General noun rules
Nouns and senses of nouns may be labelled in the dictionary as being either [MASS NOUN] or [COUNT NOUN].
If an entry for a noun has no label, it indicates that the noun is an ordinarily countable noun and so a plural is allowed: for example TABLE - TABLES, BOY - BOYS, LASS - LASSES etc.
If an entry for a noun has the label [MASS NOUN] it means that the word is not normally or typically used in the plural, for example VIOLENCE or WEALTH. In these cases the plurals VIOLENCES or WEALTHS are not allowed.
However, there are particular types of mass nouns that can take a plural under certain circumstances - for instance when referring to different types of something such as food (e.g. the noun CHEESE is normally uncountable, but it is possible to talk about a wide selection of CHEESES).Because these types of nouns follow regular rules for forming plurals in particular contexts, the dictionary does not generally indicate that a plural may be allowed. The main types are listed below. Where a noun falls into one of these categories, it means that a plural is usually allowed, though each individual case will be judged on its merits.
Pluralisable mass noun categories
Types or varieties
- Food e.g. YOGHURT - YOGHURTS, PASTA - PASTAS
- Drink e.g. RUM - RUMS, LAGER - LAGERS
- Plants e.g. CLOVER - CLOVERS, BARLEY - BARLEYS
- Fabric e.g. GINGHAM - GINGHAMS, SILK - SILKS
- Certain languages or subjects e.g. MUSIC - MUSICS
- Metals and alloys e.g. STEEL - STEELS, SOLDER - SOLDERS
- Rocks e.g. GRANITE - GRANITES, LAVA - LAVAS, CLAY - CLAYS
- Chemical compounds e.g. FLUORIDE - FLUORIDES, HYDRIDE - HYDRIDES
- Some substances or materials e.g. RIND - RINDS, SOIL - SOILS, SEALSKIN - SEALSKINS, SUNCREAM - SUNCREAMS
- An area of land of a specified type e.g. BOGLAND - BOGLANDS, TERRAIN - TERRAINS
Portions or units of something
- Food e.g. PAELLA (dishes of paella = PAELLAS), VINDALOO (dishes of vindaloo = VINDALOOS)
- Drink e.g. LAGER (glasses/bottles of lager = LAGERS)
- An action or process e.g. GENOCIDE (act of genocide = GENOCIDES), LAMBING (an act of lambing = LAMBINGS)
- A surgical operation e.g. ABLATION - ABLATIONS
- An emotion, pain or feeling e.g. BACKACHE - BACKACHES, GRIEF (an instance or cause of grief = GRIEFS)
Other areas of adjudication
These notes outline other rules to do with the adjudication of words.
Logical inflections e.g. KNIGHTED, SCALDED are fine.
Words in this category denoting an action (BREAKAGE), the product of an action (DOSAGE) or a place of abode (ORPHANAGE) may be pluralized. Many others do not have a logical plural sense (PARENTAGE).
The plural of a word ending in –ING will not be allowed unless it is entered in the ODE3 in pluralized form, e.g. ENDINGS is fine but BAKINGS would be disallowed.
- Accented words are allowed, e.g. FIANCÉ.
- –ER agent nouns not in ODE3, e.g. CURER is fine but GUESTER is not.
- –ILY words not in ODE3, e.g. STUBBILY is fine but MANKILY is not.
- –LESS and –NESS words not in ODE3, e.g. EARLESS is fine but BOATLESS is not; REDNESS is fine but BEIGENESS is not.
- UN- and RE- words not in ODE, e.g. UNSAY is fine but UNSCRAPE is not, REWORD is fine but REWATCH is not.
- BE- words not in ODE, e.g. BESTREW is fine but BESCATTER is not.
The conundrum will not end in S to make a plural of a singular word in regular Countdown (though it did in 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown Series 11, Episode 1). Whatever comes out in the mixed-up version will never be the answer (so if the conundrum spells out a word when it is first revealed, for example on 8 January 1993, this won’t be the actual answer!)