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Is the Plural of Cactus "Cacti" or "Cactuses"?

Both are just fine, as you can verify in the dictionary. ("Cactus" is apparently also standard.) Cacti appears more common, judging both by a Google search and a Westlaw ALLNEWSPLUS search; but cactuses is clearly fully standard.

I generally prefer to use English-formed plurals like "cactuses," rather than original-language plurals. On the other hand, others might prefer to use the more common term, partly because they worry that some readers might wrongly assume that "cactuses" is wrong. And if you're writing for a specialized field (for instance, botanists), it's generally safer to use the term that's most common in that field (I don't know which that is, but I take it that botanists do).

But in any case, there's no basis for treating either term as an error. As with many either-or questions related to usage or pronunciation, the answer here is "both."

Randy R. (mail):
I prefer cacti because it sounds so weird.
3.10.2008 3:46pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

In Latin, cactus as a plural as well as a singular would follow if cactus, like manus (=hand) falls under the 4th conjugation, instead of the 2nd, which would require cacti.
3.10.2008 3:49pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

I've actually wondered the same for casus, the word meaning a short statement of the facts that underlie a legal problem, as they are used in legal exams ("A runs over B's dog, discuss whether B can sue for emotional distress." The first part of this sentence is a very short casus, which the student would be asked to solve.) The word is also used in the context of a legal case, which as a casus which is then analysed by the court. (In fact, that is the key difference between a trial court and an appellate court: the former focuses on working out the details of the casus, while the latter largely takes the facts as given.)

Point is, I don't know what the plural should be, although I have the feeling that the plural should also be casus.
3.10.2008 3:54pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
martinned: The plural should be "problems" or "statements of fact" or something else that's in plain English, and the singular should match that.
3.10.2008 4:03pm
ys:

martinned: The plural should be "problems" or "statements of fact" or something else that's in plain English, and the singular should match that.

In honor of the longstanding tradition of Jewish legal scholarship I suggest that the plural should be "casusim"
3.10.2008 4:10pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

Oops, I probably shoud have mentioned that the example is one of a latin word used in Dutch legal parlance. Although in many situations the word "facts", or "facts of the case" works fine, I am satisfied that it is a useful word in some circumstances, instead of being yet another example of unnecessary latin.
3.10.2008 4:13pm
Javert:
How about "syllabi" or "syllabuses"?
3.10.2008 4:20pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

I guess the rule would be that it depends on how close the word still is, in people's minds, to its Latin root. In Dutch, the word syllabus is given its Latin plural, syllabi, but in English I would prefer syllabuses. For cactus the link with Latin is not very immediate, but for some reason cacti appears to be not uncommon.
3.10.2008 4:26pm
M (mail):
I'm in favor of cactuseses. It's the final 'es' that really bring out that you mean a lot of them.
3.10.2008 4:33pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
I have this vague notion that "Cacti" referred to a plural number of plants, and "cactuses" referred to a number of species. (or was it the reverse of that?). I have no idea where I got that notion. Maybe it's just my overactive imagination.
3.10.2008 4:37pm
Vinnie (mail):
Is martini the plural of martinus?
3.10.2008 4:42pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
Professor Volokh's headline reads: Is the Plural of Catcus "Cacti" or "Cactuses"?

Am I missing something here?
3.10.2008 4:42pm
Mikeyes (mail):
ChrisIowa,

You probably get that idea from the usage of "fish" meaning one or more of a single species and "Fishes" meaning multiple species. Or maybe not.

My favorite joke on plurals goes:

If the plural of Scolex (the head of a tapeworm) is Scolices, what is the plural of Rolex?
3.10.2008 4:44pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
This is one of my pet peeves. I generally think the use of latinesque plurals is pretentious, and usually are used incorrectly anyway. The example here is perfect -- cactus, apparently, comes from Greek, not Latin, and thus the use of the -i- plural is not even right.

