The Top Ten: Nouns that are always plural

 

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The Independent Culture

This list was compiled by Simon Thomas of Oxford Dictionaries, who is on Twitter as @stuck_inabook. It's a lovely collection of language quirks, into which you will notice I have squeezed rather more than 10 examples…

1. Trousers

There was once a singular trouse. Other similar garments are also plural: pants, shorts, leggings, jeans, flares, tights, overalls and dungarees.

2. Clothes

To quote the Oxford English Dictionary, "a collective plural without a singular; to express the latter, a phrase such as 'article of clothing' is used".

3. Cahoots

Origin uncertain, but a link has been suggested with the French cahute – hut, shack.

4. Shenanigans

The singular shenanigan is found in the letters of Mark Twain, but it has fallen out of use almost completely.

5. Glasses

The same is true of binoculars, spectacles and goggles.

6. Loggerheads

May relate to a late 17th-century use meaning "long-handled iron instrument for heating liquids and tar", when wielded as a weapon.

7. Scissors

The singular scissor is mostly a verb. Many other two-bladed tools are also plural: pliers, forceps, shears, tweezers and tongs.

8. Amends

You might make amends by paying damages; while damage is a common mass noun, the sense of "a sum of money in compensation for a loss or injury" is now only plural.

9. Smithereens

10. Thanks

Although the verb thank is common, you wouldn't give somebody a single thank – although examples are found as late as the 19th century.

Next week: Towns everyone's heard of but can't place on a map

Coming soon: Songs whose titles are only in the final words (such as 'Up the Junction' by Squeeze). Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to top10@independent.co.uk

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