22

Words ending in ch usually take es in the plural form. However, the word stomach is an exception to this paradigm. Its plural form is stomachs. My question is, why does it take only s in the plural form?

  • 16
    Because English is a very weird and funny language, and never tends to follow the rules most of the times? Yup. :) – Bella Swan Mar 26 at 7:18
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    @BellaSwan Not really. Try to say "branchs" and you'll see why it's "branches"; try to pronounce "stomachs" and then wonder if "stomaches" would rhyme with "headaches". – David Richerby Mar 26 at 11:09
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    The rule is not abut spelling but about sound. – Mitch Mar 26 at 12:58
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    Necessary [humorous] poem regarding sound in English The Chaos. – Dan Mar 26 at 16:45
  • Actually, the plural of "stomach" should have probably been "stomachia". – Mike Nakis Mar 27 at 10:17
42

The use of the spelling "-ches" in plural forms of words that end in "-ch" is based on the presence of a vowel sound before the final /z/ sound. After the sound /t͡ʃ/, the plural suffix is pronounced as /ɪz/ (or /əz/ in some accents).

But stomach does not end in the sound /t͡ʃ/: it ends in the sound /k/, and the plural ends in /ks/, with no vowel sound sound before the final /s/. This is why it is not spelled with "-es".

Compare the two spellings of the plural of conch that correspond to the two pronunciation variants.

The regular plural suffix has the pronunciation /ɪz~əz/ and the spelling "-es" after any sibilant consonant sound: /s z ʃ ʒ t͡ʃ d͡ʒ/. Words ending in these sounds can be spelled in a variety of ways, so it's simpler to think of this rule as being based on pronunciation, not on spelling.

  • 2
    It is usually obvious if a word ends in a sibilant. ch is unusual in the large number of options, resulting from this digraph being used for a range of different purposes in different languages that we have borrowed, and using it in English in different ways for words of different origins. E.g. sandwich is of Norse origin, but loch and quaich are of Scots Gaelic origin. I once looked this rule up in the OED and it said it depended on if the ch was "soft" or "hard". Given the range of possibilities, I looked up these words, but, ironically, it did not define them in this sense! – David Robinson Mar 26 at 11:24
  • I had seen quaiches and suspected it was wrong. I have just looked it up here /ˈkweɪx/ and here /-eɪx/ and I was very surprised as I have only ever heard /ˈkweɪç/. The extra confusion with the IPA here is that both x and ç are usually used for sibilant sounds, but in IPA they represent non-sibilants. For anyone not familiar with these sounds, /x/ is the ch in Gaelic/Scots loch or German Bach, and /ç/ is what you end up with if you try to pronounce this next to an e or i (quaich, dreich or German ich). – David Robinson Mar 26 at 11:43
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If the -ch is pronounced like 'k', there is no 'e' before a plural final 's'. The lochs of Scotland are beautiful, also the mountains called the Trossachs. In music, there will be no more Bachs. Eunuchs cannot beget monarchs, and also cannot become patriarchs or, probably, the husbands of matriarchs.

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    We Richerbys aren't convinced that proper nouns are good examples of how plurals work in English. On the other hand, I suspect there won't be any more Shostakoviches, either, so maybe they aren't bad examples in this case. – David Richerby Mar 26 at 11:08
  • Not only are all these examples proper nouns, they're also none of them English. (Nor is Shostakovich for that matter). – Darrel Hoffman Mar 26 at 14:50
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    Loch is not a proper noun, any more than 'lake', although individual lochs may use the word as part of their name, e.g Loch Ness, and the word is definitely English. – Michael Harvey Mar 26 at 15:28
  • It's a borrowed word in English, but it comes from the Irish/Gaelic/Scots word for "lake". Otherwise, what is the difference between a "loch" and a "lake"? The only possible answer is whether it's in Scotland or not. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 26 at 15:54
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    What about sassenach? I guess that reveals what TV show I've been watching.... – Lambie Mar 26 at 20:54
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There are at least two reasons, one is the end sound 'k' in English words, but the other one is the plural of foreign words like stomach or Bach. The meaning of the name of the composers Bach (a family) is German for creek and the pronunciation of 'ch' is not 'k' at all but IPA 'x'. The English and German plural for the name 'Bach' is 'Bachs' (the plural of the word bach [= creek] is in fact Bäche 'ch' is IPA ç).

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