Plural Puzzlers

by | Mar 7, 2018

No! Don’t listen to Obi-Wan! Don’t ‘move along.’

It’s time we face the music on these words, because we tend to spell (and say) their plural forms incorrectly.

When I see these in clients’ files, it takes time to correct them. Of course, this means more cost to the writer.

If you keep an eye out for these plural puzzlers, you can save time and money when your written materials are proofed.

Here are the singular versions of the words I’ll review:

  • Spoonful
  • Bucketful
  • Brother-in-law, Sister-in-law
  • Attorney General
  • Groups (team, couple, faculty, herd)

It’s hard to keep up

The English language is constantly evolving, and some grammar manuals are caving to the masses with the rules.

I’ll discuss the puzzlers as they currently stand. Here they are, correctly spelled – for now – with the ‘s’ highlighted:

Spoonsful, bucketsful

These are changing in some grammar manuals, but I’m sticking with: it’s more than one spoon, and it’s multiple buckets.

Let’s face it, as our fifth-grade teacher told us:

“We don’t fill a ‘ful.’ We fill a spoon or a bucket.”

Brothers-in-law, Sisters-in-law

If a spouse has more than one sibling, there could be both brothers- and sisters-in-law.

It’s multiple people … not multiple ‘laws.’

Oddly, there’s no argument here (from any of the manuals I’ve found) as there is with spoons and buckets. Go figure.

Attorneys General

On this one, you get a ‘two fer’: the plural for ‘attorney’ and how that works with a meeting of the top lawyers from (U.S.) several states.

When we’re speaking about more than one attorney general, it is multiple attorneys: attorneys general.

‘Attorney Generals’ is now considered correct, but the plural on ‘Attorney’ is – for a while, at least – preferred.

Ah, I see it! There’s that puzzled frown.

“‘Attorney’ doesn’t follow the rules? Hmm.”

You’re thinking, “But, in high school, they said the ‘y’ changes to ‘ies.’
for a plural.”

Usually, yes. However, the word ‘attorney’ is one of the few exceptions.

The plural of ‘attorney’ is ‘attorneys.’

In other words, ‘attorney’ doesn’t follow the rules. Isn’t that ironic?


We often find groups referred to, incorrectly, in the plural.

A group = one entity.

Think of a group as ‘it,’ which is referred to in the singular. For each of these examples, ‘is’ – instead of ‘are’ – is the correct word:

The team is traveling to the game.”
(We could say “It is traveling…,” though it would sound weird.)
Is the couple honeymooning in Jakarta?”
(“Is it honeymooning…”)
The faculty is prepared to hear this, right?”
(“Is it prepared…”)
“Yesterday, we discovered the herd is moving north to find water.”
(“…it is moving…”)

Group Members

When discussing group members, use the plural:

The players are traveling to the game.”
(We could say, “They are traveling…”)
Are Alec and Jen honeymooning in Jakarta?”
(“Are they honeymooning…”)
The teachers are prepared to hear this, right?”
(“They are…”)
The lions-n-tigers-n-bears are moving north to find water.”
(No … you weren’t the only one thinking “Oh my!” after the first part 🙂 )

Your Takeaway: Unfortunately, grammatical absolutes are beginning to fall to a majority rule. We are up against “Let’s give in to get along,” even here. Oh, my goodness. For now, I’m staying with these logical solutions for these plural puzzlers.

Note: For the next few days, listen carefully for these plural puzzlers
being used correctly. Glom onto those people and keep an ear open.
This is a method I use to increase my vocabulary. It works!

Join the Conversation: Do you have a favorite ‘plural puzzler’ you see misused? Let’s hear about it in the comments section below! We can all learn from you and remember to avoid that faux pas.


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  1. kiyomi

    “…‘attorney’ doesn’t follow the rules. Isn’t that ironic?”
    Well said, Kathie! Thank you for the enjoyable read!

    • Kathie York


      You are welcome! I do get a kick out of ‘attorney’ being one of the few not following the rules :->
      Thanks for stopping by,


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Kathie York, CSQE
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