Extra -S

This is a summary of ways in which (varieties of) English have come to have a separable (or arguably separable) final element -S (pronounced variously as /s z əz/ and spelled variously as S ES ’S), not always with clear semantic content. I’m posting it here for reference in postings to come and as a demonstration of how phonological/orthographic content, like -S, is “just stuff”, with no unified semantic, pragmatic, sociolinguistic, or stylistic value common to all of its occurrences.

This is just an outline, with a few passing comments on some details, though most details (like those concerning alternation or variation between -S and zero) are not covered here; it’s a very complex world.

1. inflectional affixes

1.1. N pl (catsdogshorses)

(including pl-only nouns in –S, like eaves and riches; and pluralia tantum, like scissors and pants)

1.2. N poss (cat’sdog’shorse’s)

1.3. Pronoun independent poss (hersyoursourstheirsits if you can stress it, maybe his)

1.4. V 3sg pres (thinksknowssupposes)

2. “contracted” is/has (Pat’s/Kim’s/Chris’s going, Pat’s/Kim’s/Chris’s already gone)

3. adverbial -S (an old adverbial genitive): always, nowadays, besides; towards, inwards, outwards, backwards, forwards,…; sideways, whiles ‘while’, non-standard anyways, non-standard aways ‘much, far’ (variation between –s and zero for several of these)

(discussion by ML 7/28/10: Ask Language Log: “acrosst” (here), AZ 1/25/11: acrossed (link), ML 2/21/11: X-ward(s) (link))

4. -S of obscure origin in non-standard a ways: a good/great/little/long ways

5. in clippings (primarily British):

5.1. hypocoristic –S in clipped proper names: Wills (for William), Babs (for Barbara), etc.

5.2. playful adjectival –S with “Oxford –er” (with clipped bases: rugger, footer, soccer): preggers, bonkers, etc. (Wikipedia page here)

5.3. other clippings with –S: maths, turps, meths, etc. (primarily British)

6. nuts ‘crazy, nutty’ (OED thinks this is just pl, but that seems dubious to me)

7. –S in sg nouns:

7.1. [from Gk. neuter pl.] disciplinary: linguistics, mathematics, physics, etc.

7.2. “areas of endeavor”: sports, news, etc.

7.3. names of diseases and conditions: mumps, measles, hives, etc.

7.4. names of games: billiards, checkers, etc.

7.5. the hours of the daily office in the Catholic Church: lauds, matins, nones, vespers

[some of the items in 7.1-5 have variable sg/pl agreement]

7.6. (possible) derivational –S in the history of –nce nouns like dependence

[Stahlke, F.W.; Yonghong Cheng; & Duck-Hee Sung. To appear.  English nominalizations in /-s/. Word: Journal of the International Linguistics Society. (puts this case together with the other cases in 7 and the case in 8)]

8. in first elements of compounds: craftsman, spokesperson, etc.

9. contracted us in let’s (Let’s go!)

10. contracted as in non-standard all’s (All’s I know is…), so’s (I did it so’s you’d be happy), seeing’s (Seeing’s how you’re here already,…), being’s (Being’s that you’re here already,…)

11. (non-standard) extensions of wh- expressions (origin unclear, but perhaps by analogy with contractions of wh-words with is and then, sometimes, shifting the –S to the margin of a larger wh-expression or duplicating it at the margin): how’s about, how about’s, how’s about’s; how’s come, how come’s, how’s come’s; what’s about, what about’s, what’s about’s; what’s if; how’s to; what’s else

14 Responses to “Extra -S”

  1. James Crippen Says:

    Add to (5) the peculiarly North American “yeppers” ~ “yuppers”. This may be restricted to some sort of midwestern dialect area, but it’s common enough to have been made fun of in various media. Not sure of whether it’s found in the Canadian praries, but I think it might be. This isn’t a clipping, but is instead apparently an extension of “yep” ~ “yup”. The simpler “yepper” is apparently rather rare, and “yupper” even more so, at least judging by googles.\

    Also (6) may have been formed by analogy with “balls”, “bollocks”, etc. which are indeed plural, but that would only fit for the exclamatory use and not the adjectival use of “nuts”. This is pure speculation of course.

    Note that (10) is *originally* from contracted “as” but that’s not the case anymore, since for example I have both “so’s” and “all’s” but the forms with full “as” are ungrammatical for me *“so as you’d be happy”, *”all as I know”. But “seeing as how” is fine, though “being as that” is not. (Actually ?“being’s” is questionable for me anyway.)

    And I would note the multiple occurrence of some of these, showing that they’re independent phenomena. So ”his parents’s”, “linguistics’s got this …”, and ”let’s us get going” where the -’s is reanalyzed, among others.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      All good points. On (6), the OED agrees with you on the exclamation nuts. The question is about the history of the adjective.

      On (10): yes, absolutely. I give the history (when I know it) primarily to show that most of these forms have a rational explanation historically, though of course I understand that the sources are no longer psychologically available to most speakers. (There are probably millions of speakers who don’t appreciate the historical source of let’s, for example.)

      On multiple occurrences: the standard is for many of the “outer” -S’s to be suppressed. I’ll post about that in a while.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Re (5): it seems to be not just yeppers, but also nopers.

  2. Philip Newton Says:

    I wonder where the /z/ in “youse” (second person explicitly-plural pronoun) comes in – is this simply a variation of (1.1)?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The usual treatment is to take the /z/ to be the plural marker — as in OED2, where the entry is yous (with spelling variant youse). There’s also dialectal (esp. Anglo-Irish) yez (spelling variants yeas, yeez, yiz), based on ye. And (not in the OED) Pittsburgher yinz. All innovations that create an explicitly marked 2pl personal pronoun, as with Southern American y’all, which takes a different route, not involving /z/.

  3. The Ridger Says:

    On Modern Family a couple of weeks ago the plural possessive of “uncle” was clearly pronounced as “uncleses”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Pl -S + Poss -S certainly occurs in pronunciation (less often in spelling), but in these simple cases it’s non-standard. That’s one of the complexities I’ll get to in a while.

  4. gido Says:

    Do “duals” like trousers, spectacles go into (1) or (7) ?
    And is pyjamas like trousers or is it plural because jacket + trousers makes it a two-piece item?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Trousers and spectacles are customarily treated as pluralia tantum; there are several sub-types. Pyjamas/pajamas is another (though the names of two-piece items aren’t generally).

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