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Pluralia Tantum and Singularia Tantum


We must also consider here two types of nouns differing from all others in the way of number: they have not got the usual two number forms, but only one form. The nouns which have only a plural and no singular are usually termed "pluralia tantum" (which is the Latin for "plural only"), and those which have only a singular and no plural are termed "singularia tantum" (the Latin for "singular only").

Among the pluralia tantum are the nouns trousers, scissors, tongs, pincers, breeches, environs, outskirts, dregs. As is obvious from these examples, they include nouns of two types. On the one hand, there are the nouns which denote material objects consisting of two halves (trousers, scissors, etc.); on the other, there are those which denote a more or less indefinite plurality (e. g. environs 'areas surrounding some place on all sides'; dregs 'various small things remaining at the bottom of a vessel after the liquid has been poured out of it', etc.). If we compare the English pluralia tantum with the Russian, we shall find that in some cases they correspond to each other (e.g., trousers , scissors , environs , etc.), while in others they do not ( alum, money, etc.). This seems to depend on a different view of the objects in question reflected by the English and the Russian language respectively. The reason why a given object is. denoted by a plurale tantum noun in this or that language is not always quite clear.

Close to this group of pluralia tantum nouns are also some names of sciences, e. g. mathematics, physics, phonetics, also politics, and some names of diseases, e.g. measles, mumps, rickets. The reason for this seems to be that, for example, mathematics embrace a whole series of various scientific disciplines, and measles are accompanied by the appearance of a number of separate inflamed spots on the skin (rash). However, the reasons are less obvious in the case of phonetics, for instance. Now, it is typical of English that some of these pluralia tantum may, as it were, cease to be plural. They may occasionally, or even regularly, be accompanied by the indefinite article, and if they are the subject of a sentence the predicate verb may stand in the singular.

This way of treating pluralia tantum, which would be unthinkable in Russian, is of course connected with the structure of English as a whole.

The possibility of treating a plural form as if it were singular is also seen in the use of the phrase the United Nations, which may, when it is the subject of a sentence, have the predicate verb in the singular, e. g. the United Nations is a world organization.

Examples of a phrase including a noun in the plural being modified by a pronoun in the singular and thus shown to be apprehended as a singular are by no means rare. Here are a few typical examples. I myself still wonder at that six weeks of calm madness. .. (GARY) The unity of the period of time, measured in the usual units of months, weeks, and days, is thus brought out very clearly. Bessie, during that twenty-four hours, had spent a night with Alice and a day with Muriel... (GARY) The unity of the space of time referred to is even more obvious in this example than in the preceding one; twenty-four hours is a commonly received unit of measurement of time (in Russian this would be expressed by a single noun ). The variant those twenty-four hours would be inappropriate here, as it would imply that the statement was referring to every single hour of the twenty-four taken separately.

This way of showing the unity of a certain quantity of space or time by modifying the phrase in question by a pronoun in the singular, and also (if the phrase be the subject of the sentence) by using the predicate verb in the singular, appears to be a very common thing in present-day English.

The direct opposite of pluralia tantum are the singularia tantum, i.e. the nouns which have no plural form. Among these we must first note some nouns denoting material substance, such as milk, butter, quicksilver, etc., and also names of abstract notions, such as peace, usefulness, incongruity, etc. Nouns of this kind express notions which are, strictly speaking, outside the sphere of number: e.g. milk, or fluency. But in the morphological and syntactical system of the English language a noun cannot stand outside the category of number. If the noun is the subject of a sentence, the predicate verb (if it is in the present tense) will have to be either singular or plural. With the nouns just mentioned the predicate verb is always singular. This is practically the only external sign (alongside of the absence of a plural inflection in the noun itself) which definitely shows the noun to be singular.

Some nouns denoting substance, or material, may have a plural form, if they are used to denote either an object made of the material or a special kind of substance, or an object exhibiting the quality denoted by the noun. Thus, the noun wine, as well as the noun milk, denotes a certain substance, but it has a plural form wines used to denote several special kinds of wine. The noun iron, as well as the noun quicksilver, denotes a metal, but it may be used in the plural if it denotes several objects made of that metal (). The noun beauty, as well as the noun ugliness, denotes a certain quality presented as an object, but it may be used in the plural to denote objects exhibiting that quality, e. g. the beauties of nature; His daughters were all beauties. Many more examples of a similar kind might be found. Accordingly, the nouns wine, iron, and beauty cannot be called singularia tantum, although in their chief application they no more admit of a plural form than milk, quicksilver, or ugliness.




