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I need the plural of ‘the last will testament of X’. Is it ‘the last wills and testaments of X and Y’?

To clarify, this is UK usage. I’m writing to a solicitor.

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    In the US it would be "wills". No "testament". – Hot Licks Jul 26 '19 at 19:04
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    @Mick - But, of course, if X is a single individual there can only be one. – Hot Licks Jul 26 '19 at 19:11
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    This sounds like a problem of your own making. Let the solicitor use legal expressions. He’ll understand you if you just write “wills”. – David Jul 26 '19 at 20:12
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    The stock phrase 'last will and testament' dates back to two dark features in English legal history that still cast gloom over us today. They are a. paying law clerks by the word so that they had an incentive to pad out documents with synonyms, and b. extreme focus on form in preference to substance: 'It is not a valid will: it describes itself as a testament'. A man accused of a murder that he undoubtedly committed was once acquitted because the court document spelt his name incorrectly. @David is right: just use 'wills'. – JeremyC Jul 26 '19 at 21:43
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    @JeremyC The information I found on these terms (legal doublet), or triplet, or greater, are that they exist mainly for historical reasons for clarity, either where there was an appreciable difference between terms only to the law-conversant and not to the average person, or where multiple terms essentially meaning the same ting were retained when translating legal concepts from one language to another, and were all kept intact for clarity's sake. I saw no mention of clerks trying to pad out phrases or the preference of form over substance for the existence of these many terms. – Zebrafish Jul 27 '19 at 14:32
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The plural would be formed the same way it usually is: with an -s on the nouns. Example:

These are the last wills and testaments of those who died in the accident.

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  • Is this based on actual knowledge? Wiktionary gives << hue and cry (... plural hue and cries or hues and cries) >> – Edwin Ashworth Jul 27 '19 at 14:46
  • I mean its just declension morphology with plurality syntax and semantics. I don't see why it would be exceptional outside of proper nouns, idioms, etc – Carly Jul 27 '19 at 19:39
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    'Last will and testament' is a fixed expression, and certainly in common enough use to be regarded as an idiom. But how many idioms of the form [N and N] (a) actually form idiomatic plurals / (b) form idiomatic plurals in which both [head]nouns inflect (I've heard "I'll have a fish and chips, please" but never "I'll have two fishes and chips, please" – though here, the invariant plural probably sounds better)? Arguing from insufficiently close relatives is always perilous in English. // I'll try to think of other [Nsing and Nsing] idioms that form plurals that are used reasonably frequently. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 28 '19 at 10:27
  • ... I'm struggling, but I'm sure I've heard people asking for say "...two beef and tomatoes, please" but never anything of the form "...two beefs and tomatoes, please" (deleting 'sandwiches' conversationally, of course). The whole coordinated expression has become a unitary idiom, taking a single -s (or here -es) at the end of the whole fixed phrase. / Possibly, 'will and testaments' is used too infrequently to be considered acceptable. But one can't just cite 'rules that apply in most cases' in grey areas. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 28 '19 at 10:41
  • @EdwinAshworth how each noun in the conjunction noun phrase declends depends on the phrase; it's idiosyncratic. Kingsley Ames expounds on the exact point in "The King's English." It's variable - it could also by "will and testaments" depending on how you interpret the countability (?) of "will" – Carly Jul 29 '19 at 15:51
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In legalese it would be simply "last will and testament of Jane Doe and John Doe, dated on such and such date" if they are joint subjects contained in the last will. If they each have their own last will it would be "the last will and testament of both Jane Doe, dated on such and such date and John Doe, dated on such and such date.".

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  • Did you mean "legalese" in that first sentence? – KillingTime Jul 27 '19 at 6:59
  • @KillingTime - Good catch.... You know, it's considered a civic service to clean up typos and such in other people's posts. There's even a badge for editing! – aparente001 Jul 27 '19 at 14:05
  • Arwizard68, welcome! It sounds like your recommendation might come from practical experience with this area of law. If so, it would strengthen your answer if you mentioned that in your answer, and also if you mentioned what country you had that experience in. It would also be helpful to flesh out the example sentence you provided. – aparente001 Jul 27 '19 at 14:06
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There are two models one could call upon in trying to decide the correct way (assuming there is one, which logically there is a need for) of forming the plural of

'the last will and testament of Severus Sprout'.

One is to simply pluralise each of the coordinated nouns without being concerned about the larger structure:

These are the caps and blazers of the children playing rounders.

These are the last wills and testaments of Severus Sprout and Brenda Buckshott.

However, the string last will and testament has the status of a fixed phrase in common use. 'Idioms' are accepted fixed phrases showing peculiarity of construction and/or grammar involved. The question is whether last will and testament behaves unexpectedly in the formation of its plural, merely adding -s to the final orthographic word.

Fixed expressions of the form [noun (phrase) and noun (phrase)] seem to be rather uncommon. Pub and restaurant names are perhaps the main users:

The Dog and Partridge

The Crown and Cushion

and pluralisation I've found agrees with what I'd use:

Bolton had two Nags Heads – the Higher Nags and the Lower Nags – two Millstones, two pubs named the Hen and Chickens, two Dog and Partridges ...

[Lost Pubs of Bolton; note the sensible workaround with the H & Cs].

There are far more examples on the internet for phrases (possibly better regarded as compound nouns) such as gin and tonic, lager and lime, port and lemon, and whisky and soda. Although these are raw figures, the ratios of [A and Bs] to [As and Bs] are

520 000 : 22 000,

4000 : 8,

39 000 : 3, and

22 000 : 7 000.

The last ratio ("whisky and sodas" : "whiskies and sodas") shows how unpredictable the English language is.

Book names and the like are sometimes pluralised in informal speech:

"several Funk and Wagnalls" (a rare example found on the internet) (but not "several Funks and Wagnalls")

For the surely pretty unitary phrase 'hue and cry', Wiktionary, alone as far as I can see amongst the freely available online dictionaries, gives a plural form – or rather it has found two that are used: hue and cry (usually uncountable, plural hue and cries or hues and cries).

Turning to phrases with less compound-noun flavour, the ratio of Google hits for "life and souls of the party" to "lives and souls of the party" is 55 000 to 39 000. However, GoogleNgrams for 'life and souls of the' and 'lives and souls of the' give a flatline for the former. Some similar phrases don't pluralise sensibly (health and safety, time and motion, research and development).

..............

This surely leaves us with the conviction that it is unscholarly to merely posit a correct way based on just one of the two arguments above. How unitary is the string 'the last will and testament'? There don't seem to be any reference works prepared to state a 'correct' answer here, not even Wiktionary. However,

(a) Google results for hits for "last will and testaments" to "last wills and testaments" are 93 000 : 78 000

(b) These Google Ngrams on the other hand have the ratio "last will and testaments" to "last wills and testaments" as about 1 : 10

(c) While ThomsonReuters prefer last will and testaments, Forbes prefer last wills and testaments

I'd say that, on balance, there's no reason to say that one variant is incorrect. Choose one and stick with it.

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