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Why is it that in the plural spelling of many nouns (thief, leaf, life, knife, etc) with an ending consonant of 'f', the 'f' is replaced with a 'v' while other words such as 'chief' (chef, handkerchief) retain the 'f'?

marked as duplicate by sumelic, Laurel, Cascabel, Drew, tchrist May 18 '17 at 23:08

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I don't have any definitive answer for this, but I did notice something when looking at the etymology of these words in the Oxford Dictionaries:

Thief:
Old English thiof, theof, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch dief and German Dieb, also to theft.
Leaf:
Old English leaf, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch loof and German Laub.
Knife:
Late Old English cnif, from Old Norse knífr, of Germanic origin.
Life:
Old English lif, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch lijf, German Leib ‘body’, also to live.

Chief:
Middle English: from Old French chief, chef, based on Latin caput ‘head’.
Chef:
Early 19th century: French, literally ‘head’.
Handkerchief:
Mid 16th century: from hand + kerchief.
Kerchief:
Middle English kerchef, from Old French cuevrechief, from couvrir ‘to cover’ + chief ‘head’.

So, it sure looks to me like the words that come from French (Chief, Chef, and Kerchief) do not change the F to a V while the words of Germanic origin (Thief, Leaf, Knife, and Life) do.

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