Grammar

Wifes or Wives? Let’s Examine Some Irregular Plurals

If you have more than one wife, aside from breaking the law, do you have wifes or wives?

During a blog jog the other day, I spotted a headline about things husbands do to annoy their spouses. The headline, I’m sorry to report, did not use the word spouses.

But when the writer made wife plural, she simply added an s at the end to come up with the non-word “wifes.”

I have to admit that it’d seem perfectly logical that “wifes” would be the plural of wife. Most of the time, we simply add an s to the end of a noun when there are more than one of that particular noun. Most of the time, that simple little s works quite well.

But this is not one of those times.

Words like life, wife and knife take a different form when they are plural:

The plural of life is lives.
The plural of wife is wives.
The plural of knife is knives.

The same rule applies to other words that end with -fe or -f:

The plural of dwarf is dwarves.
The plural of hoof is hooves.
The plural of leaf is leaves.
The plural of loaf is loaves.
The plural of thief is thieves.
The plural of wolf is wolves.

The rule also applies to words that end in -lf:

The plural of elf is elves.
The plural of half is halves.
The plural of self is selves.
The plural of shelf is shelves.

Of course, it would be far too simple if this was universally the case. There are instances in which a word may end with an -f but not be made plural by converting the -f to a -ve. The word waif, which refers to a homeless, helpless person, is made plural by adding an -s at the end: waifs.

But it is a random discrepancy like this that makes grammar fun, right?

3 Comments

  1. It’s ironic that you should mention this…
    Now, I know you know that I know it’s “wives” and it is erroneous to refer to the person who wrote the article as a writer – for what writer would not get this right – or at least run the spell checking program?! But I’m constantly criticising Luis for saying “life’s”, “wife’s”, etc.. It is appalling when he does that! My favourite kicker, however, is the word “safe”, as in the box with a code one keeps important items locked in – the plural is “safes”!

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.