33

Plenty of nouns change the second letter to become plural (man->men, goose->geese) but does anything change its first letter. I've hunted high and low over the internet, and spent ages browsing the questions at Oxford dictionaries but I can't find anything.

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    Plural doesn't have anything to do with letters. Plural has to do with sound; spelling is just this rubegoldbergy way we have to represent the words. It looks like it ought to represent the sounds, but it doesn't. – John Lawler Jan 18 '15 at 17:57
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    The phenomenon of the changing initial letter that you are describing is known as mutation. Here's Wikipedia's description of how it works with Welsh (though as far as I can determine, it isn't involved in pluralizing nouns in that language). I don't believe there is any English word where initial-letter mutation occurs in the pluralization process. – Erik Kowal Jan 18 '15 at 18:02
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    Only one I could find is cow/kine. However, kine is considered archaic but it is also mentioned as regional. I'm not sure where it is used now. It is related to Scots kye. – ermanen Jan 18 '15 at 18:09
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    In English, it's /kau ~ kain/. The diff between C and K is just more rubegoldbergeoning, and only exists in our imagination. – John Lawler Jan 18 '15 at 18:12
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    In French, oeil means “eye” but the plural changes it so that yeux means “eyes”. There are also the English suppletive plurals like person/people or pig/swine, but those have regular plurals as well. And the plural of is is are. – tchrist Jan 18 '15 at 18:45
33

The only one I could find is cow/kine.

However, kine is mentioned as an archaic plural of cow in most dictionaries including OED but Wikipedia and Wiktionary mentions as regional or dialectal also.

Wordsmith does not count it as archaic and includes a contemporary usage:

Kine is one of the very few words in English (other examples: I/we, me/us) that have no letters in common with its singular form, cow. It is pluralized using the -n marker, as in the words children, brethren, and oxen.

"Cows stood belly deep in a ranch pond, doing their impersonation of the kine in John Constable's paintings." Verlyn Klinkenborg; Water and Grasses; The New York Times; Jul 5, 2010.

Interestingly, kine is a double plural also because an extra suffix has been added to Middle English plural form ki (ky) or kie (kye):

The word "cow" came via Anglo-Saxon (plural ), from Common Indo-European gʷōus (genitive gʷowés) = "a bovine animal", compare Persian gâv, Sanskrit go-, Welsh buwch. The plural became ki or kie in Middle English, and an additional plural ending was often added, giving kine, kien, but also kies, kuin and others. This is the origin of the now archaic English plural of "kine". The Scots language singular is coo or cou, and the plural is "kye".

[Wikipedia]

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    Eyes till feal lettres read hairings force hounds. – tchrist Jan 18 '15 at 19:57
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    Sounds incredibly Scottish to me. Meh, I dinnae ken. – Pharap Jan 19 '15 at 5:59
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    This is the first thing that sprang to mind when I saw the question. Sidenote: rails pluralization methods recognizes kine as the plural of cow. – user3334690 Jan 19 '15 at 16:55
25

I'm not sure whether pronouns count: "I" versus "We".

There are also some prefixes: e.g. "byte" versus "kilobyte"; and "ester" versus "polyester"; and possibly "pole" versus "dipole".

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    The prefixes don't count: bytes are clearly different to kilobytes, esters are different to polyesters. – curiousdannii Jan 19 '15 at 2:37
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    When I asked I thought that pronouns, like irregular verbs, were boringly easy - I just didn't say so. The reasons are probably similar as well. – Chris H Jan 19 '15 at 10:19
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    Also: one and many. – jxh Jan 20 '15 at 3:43
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    Upvoted for I/We. – dotancohen Jan 20 '15 at 6:52
21

The Equatorial Guinean currency, the ekwele, has plural bipkwele.

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    That's a neat example of a word that has to be used in its original form in English. After comments about (southern/eastern) African languages I trawled through a few lists of words that have entered English from various African sources. None of them appear to have brought their plurals with them, either adopting an English -s (e.g. bwana), behaving as a mass noun (e.g. obeah) or having a plural form the same as the singular (impala, at least as used in Africa). – Chris H Jan 19 '15 at 10:26
  • @ChrisH: Has to? You'd be amazed how many bureau de change cashiers would say ekweles. (deliberately not ? because I'm uncertain what counts as 'correct' in this situation). – TimLymington Jan 19 '15 at 18:31
  • @TimLymington, you're right, I did put it rather strongly. But it's as close as anything is likely to get. – Chris H Jan 19 '15 at 18:59
  • (+1) I really like this answer. – dorothy Apr 19 '15 at 7:50
  • Another example from the realm of currency: Lesotho has the loti, plural maloti. Since plural prefixes are a common feature of Bantu-speaking peoples like the Sotho, there are also many demonyms that form their plural using prefixes (one Masotho, many Basotho) although dropping the prefix to form the English demonym is also common, as I did earlier in this sentence. – sumelic Jan 4 '16 at 7:59
0

I guess there are some that only describe plurals, so you'd have to use another word if you wanted to express singular: poultry, livestock, folk(s).

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