If I need to use the word "quota" in both the plural and the singular, what is the correct form?

Is it "several quota" and "one quotum" or "several quotas" and "one quota"?

  • 1
    what does your favorite dictionary say? Sep 8, 2014 at 6:05
  • 3
    Also, have a look at : books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Sep 8, 2014 at 6:09
  • @medica Neither the concise OED (app) nor the online Merriam-Webster list "quotum". Wiktionary gives it as a plural of "quota", but the definition leaves me wondering if it's what I'm after, "A part or proportion; a fraction". Sep 8, 2014 at 6:44
  • 1
    To be fair, the quotum / quota singular / plural pairing is given by at least one dictionary, which is confusing. AHDEL gives the almost invariably used quota / quotas pairing, which Collins and R H K Webster's support (though they do not bother to mention the regular plural quotas). Sep 8, 2014 at 6:55
  • 1
    OK, fair enough. Quota (fem) is short for quota pars (how great a part), quotus (masc.). I haven't seem quotum anywhere. The accepted plural is quotas. There is no word like "quot" as a subset for "quota". That would be units you're counting, I would think. Sep 8, 2014 at 7:54

1 Answer 1


Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) confirms the derivation that appears in medica's second comment above:

quota n [ML, fr. L quota pars, how great a part] (1618)

The Eleventh Collegiate's entry for quota doesn't include a plural form of the word, but that indicates that the plural form is simply quotas, because Merriam-Webster's typically includes a word's plural form only when that form varies from the standard English form of -s (as in the entries for quality ["n, pl -ties"], quantum ["n, pl quanta"], and sheep ["n, pl sheep"]) or when multiple plural forms are in fairly common use (as in the entries for agendum ["n, pl -da or -dums"] and zero ["n, pl zeros also zeroes"]) or when the plural might be mistakenly rendered as -es instead of -s (as in the entry for solo ["n, pl solos"]).

Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage (2003) offers this useful general advice on how to deal with plurals of "borrowed words":

Words imported into the English language from other languages—especially Greek, Latin, French, and Italian—present some of the most troublesome aspects of English plurals. Many imported words become thoroughly naturalized; if so, they take an English plural. But if a word of Latin or Greek origin is relatively rare in English—or if the foreign plural became established in English long ago—then it typically takes its foreign plural.

One reliable guide is this: if in doubt, use the native-English plural ending in -s. That way you'll avoid the mistakes involved in hypercorrection, which is rampant with false foreign plurals (as when people say or write ignorami instead of ignoramuses, thereby betraying something quite ironic). ... Many writers who try to be sophisticated in their use of language make mistakes such as ignorami and octopi—unaware that neither is a Latin noun that, when inflected as a plural, becomes -i. The proper plural of the Greek word octopus is octopodes; the proper English plural is octopuses.

Garner acknowledges the existence of various exceptions (such as crises, criteria, and phenomena) and "extremely close calls" (such as cactuses/cacti and millenniums/millennia). But in the long run, he argues, a grandiose notion of fidelity to the Latin or Greek sources of English borrowed words may serve writers ill:

It's pedantic and prissy to say that politicians attend fora, enter auditoria, ascend rostra, and speak in favor of referenda.

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