I recently read a sports article that stated:

The bad news is that Watkins might be the team's most dynamic playmaker and broken foots can be complicated.

My immediate reaction is it should be "feet" and not "foots". However, the words "broken foot" are essentially short for one "broken foot injury". Somehow I think having more than one "broken foot injury" could be described as "broken foots".

When talking about multiple people having one broken foot each, is "broken foots" acceptable English?

Source: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/bills-sammy-watkins-breaks-foot-expected-to-be-healthy-for-regular-season/

  • 3
    No. You wouldn't say "two men were complaining about their wifes" for the same reason. You could say 'broken foot injuries' if you don't want to say 'broken feet'.
    – Michael
    May 18, 2016 at 16:05
  • Idiomatically it is broken feet. But I see nothing wrong with reports of multiple broken-foot injuries.
    – WS2
    May 18, 2016 at 16:18
  • @Michael But we might say All the men working long-hours were having wife-trouble, but not had troubled wifes. These things are frequently illogical, being governed by idiom rather than rules of grammar.
    – WS2
    May 18, 2016 at 16:25
  • Please provide source of quotation, identifying country of origin.
    – David
    May 18, 2016 at 18:30
  • Yes, there is a tendancy to do that in AmE speech. Obviously, here it don't work so well. [That's what it sounds like] As if the person were a real idiot. He should have said: foot injuries.
    – Lambie
    May 18, 2016 at 19:21

1 Answer 1


It is not standard.

But this paper is one which discusses (among other things) a tendency for "a word with a headless structure (e.g., a verb derived from a noun) [to block] access to a stored irregular form": it finds "robust effects of morphological structure". (One of the authors, Steven Pinker, writes at greater length about this in The Language Instinct, but I can't find my copy as I've recently moved).

As you comment, "broken foot" stands for "broken foot injury", so in this context is a "headless" structure in the sense in which Huang and Pinker mean it (the semantic head-word, "injury" is not expressed) and therefore it is not surprising that a writer should have used a regular plural rather than the expected irregular plural. If this expression became common in the sense, we might very well see this becoming a familiar pattern.

  • I agree, but I think block access to a stored irregular form kinda gives the impression that native speakers somehow "want" to use irregular forms, and will do so unless actively prevented. To my mind it's more a matter of saying that we actually "want" to avoid irregular forms (but the fear of being thought "illiterate" forces us to fall into line with historical precedent). As supporting evidence, I'd cite the fact that over time (very slowly) we gradually discard old irregular forms much more than we introduce new irregularities into mainstream English. May 18, 2016 at 16:43
  • The evidence is not with you, or at least not strongly so. "Illiterate" is a very modern accusation: people speak what they learn to speak, with occasional innovation or modification (usually through analogy) in either direction. If your argument were true, there would be far less irregularity in languages in general. Read Pinker's Words and Rules
    – Colin Fine
    May 19, 2016 at 7:43
  • I read Words and Rules a good few years ago. Perhaps I'm misremembering, but my recollection at the moment is it was that very book which made me consciously aware of the principle that (at least in English, over the past several centuries) irregular forms tend to be gradually replaced by regular forms, and that change in the opposite direction is comparatively rare. Pretty much the only surviving irregular verbs today are the really common ones, which are more resistant o change because children learn those first (but even then they initially make mistakes like I be'ed naughty!). May 19, 2016 at 12:37
  • That's exactly Pinker's point. Children learn the rules, and then the exceptions. So talking about the exception being "blocked" is exactly what he means. Your discussion about pressures to conform to the norms is not really relevant.
    – Colin Fine
    May 19, 2016 at 20:26
  • I suppose it's a matter of perspective. To me, the regular forms (and rules for creating them) are learned first, so it's the irregular forms that subsequently "block" access to those regular forms, not the other way around. Whatever - terminological "directions" aside, I think the point is relevant, since one could say OP broken foots is a form of "regularization" at least in part licensed by the fact that it's a "compound noun" not automatically governed by the rules applicable to the simple noun foot. May 20, 2016 at 14:49

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