The problem of case in Modern English nouns is one of the most vexed problems in English grammar. This can be seen from the fact that views on the subject differ widely. The most usual view is that English nouns have two cases: a common case (e.g, father) and a genitive (or possessive) case (e.g. father's). Side by side with this view there are a number of other views, which can be roughly classified into two main groups: (1) the number of cases in English is more than two, (2) there are no cases at all in English nouns.

The first of these can again be subdivided into the views that the number of cases in English nouns is three, or four, or five, or even an indefinite quantity. Among those who hold that there are no cases in English nouns there is again a variety of opinions as to the relations between the forms father and father's, etc.

Before embarking on a detailed study of the whole problem it is advisable to take a look at the essence of the notion of case. It is more than likely that part, at least, of the discussions and misunderstandings are due to a difference in the interpretation of case as a grammatical category. It seems therefore necessary to give as clear and unambiguous a definition of case as we can. Case is the category of a noun expressing relations between the thing denoted by the noun and other things, or properties, or actions, and manifested by some formal sign in the noun itself. This sign is almost always an inflection, and it may also be a "zero" sign, i.e. the absence of any sign may be significant as distinguishing one particular case from another. It is obvious that the minimum number of cases in a given language system is two, since the existence of two correlated elements at least is needed to establish a category. (In a similar way, to establish the category of tense in verbs, at least two tenses are needed, to establish the category of mood two-moods, etc.). Thus case is part of the morphological system of a language.

Approaching the problem of case in English nouns from this angle, we will not recognize any cases expressed by non-morphological means. It will be therefore impossible to accept the theories of those who "hold that case may also be expressed by prepositions (i.e. by the phrase "preposition + noun") or by word order. Such views have indeed been propounded by some scholars, mainly Germans. Thus, it is the view of Max Deutschbein that Modern English nouns have four cases, viz. nominative, genitive, dative and accusative, of which the genitive can be expressed by the -s-in-flection and by the preposition of, the dative by the preposition to and also by word order, and the accusative is distinguished from the dative by word order alone.

It should be recognized that once we admit prepositions, or word order, or indeed any non-morphological means of expressing case, the number of cases is bound to grow indefinitely. Thus, if we admit that of the pen is a genitive case, and to the pen a dative case, there would seem no reason to deny that with the pen is an instrumental case, in the pen a locative case, etc., etc. Thus the number of cases in Modern English nouns would become indefinitely large. This indeed is the conclusion Academician I.I.Meshchaninov arrived at. That view would mean abandoning all idea of morphology and confusing forms of a word with phenomena of a completely different kind. Thus, it seems obvious that the number of cases in Modern English nouns cannot be more than two (father and father's). The latter form, father's, might be allowed to retain its traditional name of genitive case, while the former (father) may be termed common case. Of course it must be borne in mind that the possibility of forming the genitive is mainly limited to a certain class of English nouns, viz. those which denote living beings (my father's room, George's sister, the dog's head) and a few others, notably those denoting units of time (a week's absence, this year's elections), and also some substantivized adverbs (to-day's: newspaper, yesterday's news, etc.).

It should be noted, however, that this limitation does not appear to be too strict and there even seems to be some tendency at work to use the -s-forms more extensively. Thus, we can come across such phrases as, a work's popularity, the engine's overhaul life, which certainly are not stock phrases, like at his fingers' ends, or at the water's edge, but freely formed phrases, and they would seem to prove that it is not absolutely necessary for a noun to denote a living being in order to be capable of having an -'s-form. The more exact limits of this possibility have yet to be made out.

The essential meaning of this case would seem to require an exact definition. The result of some recent investigations into the nature of the -s- form shows that its meaning is that of possessivity in a wide sense of the term. Alongside of phrases like my father's room, the young man's friends, our master's arrival, etc., we also find such examples as nothing could console Mrs Birch for her daughter's loss, where the implied meaning of course is Mrs Birch lost her daughter. The real relation between the notions expressed by the two nouns may thus depend on the lexical meaning of these nouns, whereas the form in -s merely denotes the possessive relation.

