Some nouns have multiple plurals, this article from Merriam Webster names a few. I'm wondering if there is a word to describe this, a word meaning having multiple plural forms. To put it in a sentence (two sentences to allow noun and adjective answers):

  1. Syllabus is a(n) (insert word), because it has two plural forms.

  2. Syllabus is (insert word), because it has two plural forms.

I have scanned through the Wikipedia page on English plurals which has a lot of terms for different plural forms, however, I have not come across a term for words with multiple plural forms. I've also scanned through some blogs on the Oxford Dictionaries website, but to no avail.

Some of the examples from the aforementioned Merriam Webster article:

One referendum, multiple referendums or referenda 1

One syllabus, multiple syllabuses or syllabi 1

One gymnasium, multiple gymnasiums or gymnasia 1

One referendum, multiple referendums or referenda 1

One miasma, multiple miasmas, miasmata or miasms 1

One terminal, multiple terminuses or termini 1

  • There's also octopus, which has three fairly well-known alternative plural forms. But if there's a special term for such words (unlikely, imho, since it wouldn't often be useful), I can't see it anywhere on that earlier ELU question. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 16:30
  • @FumbleFingers there is a term called double plural, which refers to plural forms which use an extra suffix (imagine medias being the plural for medium). The Dutch kind(er)(en), meaning children is an example of that.
    – JJJ
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 16:44
  • Until I looked it up after seeing it in your question, I didn't realise miasm existed as an alternative to miasma (also as a borrowing from German for the homeopathy sense an acquired or inherited tendency or predisposition to a particular disease). I'm not sure if that really means miasma has three plural forms, or whether it might make more sense to say it has two singular forms - one of which has two plural forms, whereas the other is completely regular. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 17:15
  • They're all loanwords (or possibly words coined from loaned roots) in various stages of naturalization; perhaps that will help in the search.
    – 1006a
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 17:20
  • They all seem to have peaked in the 19th century
    – JJJ
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


From A University Grammar of English By Randolph Quirk.

Foreign plurals (Nouns) often occur along with regular plurals (nouns). They are commoner in technical usage, whereas the -s plural is more natural in everyday language; thus formulas(general)~formulae (in mathematics), antennas (general and in electronics) ~ antennae (in biology).

Foreign plural nouns often make their plural according to the orthography of the language they were taken from (e.g. Latin or Greek or Italian etc.,).

For a given word, sometimes foreign plural and regular plural nouns have different meanings e.g. medium has two plurals: mediums/media, both plural forms have different meanings.

There is a exhaustive explanation in Lesson XVIII of A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language By George Payn Quackenbos.

So, whenever there is more than one plural form of the given noun, then you can individually refer them as foreign plural and/or regular plural according to their orthography.

  • Not all words with multiple plural forms are foreign. The plural for mouse is mice, unless you're talking about part of the rigging of a ship, in which case it is mouses.
    – Kaia Leahy
    Commented Jan 31 at 21:07

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