Plural form of words ending in "us"

So, this is not a technical question about how to code for this condition, but a question about whether it is worth even worrying about these pesky use cases. If I have a system in my game that automatically sorts out plural names of things, these outlier cases defy this programmatic approach because of all the irregular words.

For example, “bus” and “campus” should not become “bi” and “campi”, yet some might be upset if “octopus” and “succubus” became “octopuses” and “succubuses” instead of “octopi” and “succubi.” I think there is an ongoing debate out there in the world about what is technically correct here, but it looks to me like the “es” form should be technically correct.

If you were playing a game, and all plurals were standardized to always end in “s” or “es,” and never did the game display anything ending in “i” would you be OK with this? Is it really worth fiddling with these darned “i” plural words?

I’d say that not doing it is forgivable, but doing it definitely looks better. So it depends on how much energy you want to dedicate to polish.

There’s a lot more tolerance in English for technically-incorrect noun pluralisations than there is for incorrectly-conjugated irregular verbs, say: it’s much nicer to use the correct plural, but if you’re that guy who corrects the other players every time they say ‘okay, roll a six-sided dice’ then you’re being a pedant.

Also, it depends on the narrative voice - in normal speech, people commonly use incorrect plurals and it sounds natural. If you want your narrative voice to sound less conversational and more like a Learned Tome, you’d want to get the plurals more consistently right.

I know it would seriously annoy me. When there’s a typographical error (or incorrect plural or whatever), the eye is drawn to it more than to other words, making it stand out and potentially breaking the reader’s train of thought if it’s striking enough.

The easiest way to implement this would likely be to make a table of “irregular” plurals (as in nouns which aren’t second declension masculine in Latin), such as octopus -> octopodes (Greek, but rapidly falling from common use), lusus -> lusus (rare Latin fourth declension) and circus -> circuses (common Latin fourth declension). If the word is not listed in the table, remove the -us and replace it with -i. But there are enough different Greek and Latin plurals in English (such as -ion to -ia, -um to -a, -a to -ae) that you could make “add an -es” the default rule and store the others as exceptions. Either way, you’ll need a table of exceptions.

Alternately, since I doubt these names will truly be procedurally generated in your game (i.e. octopodes only appear if you write code for them, the word isn’t picked randomly by the engine), you could set the printed plural name of a prop to “succubi” when you set its printed name to “succubus” and so on, hard-coding each case when it is used.

Yeah, I just came across the “i” instead of “us” use case in some test content, and so I asked here, but now that I’ve put my question out in front of people (of course AFTER that…) I realize there are lots of other irregular plurals than this. “Octopuses” may be acceptable, but “mices” or “knifes” or “mans”… I don’t think I’ll forgive myself for anything like that anyway. Drat. I guess I’ll have to go the extra mile after all.

Yeah, I’ll need to table out all the irregulars. Shoot. Oh well, all a part of the process.

Generally speaking (and taking maga’s caveats into account) problems like this need to be solved. People need to feel like they can trust the game to tell a story, which isn’t really possible w/o true AI, so you have to fake it. When faking it, it destroys the suspension of disbelief if the computer can’t even get language ‘right’ (whatever that is in the eye of the beholder). So, you need to try.

However, I would question the practicality of any narrative tool that attempts to code exceptional rules of grammar. Perhaps fully automatic construction of plurals is just not a great idea. I would favour instead a ‘hinting’ system, where one default thing happens (add S) and any word that should get a nonstandard plural could just be given an override property and let the objects supply their own plurals.

Some things just cannot be conveniently automated. Forming plurals doesn’t totally fall into that camp, but it’s creeping up pretty close on it.

Technically “octopuses” is at least as correct as “octopi”; if one were to follow the original Greek pluralization I believe one would arrive at “octopodes.” (I think nethack has the plural of wumpus as wumpodes, but I’m not sure about that.)

My earlier post is not particularly coherent, so here is the gist of it:

English has a lot of crazy plurals, especially for words ending in -us, because they started out using the plurals of the languages from which they were taken and have slowly shifted to using English pluralization rules. So you have nucleus -> nuclei (Latin second declension), lusus -> lusus* (Latin fourth declension), and octopus -> octopodes (Greek), but then bus -> buses (already plural in Latin, so it uses the English rule), circus -> circuses, and campus -> campuses (originally Latin, but assimilated). If you’re using substantives (adjectives acting as nouns) those don’t pluralize, so you have things like righteous -> righteous. It’s a mess.

A glorious mess.

Draconis, sorry, I skimmed the thread but didn’t see that you’d already addressed “octopodes.”

Anyway, I disagree a bit with maga about technically incorrect noun pluralization, if only because I don’t have quite the same view about what’s technically incorrect. “Dice” is a bit of a special case because we see the plural so much more often than the singular that “dice” is often treated as the singular, but no one would ever say “Roll two dices” or “Roll two dies.” OTOH you’ll often hear people say “stadiums” rather than “stadia” and “octopuses” rather than “octopodes” because the simpler plurals are acceptable standard English, every bit as much as split infinitives. But you have to say “nuclei” and “data” (another one that people often treat as a singular anyway).

In any case, you’ll have to table out the exceptions unless you have a way of linking up to a dictionary. If you want to catch as much as you can, Writing with Inform 4.4 mentions that the Inform 7 compiler uses Conway’s pluralization algorithm.

And while we’re on the subject – the plural of “mother-in-law” is “mothers-in-law.” The plural of “fish” is “fish,” and the plural of “moose” is “moose.” And then there’s “data,” which is currently hovering between plural (the singular form being “datum”) and a collective noun (singular) by analogy with “sand” and other collective nouns.

And the plural of ‘pedant’ is ‘game designers’, so yeah… lots of special corner cases to deal with here. XD

Dunno about that … I’ve seen a lot of text games that were clearly not written by pedants. Errors in punctuation are especially common, and spelling and word usage errors are not unknown.

Thank you for pedantically correcting my joke! 87