Up to now we have seen the form in -s as a genitive case, and in so far we have stuck to the conception of a two-case system in Modern English nouns.

There are, however, certain phenomena which give rise to doubts about the existence of such a system doubts, that is, about the form in -s being a case form at all. We will now consider some of these phenomena. In the first place, there are the expressions of the type Smith and Brown s office. This certainly means 'the office belonging to both Smith and Brown'. Not only Brown, whose name is immediately connected with the -s, but also Smith, whole name stands somewhat apart from it, is included in the possessive relation. Thus we may say that the -s refers, not to Brown alone, but to the whole group Smith and Brown. An example of a somewhat different kind may be seen in the expression the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, or the Oxford professor of poetry's lecture. These expressions certainly mean, respectively, 'the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer', and 'the lecture of the Oxford professor of poetry'. Thus, the -s belongs to the groups the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Oxford professor of poetry. The same of course applies to the groups the Duke of Edinburgh's speech, the King of England's residence, and many others.

A further step away from the category of case is taken in the groups somebody else's child, nobody else's business, etc. Here the word immediately preceding the -s is an adverb which could not by itself stand in the genitive case (there is an obvious difference between somebody else's child and, e.g., to-day's news, or yesterday's paper). The -s belongs here to the group somebody else as a whole. It cannot, then, be an inflection making an integral part of a word: it is here part of a whole phrase, and, accordingly, a syntactical, not a morphological, element.

Formations of this kind are by no means rare, especially in colloquial style. Thus, in the following sentence the -s is joined on to a phrase consisting of a noun and a prepositional phrase serving as attribute to it: This girl in my class's mother took us [to the movies] (SALINGER), which of course is equivalent to the mother of this girl (who is) in my class. It is only the lexical meaning of the words, and in the first place the impossibility of the phrase my class's mother, that makes the syntactical connection clear. Compare also: ...and constantly aimed to suggest a man of the world's outlook and sophistication... (The Pelican Guide to English Literature)

The -s is still farther away from its status as an inflection in such sentences as the following: The blonde I had been dancing with's name was Bernice something Crabs or Krebs (SALINGER); I never knew the woman who laced too tightly's name was Matheson. (FORSTER)

This is the type usually illustrated by Sweet's famous example, the man I saw yesterday's son, that is, the type "noun + attributive clause + -s-

Let us have a look at J.D.Salinger's sentence. It is obvious that the -s belongs to the whole group, the blonde I had been dancing with (it is her name he is talking about). It need hardly be emphasized that the preposition with cannot, by itself, be in the genitive case. Such constructions may not be frequent but they do occur and they are perfectly intelligible, which means that they fit into the pattern of the language.

All this seems to prove definitely that in the English language of to-day the -'s can no longer be described as a case inflection in nouns without, at least, many reservations. This subject has been variously treated and interpreted by a number of scholars, both in this country and elsewhere. The following views have been put forward: (1) when the -s belongs to a noun it is still the genitive ending, and when it belongs to a phrase (including the phrase "noun + attributive clause") it tends to become a syntactical element, viz, a postposition; (2) since the -s can belong to a phrase (as described above) it is no longer a case inflection even when it belongs to a single noun; (3) the -s when belonging to a noun, no longer expresses a case, but a new grammatical category, viz. the category of "possession", for example, the possessive form father's exists in contradistinction to the non-possessive form father. An essential argument in favour of this view is, that both the form without -s and the form with -s can perform the same syntactic functions; for instance, they can both be subject of the sentence (cf. My father was a happy man and My father's was a happy life). It should be noted that the views listed under (2) and (3) lead to the conclusion that there are no cases in the Modern English noun. Though the question is still under discussion, and a final agreement on it may have to wait some time, we must recognize that there is much to be said in favour of this view. We will, then, conclude the discussion by saying that apparently the original case system in the English nouns, which has undergone a systematic reduction ever since the earliest times in the history of the language, is at present extinct, and the only case ending to survive in the modern language has developed into an element of a different character possibly a particle denoting possession.