Even though I studied Latin for three years, only in a very limited number of cases will I use Latin plurals -- memoranda is an example.

Another peeve is the incorrect use of whom -- I know the difference between who &whom (basically, because I studied Latin, which taught me more about English grammar than about Latin), and therefore will use whom when correct. However, if you do not know the difference, JUST USE WHO. It is perfectly acceptable nowadays, as the use of whom has been falling out the language. But when people use "whom" when they should use who, they sound like idiots. (A typical example is when people use whom when following a form of to be, e.g., "And the person is whom? [sic]"]
3.10.2008 4:47pm
Hoosier:
"it's generally safer to use the term that's most common in that field "

Damn! I forget which version is more common in diplomatic history . . .
3.10.2008 4:47pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@Vinnie: In Latin, yes. To be precise, it goes (using servus=slave as an example, because it's shorter):

Singular: servus, servi, servo, servum, servo
Plural: servi, servorum, servis, servos, servis.

(Hurray, 15 years after I first started memorising this stuff, I still remember!)
3.10.2008 4:47pm
Hoosier:
English has a plural of "one": "Which ones do you have?"

How can anyone worry about the "correct" plural in a language like ours?
3.10.2008 4:50pm
Vinnie (mail):
L.S.,

@Vinnie: In Latin, yes. To be precise, it goes (using servus=slave as an example, because it's shorter):

Singular: servus, servi, servo, servum, servo
Plural: servi, servorum, servis, servos, servis.

(Hurray, 15 years after I first started memorising this stuff, I still remember!)


Thanx I knew one wasn't enough.
3.10.2008 4:57pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
martinned: The plural should be "problems" or "statements of fact" or something else that's in plain English, and the singular should match that.

Halleluyah! Casus? That just sounds ridiculous -- I would have to look that word up if saw it, and I am a lawyer who has practiced for several years, grad'd from a 1st tier school, clerked for prestigious federal courts, etc.
3.10.2008 5:17pm
Crunchy Frog:
What's the plural of Lolrus? Lolri? Or Lolruses?
3.10.2008 5:38pm
ys:

Halleluyah! Casus? That just sounds ridiculous -- I would have to look that word up if saw it, and I am a lawyer who has practiced for several years, grad'd from a 1st tier school, clerked for prestigious federal courts, etc.

It's not really a legal term. It comes packed into an expression: "casus belli" and means "a large paunch"
3.10.2008 5:55pm
Chem_geek:
What about Toyota's Prius? Is the plural Priuses or Prii? What is one supposed to call a group of Prii?

:-)
3.10.2008 6:03pm
Bama 1L:
A stealth of Pria. (Prius is neuter so pluralizes in -a.)
3.10.2008 6:17pm
Bama 1L:
Whoops, should be Priora. Change stem, then inflect!
3.10.2008 6:19pm
Scaldis Noel:
Gabriel Malor,

It appears that EV didn't get the point of your post.

I assume that the proper American English way of making plural a word that isn't in any dictionary (catcus) that is the result of mistyping an actual word (cactus), would be to use the standard rule for words ending in "s", to add "es". Therefore, the plural of "catcus", would be "catcuses". Therefore, neither of EV's options are valid plural spellings for "catcus".
3.10.2008 6:20pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Or Priodes, if Prius is Greek.
3.10.2008 6:22pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Cactus was a Greek word adopted into Latin, and in Latin took the plural cacti. I suppose you could use the Greek plural if you really wanted to be super-pretentious.

Since it's a New World plant, cactuses would be okay.
3.10.2008 6:31pm
LarrySheldon (mail):
Assuming "catcus" is a typo, I thought the question is like "fish" vs "fishes"--lot of swimmy critters of unspecified species or all of the same species, the plural is "fish", while a reference to a number od species is "fishes".

