Good evening, in a "creative writing" course this question was brought up. Some of my classmates argued the plural form is "Atlas" because the word comes from Latin. Others favored "Atlases". What is the correct form in BrE and AmE ?

closed as off-topic by Janus Bahs Jacquet, choster, Cyberherbalist, Andrew Leach Nov 24 '14 at 23:44

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  • giuliaag, welcome to EL&U. Your question is considered "general reference" here, which means the answer can be easily found by checking available online dictionaries. The answer is "atlases" thefreedictionary.com/Atlas Perhaps you would like to visit our main page and help page to learn what kind of question this site welcomes. – Centaurus Nov 24 '14 at 22:46
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    Capitalised Atlas is a name, the name of one particular Titan; it has no plural, logically speaking. If one were required, I would probably say Atlantes, as that would be the regular plural in Greek, where the word comes from (not Latin). The plurals of non-capitalised atlas can be found in any dictionary and is off-topic as General Reference here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 24 '14 at 22:48
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    This is not general reference. Some dictionaries give the spurious plural form atlantes as an option, which is ludicrous and would only embarrass someone who tried to use it. Helping people distinguish between the reasonable and the ridiculous is why we're here. – phenry Nov 24 '14 at 23:35
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    @phenry Please provide some evidence of that. So far, I have encountered lots of dictionaries that give atlantes as the plural in the specific sense where it is used and atlases for all other senses, and none whatsoever that advise anything ridiculous. This is absolutely General Reference. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 25 '14 at 0:08

Assuming you're a native speaker of English or speak it as fluently as a native, always use the regular plural form for nouns except when you already know you shouldn't.

The idea that words that originate in Latin should take Latin plural forms (and likewise for Greek) is a baseless superstition inherited from neoclassical-era scholars with inferiority complexes. English is neither Latin or Greek; it has its own rules that (mostly) make sense when they're left alone and allowed to function as intended. Looking for reasons to exhume ancient grammatical rules designed for completely different languages only confuses things, and--worse--can mark the speaker as being someone who thinks he knows more than he really knows.

Any decent dictionary will tell you that the standard plural for atlas is atlases. Some dictionaries will whimsically try to tell you that atlantes is an acceptable plural for atlas, because that's what the plural would be in Greek. Would you even know what that means? If I asked you to go fetch my atlantes, would you have any idea what I'm asking for? No, you wouldn't. Then why say it that way?

I'll wager that you already know the vast majority of the irregular plural forms you will ever need. The purpose of language is to communicate, and you gain no points for confusing people with novel coinages that they won't understand instead of just following the rules you already know. Don't make things harder for yourself than you need to.

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    All fair and good, but you fail to mention that that proper plural of Atlas is Atlantopi. :) – Dan Bron Nov 24 '14 at 23:39
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    Do you have any examples of dictionaries that “whimsically try to tell you that atlantes is an acceptable plural for atlas”? I've just checked five different online dictionaries, and they all agreed that atlantes is only the plural used when atlas is used to mean a telamon, not in any other senses. In that sense, however, it is used, and it is no more ‘whimsical’ than any other Greek or Latinate plural for any other highly technical term. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 25 '14 at 0:04

I assume you are talking about atlas which is a book.

Plural of it would be atlases.

However if you are taking about the titan, it has no plural.

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    One can refer to more than one Atlas. And the plural would then be 'Atlases' – Mitch Nov 24 '14 at 23:14
  • @mitch there is only one titan with the name of Atlas. But even then you can't exactly say 'Johns' or 'Joneses'. – Slava Knyazev Nov 24 '14 at 23:17
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    Well, @Mitch, there was only one Atlas: the Titan by that name. There were and are no more. There may be more than one person by that name (Charles Atlas, anyone?), but as individuals are unique, there is only one Atlas. And he's holding up the globe, in case you're wondering where he is these days. I don't know what he's standing on, however. Perhaps on a turtle. – Cyberherbalist Nov 24 '14 at 23:18
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    @Cyber: sure, but there could be more than one entity named Atlas, there are (most likely) no unicorns, but I can still make a plural out of even that. – Mitch Nov 24 '14 at 23:36
  • I think the titan Atlas can also have a plural in a tricky way :) For example: "The Atlases of our age". (So people who behave similarly as the titan of the myths.) – Crouching Kitten Feb 11 '17 at 22:25

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