Singularen and pluralen

Neil Horlock: Some friends and I were recently discussing the vagaries of the english language and someone remarked on the many different way in which we make words plural. Later I discovered that we have dropped at least one variation on plurals. In the time of Shakespeare it was common to make things plural by appending an 'n' to the word, hence housen and shoen. we have this remaining in the word oxen (plural of ox) but do we have any other examples. Furthermore what is the origin of the various means by which we pluralise words?
Apparently you can find 26 plurals each of which ends in a different letter of the alphabet. Any ideas? It can be done without the use of words which are both the singular and plural, fish and sheep for example.

Mike Gibb: There is an excellent book called The Story of Language, by CL Barber, (published by Pan in the UK) which I heartily recommend to all readers. This is what he has to say about plural forms...
"In Old English there were many different ways of putting a noun into the plural: for example:
stan -> stanas (stones)
word -> word (words)
scip -> scipu (ships)
synn -> synna (sins)
tunge-> tungan (toungues)
beo -> beon (bees)
boc -> bec (books)
lamb -> lambru (lambs)
The form stanas has developed quite regularly into our plural stones; but some time during the past thousand years, all of the others have changed their plural ending to the -s type, by analogy with the many nouns like stone, so that today we have words, ships, sins, tongues, bees, books and lambs. The rarer a word is, the more likely it is to be affected by analogy. You wil notice that the unusual plural forms in English, which are the ones which have managed to resist the analogy of the common plural in -s, are mostly very common words, like men, feet and children.


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