From Rhymes With Orange, playing with morphophonology:

Some English nouns ending in voiceless fricatives (especially in /f/) voice these fricatives in the plural. There are three classes of cases:

(1) voicing obligatory in standard English: wife – wives, shelf – shelves;

(2) voicing variable in standard English: wharf – wharves/wharfs, dwarf – dwarves/dwarfs (see the Language Log posting here and the posting in this blog here on the plural of dwarf );

(3) no voicing in standard English: fife – fifes, oaf – oafs.

Nouns in class (1) are subject to regularization; there’s some pressure to move them into class (2). Nouns in class (3) are subject to playful irregularization — yielding things like arves.


2 Responses to “Arf”

  1. mike Says:

    As Poser notes in the linked post, a party amusement — with certain classes of people only, of course — is to ask people to say out loud the plural of “roof.”

  2. John Lawler Says:

    Then there’s the sibilant class with shwa epenthesis, which doesn’t change the spelling but does change the pronunciation: house /haws/ ~ houses /hawzəz/; cf blouses /blawsəz/.

    Plus similar voicings in noun – verb alternations: house n. /haws/ ~ house v. /hawz/; teeth n. /tiθ/ ~ teethe v. /tið/; shelf n. /ʃɛlf/ ~ shelve v. /ʃɛlv/.

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