[Taxacom] Family names are plural. Period

Michael A. Ivie mivie at montana.edu
Tue Feb 19 11:15:27 CST 2008

I can understand why people have trouble with this, as in normal speech 
and in many written works, the usage is simply incorrect, to the point 
that it looks like it is OK.  Kind of like if enough people in a city 
are rude, it becomes acceptable to be rude. 

There are examples of this double situation with originally English 
words, where a word can sometimes be used as either singular or plural 
depending on the context, but in other cases cannot:

"The fish is green/ The fish are green." are both correct, depending on 
However, "The fish are running this week." is always plural.

"The deer is dead/ The deer are dead." Both may be correct.
"The deer are abundant this year." is the only correct form.

Just to totally confuse everyone, "fishes" and "deers" can both be used, 
but only when referring to a collective of more than one species of the 

Given this mess that English presents, it is no wonder that even native 
speakers have problems.

However, in the case of a family group name in Zoology, used in its 
original formal Latinized construction, the fact remains that it is "a 
noun in the nominative plural."  There are no ifs, ands or buts about 
this, the name is "a noun in the nominative plural."  This statement is 
written in English, and this text in English is an Authorative Version 
(Art. 87).  Therefore, the idea that "we are writing English, not Latin" 
is irrelevant.  The Code is not written in Latin.  The definition of the 
family group name when writing in English is "a noun in the nominative 
plural" and this is IS HOW IT IS TO BE USED IN ENGLISH.  Germans writing 
in German can make up their own rules, the French have an official 
version of the Code to use, but in English, the fact is set -- it is a 
plural.   It must not, therefore, be treated as singular in English when 
used in this form.  If the user wants to treat it as singular vernacular 
English, and look literate, s/he should anglicize it, and then use it as 
a singular, with normal English pluralization using a terminal "s". 

"The Tenebrionidae are widespread." 
"The tenebrionids are widespread."
 "That tenebriond is black."
NEVER "That Tenebrionidae is black."
Note also that the Latin name is a proper noun in English, and is 
capitalized, but the anglicized version is not, and is treated in lower 

Forming a sentence where recognizing the family name as plural is 
awkward is IMPROPER SENTENCE STRUCTURE, not a problem with the noun 
status.  Rewrite the sentence to be correctly formed, and you have 
solved the problem.  This can be proved by diagramming the sentence, 
recognizing the fact that the family name is a nominative plural, and 
then looking at the word connections.  It will be immediately obvious 
that the sentence structure is the problem, not the status of the noun 
(surely all the English native speakers remember how to diagram a 
sentence? Seventh Grade English?)

Accepting the use of plurals from other languages as singulars in 
English is a case of "dumbing down" and should be fought at every level 
in the sciences.  Scientists do not (or should not) accept "larvas," 
"femurs," "data" as a singular (in this case a truly stupid concept), 
and we should not use the singular case for a noun in the nominative 
plural.   Argue all you want that you like it that way, but it is simply 


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