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News is used only in the singular (being one of the uncountable nouns). There is an old-fashioned word meaning pretty much the same - tidings, so my question is:

  • Is this expression used only in its plural form?

Its singular form exists, yes. But I have never seen expressions with

I have a tiding for you
or
The good tiding

even though the singular form, as Dan Bron noted, exists in dictionaries.

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    The word tidings is already plural. The singular is tiding. I've never seen it used, but it's listed in the dictionary. Odd that it's a count noun.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 29, 2014 at 3:32
  • Yeah - I've seen the word several times in Tolkien's works and it was always "what are teh tidings?" and thus far I have never met "I have a tiding" or "I ahve one tiding for you" . That was the main idea of the question - to find out if it could be used in its singular form.
    – Rossitten
    Nov 29, 2014 at 3:41
  • To all the admins/experienced users who could shed the light on the matter: why on earth did I get down votes??? is anything wrong with the question???
    – Rossitten
    Nov 29, 2014 at 5:19
  • I've re-phrased the first line. Thank you
    – Rossitten
    Nov 29, 2014 at 6:12
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    Most native English speakers first encountered "tidings" at a young age from the Christmas story in the King James Bible (Luke 2) -- "I bring you good tidings of great joy" -- so it's hard to conceive of the word being used in the singular form, even if there is one. It's a bit like "data" -- how often do you hear "datum", except from a scientist/technician?
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 29, 2014 at 17:48

4 Answers 4

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As for it's contemporary usage, I have nothing to add. But historically, the singular form of “tidings” is simply “tidings” (not “tiding”), per, for example, Shakespeare, and others since, but it doesn't seem to have been used this way for the last hundred years or so. See the following entry from Josephine Tucker Baker's Correct English, how to Use it: A Complete Grammar (1907, Sadler-Rowe):

The following nouns, although plural in form, are regarded as singular, and, hence, are followed by singular verbs: Amends, news, tidings, summons, gallows, politics, physics, optics, mathematics.

But she adds:

Tidings is often plural (these tidings).

There’s also this from the entry in Webster’s Revised Unabridged (1913):

Note: Although tidings is plural in form, it has been used also as a singular. By Shakespeare it was used indiscriminately as a singular or plural. Now near the tidings of our comfort is. (Shakespeare)

This was intriguing tidings to me.

...

And why not end with more examples from Shakespeare?

This sword but shown to Caesar, with this tidings, // Shall enter me with him.

That's the worst tidings that I hear of yet.

The gods rebuke me, but it is tidings // To wash the eyes of kings.

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This indicates that the word "tiding" is much rarer in written works than "tidings".

Whilst this proves nothing, when you take into consideration that 'tiding' is also the collective noun for magpies and a form of the verb "tide", the use of 'tiding' as the singular form of 'tidings' is likely to be negligible.

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    +1 for the magpies - didn't know that.
    – Frank
    Nov 29, 2014 at 8:21
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    Add to this the fact that nearly all the hits for tiding in that Ngram are either a) dictionary entries, b) references to land tiding (which appears to be some kind of South American administrative practice), or c) obvious OCR errors for riding. Nov 29, 2014 at 9:45
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On time and tide, tiding and tidings

The answer to the question of whether tidings is only ever used in the plural is yes when speaking of contemporary literature, but no when speaking of historical use.

For tidings is an ancient word, spelled tídunge in Old English. It is related to tide in its original sense, the one regarding not waters but times, as in the proverb “Time and tide waits for no man.” We probably borrowed the word from Old Norse; it has a cognate in German Zeitung. Its earliest citation in English occurs in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it was already used in the plural:

Đa wearþ se cing swyþe bliðe þissere tidunge.

The OED says that the use of tiding in the singular is now obsolete or a deliberate archaism:

  1. The announcement of an event or occurrence; a piece of news (now obs. or arch.); usually in pl. tidings, reports, news, intelligence, information.

The OED then separately traces uses of singular tiding and plural tidings. The last citation for singular use is from 1620, apart from an isolated instance in 1879, where it can be considered a deliberate archaism. Certainly in Middle English its singular use was alive and well; Geoffrey Chaucer uses it in his poem, The Legend of Good Women in part IV, “Hypsipyle and Medea”:

Ther was swich tyding over-al and swich los,

Which rendered into modern spelling would run:

There was such tiding overall and such loss,

But the singular use is gone now even from the literary language, and you will not come upon it save in intentional acts of archaism.

Modern Use

That’s the singular, vanished now even from literary usage; the plural is otherwise. Using tidings in the plural to mean reports or news is not at all obsolete nor even particularly archaic.

However, it is indeed the case that it saw more use in the 19th century than in the 20th:

Ngram of tiding vs tidings

Many, many writers have used and continue to use the word tidings in its plural form. The word tidings is used by writers the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, T.H. Lawrence, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden, T.H. White, and Winston Churchill — amongst many others. It is easy to find literary examples from the 21st century, too.

(For what it’s worth, even though people think of Tolkien as a preserver of old language, I don’t believe Tolkien ever used tiding in the singular, and I checked a fair bit.)

Good Tidings of Great Joy

Now as the Advent season is come upon us, one hears the word tidings more than in the other parts of the year. Because we hear the word so often during this season, it cannot but bring to mind various quotations from the King James Version of the Bible, especially the “good tidings of great joy” from Luke 2:10.

For example, one hears it in Christmastide carols like the “tidings of comfort and joy” of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, or in “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion”, the opening line of an alto solo in Handel’s Messiah, taken from Isaiah 40:9.


Summary

We no longer use tiding in the singular to mean an individual bit of news, but we do use tidings in the plural, particularly in literary langauge.

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"tidings" is old language. I doubt that you will hear the word in colloquial language today. Tolkien uses this word as it is covered with the dust of centuries. Longman's DCE, which focuses on modern language, has: tidings plural, old use (meaning) news. I think when dictionaries had more space, they would say: mostly used in plural. There seems to be some uncertainty whether a singular can be used. Most dictionaries (Longman DCE, Pons, OALD, Oxford COD) say noun plural, obviously, as said above, there are some dictionaries that say noun countable (I didn't verify this).

dict.cc has tidings, plural, sometimes treated as singular. I guess they mean that after tidings the verb is found sometimes in singular form.

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