I don't speak German but was fascinated to learn that in (Swiss or I believe Bavarian) German Rahm means cream, but Rahmen means frame - despite adding "-en" being the normal way to make a singular word plural. Rahm apparently has no plural (and/or is the same in the plural, like the English "sheep") and Rahmen is the same (i.e. the words for frame and frames are the same).

So I set out to find similar examples in English, i.e. where:

  1. Word 2 looks like the plural of Word 1, but is not

  2. Word 1 either is its own plural or has no separate plural

  3. Word 2 either is its own plural or has no separate plural

The closest I can find are:

  • physic (medicinal drugs - apparently it's own plural - or the study of medicine), and physics (the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy, having no plural).

  • corp (corporation) and corps (body of people). Doesn't quite work as if "corp" is a word, I think it has "corps" as a plural which would break rule 2.

Can you do better?

closed as too broad by Jason Bassford, Ubi hatt, KarlG, JJJ, TrevorD Apr 17 at 23:42

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  • 2
    To my (British) mind, corp is an abbreviation - not a word in its own right! I had never heard of physic - but have now checked it in a dictionary! – TrevorD Apr 7 at 13:01
  • 1
    Corps is a borrowing from French and pronounced in the French manner, with the 'ps' silent. – Kate Bunting Apr 7 at 14:35
  • @KateBunting I agree - I was looking at the written word. physic is better, as I'm not sure 'corp' is a word as opposed to an abbreviation (as pointed out by @TrevorD) – abligh Apr 7 at 16:34

How about (the) new (new things; a noun that has no plural) and news (information or reports about recent events; another noun that has no plural)?

  • Almost, but violates rule 2 as mew has a plural (mews) – abligh Apr 7 at 16:32
  • @abligh So, I changed a letter. – We oath to creation Apr 7 at 17:43
  • Yup - that works! – abligh Apr 7 at 18:09

Specie: coins, especially those made of valuable metals.

This has no plural, because it's an uncountable noun.

Species: a set of animals or plants, members of which have similar characteristics to each other and which can breed with each other.

The plural form of species is unchanged.

  • This specie is uncountable and species is its own plural. So this is not an example of the plural form of one word being similar to the singular of another. It is just two words that differ by one having an s on the end. They are, however, related etymologically, since specie is the ablative singular of Latin species. But there is another definition as an erroneous singular of species but that just a word that may or may not vary in the singular as fish may or may not vary in the plural. – David Robinson Apr 8 at 0:02
  • @DavidRobinson: This is very similar to the German example the OP gave: Rahm and specie have no plural, and Rahmen and species are unchanged in their plural forms. – Peter Shor Apr 8 at 9:57
  • My mistake, Peter. I totally misread the question. I just assumed the OP was looking for an actual word that was the singular of one word and the plural of another. That would be more interesting but there may be no valid example in English or German. The examples I gave in my answer, that work only in spoken English may be the nearest you get. – David Robinson Apr 8 at 11:53
  • But both the Rahm and specie examples rely on these words not having separate plurals, and thus allowing us to hypothesise the plurals. If you allow hypothetical plurals if words declined differently from how they do, then boot would appear to be a valid example. If it declined like foot then its plural would be beet which is a singular noun with plural beets. (Note that foot does rhyme with boot in some dialects.) – David Robinson Apr 8 at 11:58

(The) rich (rich people considered together as a group; plural only) and riches (a large amount of money or valuable possessions; also plural only) satisfy your 1-3, as riches looks like the plural of (the already plural) rich (cf. ostrich, or if you want to avoid an argument about that, then perhaps bitch).

  • Yup! that's one. – abligh Apr 7 at 16:32

Math and maths are both nouns that have no plural.


It is a feature of English that our spelling is so erratic that it is very difficult to find an example that works for both the spoken and written forms. Either the spoken forms match and the written forms don't - or vice versa. For example, if you start the noun may (Note this link does not look stable - it is meant to point to the "maid" definition as that is a countable noun) then you have a choice:

You can add the letter s which works as a spoken example but fails orthographically (maze or maize, so a double example) or you can add the sound /s/ which again fails because we spell mace with a c and pronounce mays with a /z/.

There are plenty of examples like this. Here are a few:


The problem is caused not only by the general erraticness of English spelling but also by the specific problem of having two pronunciations for s and several spellings for each of those two sounds. We can see this because if we used en as a plural marker as often as German does then it might be easier to find examples: if, for example, there were a singular noun that sounded like oxen it would almost certainly be written the same way too.

Of the examples above, pease requires special mention: it is an uncountable noun that refers to a seed used in cooking, in the same way as barley. And they made a pudding from it called please pudding. But because it was seeds it looked countable, and because it ended with a /z/ it sounded plural and the plural peas was born, from which we get the singular [pea] (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pea#Etymology_1) so this almost-example is based on a singular being misunderstood as a plural.

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