When we don’t know if a word refers to one or more, it is common to use a parenthetical s:

  • door/doors: door(s)
  • lamp/lamps: lamp(s)

What’s the best or least awkward way to render this for words that change their form when pluralizing, such as words ending in -f ?

  • shelf/shelves: shelf(ves)?
  • dwarf/dwarves: dwarf(ves)?
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    ...I won't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure I've seen just (s) used with words even if that's not how you'd form the plural, it just denotes "possibly plural." – kitukwfyer Apr 1 '11 at 20:34
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    @Jimi Oke: Really? Shelfs, dwarfs, wolfs, halfs, hoofs, thiefs, roofs. None of those look right. – David Eyk Apr 1 '11 at 21:53
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    OK, that was a blanket statement. However, a quick look at the dictionary will reveal that dwarfs/dwarves and hoofs/hooves are correct. The only plural of roof is roofs. And I concede that shelf, wolf, half and thief are always pluralized with ves. – Jimi Oke Apr 1 '11 at 21:56
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    Dwarfs is the correct term when referring to humans with Dwarfism or star classifications. Dwarves is generally used in the fantasy fiction realm. – Sam Apr 1 '11 at 22:18
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I've typically seen this done by maintaining the format and leaving the reader to make the appropriate change in pronunciation.

  • self(s)
  • dwarf(s)

There may be a better way, but I haven't seen it in usage and this is certainly easy to program for if that's what you happen to be doing. The change is not particularly difficult to make for a native speaking reader, and even for non-natives the other alternatives are likely to be more confusing.

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    The only "better" way I can think of is to rephrase, generally by presuming plurality. – Marthaª Apr 2 '11 at 0:27

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