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LostInParadise's avatar

Without looking it up, do you know the plural of "corpus"?

Asked by LostInParadise (29137points) August 11th, 2020
12 responses
“Great Question” (2points)

I just came across this. It has to be one of the stranger plurals in English. And no, it is not corpuses or corpi. I wonder if @Demosthenes knows this one.

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chyna's avatar


Jeruba's avatar

Corpora is my guess.

(now checking)

Key is that it isn’t an English plural. It’s Latin. Note: opera is also a plural; the singular is opus.

LostInParadise's avatar

I was not aware of opera being the plural of opus, although the online dictionary also allows for opuses. Now it does not seem quite as strange as it originally did.

janbb's avatar

I figured it was Latin but didn’t know how to make it plural. :-(

Demosthenes's avatar

I did know it, but @Jeruba beat me to it. :P

Just for that, I’ll explain why the plural is “corpora” when it seems counterintuitive. “corpus” was originally “corpos”, but Latin changed /o/ to /u/ in many unstressed environments. Since the noun is neuter, the plural would be formed by adding an -a at the end (think “medium/media”, another neuter Latin noun borrowed into English), thus “corposa”. But Latin also changed an /s/ between vowels to an /r/, hence “corpora”.

Cf. genus—> genera. Similar thing happened here, except with an /e/ instead of an /o/.

ragingloli's avatar


LostInParadise's avatar

@Demosthenes , Why then is it radius and radii and stimulus and stimuli? Might it be because that those words are not neuter? One nice thing about English (among not very many) is that the usual rule for plurals is just to add an s or es at the end of a word.

Jeruba's avatar

@LostInParadise, those are masculine nouns, and -i is the standard plural form.

Lots of people used to take Latin in school.

Note also: children, oxen, mice, feet, teeth . . .

There are tons of wonderful things about English, though. I don’t understand why English speakers have such an appetite for bashing their own language.

Demosthenes's avatar

@LostInParadise Yep, they’re part of a different “declension” that pluralizes by changing -us to -i.

Just don’t think the plural of “octopus” is “octopi”. It’s not a Latin masculine noun, it’s the Greek “octo” (eight) + “pous” (foot). Since the plural of “pous” is “podes” maybe the plural of “octopus” should be “octopodes”? Somehow I don’t see that one catching on…

LostInParadise's avatar

@Jeruba , I don’t want to get into an argument over the merits of English, but I remember from when I studied Spanish, how great it was to have a language that is almost 100% phonetic. There are even simple default rules for which syllable in a word gets the stress, and for the exceptions, you have to place an accent mark on the stressed syllable. I don’t recall any words that were not pluralized by just adding an s or es.

Demosthenes's avatar

I think English’s notoriously irregular spelling system (a point of difficulty for learners) is a major part of what leads to all the talk of English’s “quirks”, but all languages have them (English’s spelling reflects the history of the words rather than the current pronunciation). As far as phonetic spelling systems go, Finnish probably has the best one. A spelling bee would be pointless in Finland. As long as the words were pronounced clearly, it’d be virtually impossible to misspell anything.

Jeruba's avatar

@LostInParadise, can’t disagree with you there. I can pronounce a six-syllable word in German that I’ve never seen before and can’t translate, but I can’t guess on sight how to pronounce the name of an English-speaking person that ends in or contains ough or augh. The irregularities are real, all right. I just don’t think they’re defects, and it bugs me when people roll their eyes and say, “Oh, English! What a terrible language, the worst.” I say for shame. Admire other languages, for sure, but treasure the multifarious beauties of your mother tongue.

@Demosthenes, I happened to ask a Finnish woman once if she’d found English hard to learn. She laughed and said, “Not at all. German was much harder.”

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