9

I suppose it would be 'only children' but that does not sound quite right. For example, a schoolteacher might say, "in my class there are seven only children".

  • 3
    She should say "there are seven students that are "only children". – Oldcat Oct 22 '14 at 21:50
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    Your sentence sounds OK to me. I might even say "in my class there are seven only-childs." It might not be right but I think native speakers would have little trouble understanding it. It depends if you are looking for a more formal 'official' plural? – Mynamite Oct 22 '14 at 22:12
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    Technically speaking, "only children" is the correct plural form but make it easier on yourself: In my class there are seven children without brothers or sisters/siblings. If I were to hear there are "seven only children" it would be slightly confusing (in speech one doesn't "hear" if something is hyphenated or not) and I might ask if there were only seven students in the class. – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 '14 at 3:40
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    Because there are several different ways in which even native speakers could easily misinterpret the meaning of "only children" (including "only seven children are in my class" and "seven people are in my class who are not old enough to be classified as adults"), the most elegant solution is to use a different form of words that has the same meaning as what you intend to say. The most obvious one is "In my class there are seven children who have no brothers or sisters". – Erik Kowal Oct 23 '14 at 3:42
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    @Mynamite If a teacher said to me 'I have seven only-childs in my class' I would doubt their suitability to teach my child literacy. The plural is 'only-children'. – WS2 Oct 23 '14 at 7:35

10 Answers 10

4

I could not find it on my preferred dictionary sites, but I found that according to Wiktionary (the Wikipedia of dictionaries) "only children" is indeed the correct plural of "only child". After a little more searching I found Cambridge's dictionary site confirming it over here.

So yes, "in my class there are seven only children" would be correct. Personally I would avoid using "only children" where possible, because I suspect it is not commonly used and relatively easily misunderstood. In this case I would say something along the lines of "in my class seven are an only child." But if the meaning of the word is clear from the context there should be no objection to using the plural form "only children".

  • 1
    By "I would avoid using 'only children' where possible" I meant rephrase it so you don't have to use the plural form, if it can be avoided. Such as in the example I gave: "in my class seven are only child," which is an ellipse of "in my class seven [children/kids/students/etc.] are only child" – Raizin Oct 23 '14 at 3:22
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    If "only children" had to be avoided (which I disagree with: I think it's fine) then I'd use "In my class, seven are an only child". English needs the indefinite article to refer to a generic instance of a particular thing. – Andrew Leach Oct 23 '14 at 5:55
  • Myeah, that does sound better. I'll edit my answer with that. :) – Raizin Oct 23 '14 at 6:36
  • "wiki"s are not a reference. you should delete that and keep your excellent Cambridge reference. – Fattie Oct 23 '14 at 7:21
  • @JoeBlow: Well okay then. I'll remove the link. (and place it here for those still interested) I originally added both links because if not for the name Cambridge that site looked like a bad source to me with the (in my opinion) passable but unprofessional site design and half my screen covered in ads. While Wiktionary is indeed a wiki and technically not a credible source, in my experience it is very thorough and accurate when it comes to the English language, and far less prone to vandalism and misinformation than its older brother, Wikipedia. – Raizin Oct 23 '14 at 19:09
4

It's just only children.

You can find any number of examples of its extensive use in the situation where that topic is under discussion—just see Roaring Fish's answer. In an article entitled: Here’s Why Only Children Are More Successful almost every use is a plural.

As a suggestion, once the subject has been established, you could use "onlies" or "onlys" in writing - as it's a word created on the spot, you can spell it as you wish.

It's also worth noting that:

  1. Ambiguity is staggeringly common and spectacularly uninteresting in English. "Where did the dog bite you?" hahaha. Who cares?

  2. It's commonplace that multi-word plurals are a bit messy in English. (e.g. "Sisters-in-law") Sometimes you may add hyphens - sometimes not - whatever.

You can state endless examples of multi-word (joke) plurals (hyphenated or non) which can be ambiguous because of the first word(s) or which are infrequently used , so they might "sound strange" if they've never come up for you before.

If you Google using exactly the following phrase:

education studies, "only children"

you'll find billions of examples being used in its plural form.

Note that

  1. Occasionally it's hyphenated.

  2. Longer variations like non-only children, non-only-children, and non only-children are common also.

  • 1
    I agree that it's just 'only children,' and even though it probably falls into the 'who cares/whatever' category, I'd even add that all the "work-arounds" mentioned elsewhere (except those containing 'only children' in them) require clarification of the true meaning of 'only child' (does it or does it not include sole-surviving children with deceased siblings, for example). – Papa Poule Oct 23 '14 at 13:07
  • Hey papa. Sure, but just "search" (using your "internet") on the exact phrase I mention in the yellow area. Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of uses of "only children". The whole thing is a total non-issue. – Fattie Oct 23 '14 at 13:12
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    My comment and upvote were intended to show my total agreement with your answer so, out of fear that I might find something to change my mind, I'll respectfully decline your kind suggestion to do that search on my internet. I know, who cares, so what, whatever. – Papa Poule Oct 23 '14 at 14:02
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    LOL .. rock on :) – Fattie Oct 23 '14 at 14:14
3

This is a good question!