So cacti refers to several species, while cactuses refers to several plants.
3.10.2008 6:37pm
Malvolio:
I generally think the use of latinesque plurals is pretentious, and usually are used incorrectly anyway.
Well, call me pretentious, because I love Latinate plurals! Vertices, stadia, octopodes!

I'm still waiting for the opportunity to use "penes" in conversation.
3.10.2008 6:51pm
ys:

Whoops, should be Priora. Change stem, then inflect!

Or Priores. See a mini dissertation here.
3.10.2008 7:17pm
Hoosier:
Walrus--Walri

Schoolbus--Schoolbi

Ignoramus--Ignorami

Uhh . . . Doofus--Doofi
3.10.2008 7:26pm
John (mail):
You say bananas!

I say bananae!

Let's call the whole thing off!
3.10.2008 7:49pm
KeithK (mail):
I am fine with using "cacti" as the plural of "cactus". But if you're going to use the Latin plural you ought to pronounce it like the Latin plural - "cactee".
3.10.2008 8:52pm
Steve2:
Like Randy R, I like to pluralize with vowels whenever I get the chance. Cacti, octopi, walri... But I don't go with "Schoolbi" as Hoosier suggested. For some reason, the plural of "bus" just seems to me like it ought to be "busen", using that good old the German "EN for plurals".
3.10.2008 9:42pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

Now that we're on free association with language, why not continue: busen is German for "breasts" (as in one of the more highly appreciated parts of a woman), the plural of Bus (same word in German as in English) I think is Büsse, but I'm not sure.
3.10.2008 10:20pm
Peter Wimsey:
Actually, as the German version of trivial pursuit will tell you, "Busen" refers to the space between the breasts. (The fact that it's in trivial pursuit suggests that that specific meaning isn't common knowledge.)
3.11.2008 12:27am
JBL:
So is the plural of pretentious pretentioi?

The word I have the most trouble with is the plural of 'duplex'. Dupleges?
3.11.2008 1:16am
Warmongering Lunatic:
Given the plants in question were not the kaktos (spiny thistle) of the Greek, and were unknown to either the Greeks or Romans, it seems rather silly to use a Greek or Latin pluralization.

Since the first examples of the plant to reach the Europe were those taken by an Italian on a mission from Spain, if we were to use something other than the English plural "cactuses", the logical foreign-language plurals would seem to be the Spanish "cactáceas" or the Italian "cactus".
3.11.2008 3:37am
Positroll (mail):
the plural of Bus (same word in German as in English) I think is Büsse, but I'm not sure.
Plural of Bus (German): Busse. No Umlaut.

Busen:
Nowadays normally: female breast.
In literature, poems: chest / bosom.
Depending on context: cleavage.
3.11.2008 6:49am
j_a_guest (mail):
Warmongering

In Spanish, the word cactaceas means the group of all the different species of cacti. The proper Spanish plural for several cactuses of the same species, or several -but not all- of the species is again "cactuses"
3.11.2008 7:31am
Hoosier:
From the "German is a Sexy Language" File:

On her 'Busen', a woman has:

Brustwarze=Nipples. Or, to translate literally: "Breast-warts." Yum-yum.
3.11.2008 8:03am
Bleepless (mail):
Then there is the old joke about the zoo director who could not remember the plural of hippopotamus. "Dear Sir: Please send us a hippopotamus. Thank you. [signed]. ps. Come to think of it, please send us two of them."
3.11.2008 8:04pm
deenk:
Cactus is both an English word and a Latin word. However, it is not classic Latin. It is Botanical Latin, a highly specialized, bastardized dialect of the already bastardized Church Latin. Botanical Latin is a living, though endangered, language that is largely written. It has no standardized pronunciation, as any technical conversation between botanists from different countries will reveal. The fact that Julius Caesar never saw a cactus is irrelevant to the current discussion. Also, as botanical nomenclature, unlike zoological nomenclature, doesn't use Greek (though it uses latinized Greek words), all ending should follow Latin grammar.
3.11.2008 8:27pm