Oh Heck! Another Quirky Writing Error: Plurals on compound words ending in -ful.
Plurals on words can be tricky, what with words ending in -f, -ff, -fe, -o, s, x, ch, sh, -z, and sometimes -y. Then along come the compound nouns, and not to mention irregular plurals. Uh, oh. I’m starting to hyperventilate again.
Most often you simply add an -s or -es to the end of the noun:
Sometimes you have to change the word ending:
But when you come to compound nouns, sometimes you add the -s on the main part of the noun. (*pant, pant, pant)
* editors in chief/editors-in-chief (you see it both ways in style guides)
* knights-errant (Wait! I hear one knight-errant arriving at my door to rescue me from this flighty wordmongering.)
Then there are the words that end in -ful. For those words, you add the -s at the end of the word.
When I was a little girl, I loved coming home from school on days when Mom was making strawberry jam. She would cook up the strawberries with sugar and water and a pink foam would rise to the top of the pot when the berries came to a gentle boil. We kids would beg for a spoonful of the pink foam for a tasty snack. Yummie.
Then she would fill the jars with the delicious sweet jam to save for the winter ahead, but she would always save out a jarful for us for breakfast. The rest of the jars went down into the cool cellar as our hedge against a long strawberry-deprived winter.
Now the question is, with nine kids in the family, how many spoonfuls of strawberry pink foam did Mom need?
- nine spoonfuls of pink foam from the jam?
- nine spoons full of pink foam from the jam?
Do you see the subtle difference?.
- Because Mom had nine children, she needed nine spoons full of jam to make them happy. (Nine spoons filled one time each.)
- On another day, she made strawberry pancakes, and the recipe called for nine spoonfuls of jam. (The same spoon filled nine times with jam.)
We know from Mary Poppins that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, but how many spoonfuls of pink strawberry jam foam does it take to make nine scruffy farm kids happy? A lot!
Here’s the rule:
When a word ends in -ful, make it plural by adding an s to the end of the word.
Garner’s Modern American Usage, by Bryan A. Garner, lists 26 words with a -ful suffix. You can find the majority of these in a good dictionary. I must admit I had to think for a few minutes to make up some sentences that didn’t sound weird. (I used the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language to check these words.)
I did find another to add to the list…
Of course, then I got carried away and started making up non-dictionary words with -ful.
* bowlful/bowlfuls of kitty Friskies
* houseful/housefuls of antique furniture
* lapful/lapfuls of kittens
* gallipotful/gallipotfuls of medicine
* sinkful/sinkfuls of dirty dishes
* garageful/garagefuls of junk
* stomachful/stomachfuls of tamales
* casket/casketsful (*snort, snort)
Yeech. One could go on and on with these words, though, I admit, some seem a bit far-fetched.
Take a deep breath now. We’re done! *sigh
Janice Hall Heck, retired educator and now
nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ, is quite possibly a grammar geek.
Oh Heck! Another Quirky Writing Error, theme for the 2014 A to Z Challenge, suggests ways to improve our writing by avoiding and/or eliminating troublesome bug-a-boos that stifle our writing.