Doing a bit of research supports Raizin's answer that the plural is only children. Ngram gets results for both only children and only-children, but nothing for only childs or only-childs. I know the weakness of that search ("they are only children!" etc) but a straight Google search also gets:

http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-why-only-children-are-more-successful-2013-11?IR=T&

http://www.parents.com/baby/development/sibling-issues/raising-only-child/

http://www.parentdish.co.uk/kids/only-child-guilt-5-reasons-its-cool-to-stop-at-one/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/27/only-children-daughter-one-child

and many others, so it looks as though only chldren is indeed in standard use and follows the sensible principle of pluralising the element that changes number. We can look at horse women and poets laureate as other examples of this.

But...

I have to say that it sounds very strange to me and I would probably have gone for only childs as the plural, at least until this question was asked, on the basis that it seems less ambiguous. "They are only childs" is clearer that "They are only children".

2

When in doubt, avoid the problem -- for example, by switching to "In my class there are seven children who have no siblings."

1

Searching "only-childs" on Google returned "Including results for only-children." As a reader, hyphenating distinguishes "only-children" as a term from "only children" as a phrase.

1

A standard reference will show you that one definition of only is an adjective meaning

having no brother or sister (Merriam Webster)

It is used just like any other adjective, e.g.:

He's an only child / He's a homely child.

But when used in the plural from, disambiguation may be required in the first case:

They are only children. / They are homely children.

Disambiguation comes from context, which might include explicit explanation. To avoid this, you would have to avoid this correct plural usage altogether.

In some cases, word order can obviate the need for disambiguation. Take your example:

There are seven only children.

Compared with

There are only seven children.

The first example (yours) states that there are seven children who have no siblings. The second example states that there of no more than seven children (of no particular description).

  • You talk about disambiguation but don't mention a significant ambiguity in "They are only children", which could mean "they are mere children", for example in "It would be bad enough for adults to be treated in that way but they are only children." – David Richerby Oct 23 '14 at 12:29
0

"Only children" will frequently appear with a different meaning (e.g. "the only children allowed to do that are girls") so I'd argue that "only-childs" is the stronger definition (e.g. "they are only-childs" as opposed to "they are only children", which also has a different common meaning). For reference, Wikipedia likes to use "only children." Gotta love English!

  • Phrases often have multiple meanings. If you tried to avoid any phrase with multiple meanings, the language would be very hard to use. In most cases, context disambiguates so there's nothing to worry about. If you did want to disambiguate in writing, "only-children" seems much more natural than "only-childs". – David Richerby Oct 23 '14 at 12:40
  • This is where my intuition tends to disagree with my research. I see that Roaring Fish left an answer which is in line with this one. – perry Oct 31 '14 at 23:28
-1

I would avoid "only children". I would prefer "single children".

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    It's ambiguous, it could mean children who are unmarried. I know, normal people wouldn't think this, but we're on EL&U. Where no one is normal :) – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 '14 at 4:48
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    @Mari-LouA It is ambiguous and even normal people might well be confused by it. "Only child" is a well-known phrase, with a well-known meaning. "Single child" is not a well-known phrase, so you have to guess at the intended meaning. Since "single person" is a well-known phrase for "unmarried person", it's natural to guess that "single child" might have the same meaning. (OK, children don't get married but parents still refer to their adult offspring as their children.) – David Richerby Oct 23 '14 at 12:45
-1

The term would be sole-offspring.

  • The serial killer is targeting sole offsprings in the city. If you are a sole-offspring, you are in danger.
  • Due to their one child policy, most of the children in China are sole offsprings.
  • Due to their one child policy, most of the children in China are sole offspring.

Note that the plural of offspring can either be offspring or offsprings.

However, if we wish to be a little more word-smart or archaic, we could use

  • unigeniture: I have seven cases/children of unigeniture in my class.
  • only begotten: I think only-begotten children are more likely to be spoiled.
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    "Only child" is a perfectly reasonable term so it's perfectly reasonable to ask for a plural of it. This answer dodges that question and misleadingly implies that the phrase "only child" is somehow incorrect or inadequate. Also, note that "offspring" when used to mean literally "child of" is an uncountable noun; it's generally only used as a countable noun in usage such as "an offspring of the punk scene", with a meaning much closer to "somebody who sprung off [launched their career] from the punk scene" and, in which case, the word is often hyphenated as "off-spring". – David Richerby Oct 23 '14 at 12:37
  • Is that a theory or hypothesis? – Blessed Geek Oct 23 '14 at 14:12
-1

I would prefer the non-plural form: …, each an only child.

  • 1
    In my class there are seven children, each an only child is rather different from In my class there are seven only children unless there happen to be a total of exactly seven children in the class. – choster Oct 24 '14 at 14:09

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