Different views have also been expressed concerning the scope of meaning of the -s. Besides phrases implying possession in the strict sense of the term (my father's books, etc.), the -s is also found in other contexts, such as my father's friends, my father's arrival, my father's willingness, etc. The question now arises how wide this scope may be. From this point of view it has been customary to point out that the relation expressed by the collocation "noun + -s + noun" is often a subjective relation, as in my father's arrival: my father's expresses the subject of the action, cf. my father arrives. This would then correspond to the so-called subjective genitive of inflected languages, such as Russian or Latin. It would, however, not do to say that the noun having the -s could never indicate the object of the action: cf. the example Doughty's famous trial and execution, where the implied meaning of course is, 'Doughty was tried and executed'. This would correspond to the so-called objective genitive of inflected languages. Now, though this particular use would seem to be far less frequent than the subjective, it is by no means impossible or anomalous. Thus it would not be correct to formulate the meaning of the -'s in a way that would exclude the possible objective applications of the -'s-formation.

Parallel use of the -'s-form and the preposition of is seen in the following example: In the light of this it was Lyman's belief and it is mine that it is a man's duty and the duty of his friends to see to it that his exit from this world, at least, shall be made with all possible dignity. (TAYLOR)

It should also be noted in this connection that, if both the subject of an action and its object are mentioned, the former is expressed by a noun with -'s preceding the name of the action, and the latter by an of-phrase following it, as in Coleridge's praise of Shakespeare, etc. The same of course applies to the phrases in which the object is not a living being, as in Einstein's theory of relativity, or Shakespeare's treatment of history.

The -'s-form can also sometimes be used in a sense which may be termed qualitative. This is best illustrated by an example. The phrase an officer's cap can be interpreted in two different ways. For one thing, it may mean 'a cap belonging to a certain officer', and that, of course, is the usual possessive meaning ( ). For another thing, it may mean 'a cap of the type worn by officers', and this is its qualitative meaning (the Russian equivalent for this is ). Only the context will show which is meant. Here are a few examples of the qualitative meaning; it is only the context that makes this clear: if it were not for the context the usual possessive meaning might be ascribed to the form. She perceived with all her nerves the wavering of Amanda's confidence, her child's peace of mind, and she understood how fragile it was. (GARY) The meaning of the phrase her child's peace of mind is in itself ambiguous. Taken without the context, it may mean one of two things: (1) 'the peace of mind of her child' (the usual possessive meaning), or (2) 'her peace of mind, which was like a child's' (the qualitative meaning). Outside the context both interpretations would be equally justified. In the sentence as it stands in the text the surrounding words unmistakably point to the second, that is, the qualitative interpretation: the whole sentence deals only with Amanda herself, there is no question of any child of hers, so that the usual possessive meaning is not possible here. A somewhat similar expression is found in the phrase, a small cupid's mouth, which might mean, either the mouth of a small cupid, or a small mouth, like that of a cupid. The context also confirms that the intended meaning is the qualitative one.

A special use of the -'s-forms has also to be mentioned, which may be illustrated by such examples as, I went to the baker's; we spent a week at our uncle's, etc. Yes, Mary, I was going to write to Macmillan's and suggest a biography... (GR. GREENE)

The older view was based on the assumption that the -s-form was an attribute to some noun supposed to be "understood", namely I went to the baker's shop, we spent a week at our uncle's house, etc. However, this interpretation is doubtful. It cannot be proved that a noun following the s-form is "understood". It seems more advisable, therefore, to take the facts for what they are and to suppose that the -'s is here developing into a derivative suffix, used to form a noun from another noun. This is also seen in the fact that the famous cathedral in London is very often referred to as St. Paul's. A historical novel by the nineteenth-century English writer W. Harrison Ainsworth bears the title "Old St. Paul's', and it appears to be quite impossible here to claim that this is an attribute to the noun cathedral which is "understood": if we were to restore the word which is supposed to be omitted, we should get Old St. Paul's Cathedral, where the adjective old would seem to modify St. Paul, rather than Cathedral, just as in any other phrase of this type: old John's views, young Peter's pranks, etc.

Date: 2015-02-28; view: 8107

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