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Why aren't Mongooses, Mongeese?

Why aren't Mongooses, Mongeese?

By Prof. Mark Viney
Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1UG

Irregular plurals (where the plural rule “to add an S” isn’t used) have to be learnt. We have all learnt these, so we can pluralize man to men, mouse to mice, goose to geese. We can also use these irregular plurals in compound words, so that we get policemen and house mice. Why then, Mongooses?

This book I read*, argued that we only use the irregular plural for compound words (policeman), when that compound word is of the same nature as the root word (man). Thus, a policeman is a type of man, a house mouse is a type of mouse. But, a Mongoose isn’t a type of goose, and so we don’t use the irregular plural, but rather use the regular plural rule ‘add an S’. So, Mongooses are not Mongeese. This book also suggests, that this applies to what we hold in our hands most of the time - the computer mouse. Because these bits of plastic are not a type of mouse we often call groups of them mouses - try it.

Read this facinating book today - visit our bookshop

*[Steven Pinker, Words and Rules, Basic Books, 1st edition, 1999]


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20 Jul 2011
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