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The English language has "oodles" of words that are in the plural form, with an "s" on the end. "Odds" are, you know a few.

It was "news" to me that these are called "pluralia tantum," a Latin phrase meaning "plural only."

This is not to say that a form of the word doesn't exist in the singular. But for these particular meanings, we use the plural form.

Your child gets the "mumps." Maybe when you get an infected tooth, you look like you have a mump, but you don't. "Measles" is another word that's only plural.

Soapy water has "suds." No sud stands alone.

When you are sorry for doing something to someone, you may take "pains" to make "amends."

To learn about the nation's past, you may search historical "annals."

Some of the less-pleasant-to-think-about body parts come in plurals: bowels, entrails, guts. "Guts," though, can mean a good thing: courage. And having "brains" means intelligence. It doesn't mean you have two portions of a brain.

In the military domain, we have "troops" and "arms." One soldier isn't a troop. One rifle is not an arm.

Many money terms are used only in plural form: earnings, funds, riches, wages, goods, valuables. Sometimes when you return from another country and you've gone "nuts" on a shopping spree, you have to pay "customs."

"Alms" is an archaic term for charity.

"Fireworks" is always plural. Just one firework would not be likely to draw an "Ahhhhhh!" July 4.

You may scatter your grandfather's "ashes" at sea. Or you may keep the "remains" on your mantel.

You may feel "down in the dumps" or "in the doldrums." You may have "the blues."

Many items of clothing -- also called "clothes" -- are in the plural form: pants, jeans, dungarees, tights, shorts, briefs. But the "outskirts" of town are its outlying areas, not its visible skirts.

Lots of tools and work-related items are in plural form: pliers, scissors, shears, forceps, tongs, bellows, goggles.

A few academic fields that are plural are mathematics, physics and forensics.

If you're behind on, say, your car payments, you're in "arrears."

"Dregs" are the remnants left at the bottom, for example, of a coffee pot that an inconsiderate person left behind instead of making a new pot.

Both "dreg" and "arrear" are words, too, but they're rarely used in the singular form.

I hope these words don't give anyone the "willies."


State legislatures sometimes tackle a "blue law" or two. Blue laws are those regulating some kind of behavior, often restricting actions on Sundays.

When I was a teenager in New York, one couldn't buy beer on Sundays before noon.

But why are they called blue laws?

I've read that in 17th-century Connecticut, the Puritans would print such laws on blue paper, and that name stuck through the centuries., the website that tracks down the truth of claims, reports that this is nonsense. Snopes maintains that a Connecticut reverend came up with the term himself, and the reason for the "blue" is unknown. Now I am disillusioned.


Here are a few lines on homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Forgo, forego

To "forgo" is to go without something.

I'll forgo the Brussels sprouts so I will be certain to have room for a slice of that bittersweet chocolate tart.

To "forego" means to go before. I had trouble thinking of a sentence for this one, because the word is more commonly used as "foregone." A "foregone conclusion" is when the outcome of something is certain.

Trust me when I say the game of blackjack has no foregone conclusions.

Discrete, discreet

"Discrete" means something distinct or separate.

The twins looked alike but still had discrete personalities and tastes.

"Discreet" means subtle or unobtrusive.

Comedian Sarah Silverman would not be called a discreet performer.

Compliment, complement

A "compliment" is something nice you say about someone. I remember the "i" in the middle by remembering that the word "kind" has an "i."

Let me compliment you on your knitting skills.

A "complement" is something that helps to complete something.

A pale ale is the perfect complement to this coffeecake.

Sources: Oxford Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage,,,, Oxford Dictionaries,, Merriam-Webster.

Reach Bernadette at

ActiveStyle on 01/15/2018

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