Is "rice", for example, considered an irregular plural?


For the more common usage (as an uncountable, or mass noun), "rice" isn't a plural, so the issue of whether it's regular or not simply doesn't arise. But when we speak of, say, different rices of the world, it's just a regular plural.

On the other hand, it's not impossible for a word which is a mass noun to have an irregular plural. In some contexts fish is a mass noun (Japan consumes much of the world's fish). And in some other contexts, it's a countable noun that's irregular in that the plural is the same as the singular (I caught three fish). But it can also be a regular plural (The parable of the loaves and the fishes).

  • +1 for good examples. What is the notion of countability doing here? EG. we say a real number, or the real numbers, even though they are uncountable, and same for an integer or the integers, which we call countably infinite. – karthik Mar 3 '12 at 13:37
  • @karthik: The notion of "countability" is here because OP asked whether uncountable nouns could be considered "irregular plurals". To which I'm saying "No, because in its 'pure' form a mass/uncountable noun doesn't have the singular/plural attribute anyway". But in fact many if not most such nouns do have 'countable' variants - which, like most other nouns, have regular plurals. Fish is an oddity in that respect, but you could call man a mass noun in some contexts (Man is just a small component of the thin 'bio-film' covering this planet) - unquestionably with an irregular plural. – FumbleFingers Mar 3 '12 at 14:38
  • +1: It is worth mentioning that certain mass nouns (rice, toast, cattle, corn, etc.) are count nouns that require a counter to refer to individual elements in the mass: one doesn't say "three toasts" unless one is talking about a salute involving alcoholic beverages; one says "three slices of toast" instead. – Robusto Mar 3 '12 at 15:03
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    @Karthik, the discussion is about a linguist's notion of countability: your question seems to assume that it is the mathematician's concept of countability, which is quite different and not relevant here. – Colin Fine Mar 4 '12 at 0:40
  • @ColinFine yes, I got it after FumbleFinger's response. I took the uncountability to math. :) – karthik Mar 4 '12 at 4:49

No, it is not the case that rice has a singular form rice and an identical plural form. One way to tell is by considering subject-verb agreement. If there were a plural rice, then we would expect to see examples where the verb is plural, such as *rice are white. Not only do we not see such examples, but we find them to be ungrammatical. This same test can be applied to other nouns to discover if they simply have a plural form that shares its shape with the singular form (e.g., sheep are stupid) or not (e.g., *water are wet).

(the * indicates an ungrammatical string)

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