Why is the plural of reindeer sometimes "reindeer"?

Wiktionary has the following etymology:

From Middle English, from Old Norse hreindýri ‎(“reindeer”), from hreinn + dýr ‎(“animal”).

while the etymology of deer doesn't have any mention of Old Norse, so I assume knowing about the pluralisation of "deer" (from Why is the plural of “deer” the same as the singular?) isn't sufficient to explain this.

  • 7
    The plural of deer is usually deer. Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 0:39
  • 2
    Are you asking why the plural of deer is deer, and just using "reindeer" for your question to give it a seasonal touch? Or are you asking why reindeer follows the model of deer rather than forming its plural in -s?
    – ruakh
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 0:40
  • 4
    The plural of moose in English is moose but that is not because the Algonquian languages that gave us the word lacked a distinct plural form for it: in Ojibwe, for instance, singular is mooz, plural moozag. Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 0:56
  • 4
    Excuse me a minute, the UPS guy just delivered a couple of boxen...
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 1:49
  • 7
    @AndrewGrimm but Fox is not a kind of ox, and mongoose and moose are not a kind of goose (neither is any of these a kind of oose). But a reindeer is (linguistically, at least) a kind of deer. To put it another way, it's not that reindeer and deer are similar words, it's that the word deer is a component of the word reindeer.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 4:32

2 Answers 2


My Chambers English dictionary plainly states that 'deer' is derived from Old English 'deor' and the plural is 'deer'. The plural of reindeer is also reindeer. I don't think this is related at all to the other usages quoted such as: 'there are lion in these parts', 'there are tiger in these forests', 'man first discovered fire when lightning struck a fallen branch of oak'.

  • Would also apply to moose and sheep.
    – Vogie
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 18:08

I can find no reference to support this, but isn't the singular form of many animal nouns used when they are being considered as a species, especially when they are being tracked, hunted or eaten?

"Look out! There are lion in these parts."

"I prefer rabbit to squirrel".

  • I don't think the wording of this is quite right. I'd say instead that the plural form is the same as the singular. (In a sentence like "Reindeer have four hooves," the word "reindeer" is technically plural, not singular, as shown by the plural verb agreement.)
    – herisson
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 7:58
  • @Sumelic - You're right, thanks. I'm not entirely happy with my edit, but it's better I think!
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 11:37
  • 2
    Both lion and lions can be used as a plural, but virtually nobody uses the word deers or reindeers (as a plural or not). Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 18:04

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