15

The most famous example is Travis's letter from the Alamo, when he talks about being under siege from Santa Ana, and asks for help. At the end he writes: "When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves."

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How about:

The beef from a Friesian cow tastes delicious.

The beef from a Hereford cow tastes delicious.


The beeves from these breeds taste delicious.

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    I don't think it can be used in its plural from this way, since it is a mass noun. Beeves can be used as a plural of beef when the latter is a synonym of cow. – Vilmar Jul 31 '14 at 12:16
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    Whoever downvoted this must have many beeves with me. – Ronan Jul 31 '14 at 13:08
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    Whoever down voted this was silly, OF COURSE you can use mass nouns, ALSO, as a "type plural". (But you'd just spell it "beefs" today.) – Fattie Jul 31 '14 at 17:17
  • Note that if you eg, LOOK IN THE OXFORD DICTIONARY, the FIRST DEFINITION says it is a count noun. A great example of this site being "a joke". – Fattie Jun 29 '15 at 3:11

(1) normally it is simply spelled "beefs" today

(2) It would seem completely normal to use it in a sentence, as in:

"At the bisteca restaurant in Firenze we tried many different beefs -- Angus, Simental, Zebu, and so on."

From the OED ..

"1 [ mass noun ] the flesh of a cow, bull, or ox, used as food.cuts of beef cuts of beef there was the smell of roast beef. [ as modifier ] : beef cattle. • [ count noun ] (pl.beeves |biːvz| or US also beefs) Farming a cow, bull, or ox fattened for its meat. a beef sent to the abattoir."

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    I don’t think so. Beef when it means cattle flesh is a mass noun, not a count noun. You can have three types of beef, but not three *beefs. I realize there are people who talk that way and that it is a common shorthand when indicating different varieties of a mass noun, but it still sounds no better than having three “sheeps”: that is, it sounds absolutely terrible. On the other hand, when you have a beef with someone, that is now a count noun, and you can have different beefs with different people. – tchrist Aug 4 '14 at 5:18
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    @tchrist Have to disagree there. “We tried many different beeves/beefs” sounds no more terrible or odd or unnatural than “Many different monies are transferred there” or “Australia is home to many different peoples”. That’s different from “three sheeps”, which is just an utterly ungrammatical way of referring to three individual animals. Sheep is not a mass noun (at least not to me), but a count noun that just happens to be the same in the singular and plural. “We tried three different muttons” is perfectly fine to me, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 28 '15 at 16:37
  • "Beef when it means cattle flesh is a mass noun" that sentence is simply wrong. It can mean "meat on your plate" (a mass noun) or it can mean, in a word, "breed" or "meat type" (as a counting noun) - exactly as one might use "meats" (horse meat, cow meat, etc) as a counting noun. {Note that, quite simply, it can also mean "one cow", but that's a fairly specific industry use, i.e., no more than say 100 million people in the English-speaking world would use it that way.} So, the downvote can now be reversed ... hahaha! – Fattie Jun 29 '15 at 3:10
  • Indeed, I feel it would be quite normal in sheep-breeding circles to talk of "different sheeps". You could use "sheep" as a counting noun meaning breeds - Merino, Suffolk, etc. I don't have enough experience of sheep farming to comment from experience on that. – Fattie Jun 29 '15 at 3:15

OED mentions that beeves is now usually poetic for ‘oxen, cattle’.

So you can use in a poem:

Look at those beeves
Chewing the leaves

Beef also means an ox; any animal of the ox kind; esp. a fattened beast, or its carcase. OED says that this sense is usually in plural but archaic or technical. You can see the different forms through the examples in OED:

  • Beues (c1320)
  • beoffes (1475)
  • buefs (1485)
  • beufes (1523)
  • Beefes (1600)
  • beeues (1611)
  • Beves (1669)
  • Beefs (1703)
  • beeves (1780) - To collect beeves in our southern counties.
  • beeves (1861) - The supply of beeves and grain for his household.
  • beefs (1884)
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I just realized my comment was inadequate, because I overlooked the other, non-mass-noun definition of beef: a grievance (or at least gripe).

So, I guess you could say "After your behavior last night, I have multiple beeves with you", or "I have beeves with every single one of those guys".

But while cute, I can assure you the modern (American) speaker would surely phrase such statements using "beefs", instead.

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  • No, beeves is only the plural for the "adult cow" meaning. In your example it should be beefs. – Rupe Jul 31 '14 at 12:31

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