Why Is the Plural of ‘Moose’ Not ‘Meese’?
It's a wild grammatical moose chase.
Rebecca C. Photography
The English language doesn’t always abide by its own rules. It’s a giant melting pot of etymologies, sourcing itself from all over the world. The perplexing silent letters in words like “tsunami” and “rendezvous” are carried over from Japanese and French, respectively. The varying origins of words also produce a lot of strange, irregular-seeming plurals. That’s why we have to look back through the history of English to figure out why the plural of “goose” is geese…but the plural of “moose” is not “meese.” If you’re curious about silent letters, learn more about why we have them here.
What is the plural of moose?
If you’re not from Alaska, Canada, or the northeastern United States, you may not have had to give too much thought to the plural of “moose.” You may never have seen even one moose, let alone multiple…moose? Meese?
Despite what a certain honking bird whose singular form rhymes with that of “moose” might suggest, the plural of “moose” is not “meese.” It’s just “moose.” One moose, three moose, a herd of moose. According to Oxford Dictionaries, “moose” is a “loanword,” meaning that it was incorporated into the English language from a foreign language with little or no modification. Many other words in the English language are also loanwords, but “moose” is a relatively new addition, incorporated from several Native American languages in the early 1600s. For more fascinating animal names, check out these wacky but real names for groups of animals.
Why is the plural of goose “geese”?
So where did the word “goose” come from, and where did it get its unusual plural? Well, even though “goose” and “moose” sound the same, they’re not related words. In fact, they originate from different languages and different times in history.
Words like “tooth,” “foot”, and, yes, “goose” date back up to a thousand years before “moose,” when Old English was the only form of English. Back then, pluralization was different; mutations, or sound changes to words, would denote whether or not certain words were plural or singular. As Oxford Dictionaries puts it, a mutation is “a change in the sound of a vowel produced by partial assimilation to an adjacent sound (usually that of a vowel or semivowel in the following syllable).”
What that means is that certain words were pluralized by just changing their vowel sound. So we got “teeth” and “feet” and “geese.” The fact that “moose” and “goose” rhyme is just a coincidence that makes things confusing! Learn about the most confusing grammar rules in all of English.
So why not “mooses”?
There’s the final perplexing question about the plural of “moose.” If “moose” wasn’t subjected to the vowel-swapping pluralization that “goose” got, why didn’t it just have an S tossed on the end for its plural, the “regular” way? As language evolved, words which used mutations for pluralization were replaced by the more standard modern plural ending (-s) or held onto the pluralizations from their original languages (“fungus” retained its Latin pluralization of “fungi“).
“Moose” fell into the latter category; its origins can be traced back to both the Eastern Algonquian and Narragansett languages, which used neither mutations nor the standard modern pluralizations. Now that you know why the plural of “moose” isn’t “meese,” check out these other irregular English plurals that you won’t believe are correct.
[Source: Oxford Dictionaries]