When talking in linguistics topics about the word "to be" and its foreign language equivalents like Spanish "ser" and "estar", the name of this kind of special verb is "copula".

But copula has two plural forms:

In a formal context as linguists might use, which sounds more "professional"? Does the Latin irregular seem "more correct and erudite" or "too pompous"?

Please note I'm not asking for prescriptive vs descriptive debate or plain vanilla "most frequent" as a simple Google Ngram would provide. As far as I'm concerned both are correct, I just want to narrow it down to how professionals use it in the given context.

  • This question strikes me as odd: I don't understand how the choice of a plural can sound "professional". If someone said "sheeps" or "cactuses", I certainly wouldn't think they were unprofessional.
    – Billy
    Nov 25, 2011 at 3:57
  • @Billy: That might depend if you wanted to sound like you were a professional in the area of sheep or cacti. "Sheeps" would make you sound like a learner of English since this word doesn't exist at all. The reactions to "cactuses" would probably vary in very similar ways to "copulas" since "cactus" and "copula" both have two plural forms, but who accepts one or the other is open to question. Nov 25, 2011 at 11:21
  • Yes, exactly. Being a learner of English doesn't mean you're not an expert in sheep, it simply means you've done your study in another language. In either case, "copulas" and "copulae" are both accepted, and I would hope that linguists (of all people) would turn a blind eye to your using their less favourite plural. Both exist and will be understood and are fine. If you want to ask the question "which is most accepted?", then a Google search is what you want, surely?
    – Billy
    Nov 27, 2011 at 17:17
  • Well I'm only an armchair linguist so I won't presume to guess how real linguists write in practice or what they expect from their peers, and it would be hard to come up with a Google search I expect that could be restricted to that domain, but I might be wrong on that. Nov 27, 2011 at 18:20
  • Search on Google Scholar? Or Google Books?
    – Billy
    Dec 7, 2011 at 23:02

2 Answers 2


As a native British English speaker, to my eye "copulae" would be the most professional-looking.

  • 3
    I like it too, but I'm not sure if it's just because I'm a word geek (-: Nov 22, 2011 at 10:03

It’s not a common word, so it’s unsurprising that searches in the OED, COCA and BNC are inconclusive, with two records of copulas in the OED and one in COCA and none at all for copulae. My own preference is always for the English over the Latin plural, unless there are compelling reasons to use the latter. In practice, the plural will seldom be required at all, and, when it is, there's always the alternative copular verbs.

  • 2
    I'm not sure that the reason needs to be more compelling than that it looks and reads more elegantly. There's no compelling reason to use "media" over "mediums" or "appendices" over "appendixes" other than that they look more elegant (to some). As you say, it is a stylistic choice, but I'd suggest that the use of latin plurals would be more prevalent in formal/academic writing
    – Matt
    Nov 22, 2011 at 10:51
  • My context is making a tag for the new Spanish Language & Usage. Spanish has two copula[es] (ser and estar) and when to use one or the other is a prominent topic. Japanese Language & Usage just goes with "copula" though that languages also has more than one copula, not all of which are verbs. Nov 22, 2011 at 10:54
  • @Matt: I totally agree but one funny aspect of linguistics I'm wondering about is whether since most linguists are descriptivist that this discipline might buck the trend (-: Nov 22, 2011 at 10:55
  • 2
    @Matt: There's a compelling reason for using 'media' over 'mediums' to describe means of mass communication rather than clairvoyants and there may be a compelling reason to use 'appendices' over 'appendixes' in talking about additions to the main part of a publication rather than superfluous organs. As for academic writing, it depends on the academic. Nov 22, 2011 at 11:14
  • 1
    @Barrie: I stand corrected. Although some people do insist on having "apendixes" to documents - I now have the medical argument to fall back on :)
    – Matt
    Nov 22, 2011 at 12:06

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