How to Make Weird Nouns Plural

Some simple rules will keep you from being confounded when you’re trying to figure out how to make proper nouns such as “iPhone 5,” “iPad 4S,” and “Blackberry” plural.

Mignon Fogarty,
June 27, 2013
Episode #373

How to Make Weird Nouns Plural

A few years ago, a Twitter user name Nick Piesco asked me an interesting question about making product names plural. He wanted to know how to make the name “iPad 2” plural.

I believe Nick was curious because the name ends in a number. It’s not terribly uncommon for a product name to end in a number--we have the Boeing 737, Heinz 57 (officially Heinz 57 Sauce), the Commodore 64, Motel 6, Pepsi One, and so on—but it does make you stop and think when you have to make them plural.

It turns out there’s an official answer and a different, more realistic answer.

The Company Line: iPad 2 Tablets

First, let’s talk about the official answer. Product names are always tricky because they are usually trademarked, and companies don’t like you to use trademarked words generically. Making them plural counts as using them generically. The Apple page Guidelines for Using Trademarks and Copyrights gives this example:

Rules for Proper Use of Apple Trademarks

  1. Trademarks are adjectives used to modify nouns; the noun is the generic name of a product or service.

  2. As adjectives, trademarks may not be used in the plural or possessive form.

Correct: I bought two Macintosh computers.

Not Correct: I bought two Macintoshes.

In other words, Apple wants you to say you have “two iPad 2 tablets.” 

But we all know that’s not realistic in casual writing and speech. I had addressed plurals of product names before (the recognized plural of “BlackBerry” is “BlackBerrys,” even though RIM wants you to call them “two BlackBerry smartphones”), but I’d never faced a question about a product name that ends with a version number.

Common Use: iPad 2s

Logically, I don’t think adding a number to the name makes a difference in the way you’d handle it. The number is part of the official name, so if we’d write that we have two Blackberrys and two iPads, then we should write that we have two iPad 2s.

Next: What About Making "iPhone 4S" Plural?

Indeed, “iPad 2s” is the plural that is widely used by big publications. For example, a few years ago around Halloween, there were a bunch of articles about a guy who used two iPad 2s to create the illusion of a hole through his body: Wired, MSN, TUAW, and CBS all said he used two “iPad 2s.”

Further, in its entry on plurals, the AP Stylebook agrees. It says to add a lone “s” when making figures plural and gives the example “The airline has two 727s.”

What Will Be the Plural of the Next Version: iPhone 5Ses?

Nick’s question seems even trickier when you consider that Apple tends to rotate through product names that have a number followed by an “S,” so we have the iPad 2 and the iPad 2S and the iPhone 5 and the soon-to-be-released iPhone 5S. The good news is that the “s” in the product names is capitalized, so at least it doesn’t look exactly like the plural; but still, then we have to figure out how to make something like “iPhone 5S” plural. 

Making Proper Nouns That End in “S” Plural

The closest situation I can think of is making a proper noun that ends in “s” plural, and we do that by adding “es” to the end. For example, if you have two students named Charles, you have two Charleses in your class. If your son has two friends named Jonas, you might invite two Jonases to his birthday party.

And getting back to BlackBerrys, the plural is formed by adding one “s” onto the end. You don’t spell it like the plural of the fruit. Why? Because it’s a name. If you see two Kennedys on the subway, you don’t spell it “Kennedies,” you spell it “Kennedys.” You treat product names the same way, just as you would a personal name. Personal names that end in “y,” such as “Kennedy,” get an “s” at the end, and personal names that end in “s,” such as “Charles,” get an “es” at the end.

Since we usually treat product names like people’s names, it seems to make sense that even if the product name seems troublesome, we’d still follow the same rules—we’d write about two iPhone 5Ses. You do see product names pluralized in this way in articles from major news organizations. For example, CNET had a headline last year that read Apple buying iPhone 4Ses ahead of expected iPhone 5 launch and before that, Gizmodo had a headline that read Apple Sells One Million iPhone 4Ses In 24 Hours.

So although product names ending in numbers or with an “s” may seem special, they’re not. They follow the same rules you’d use for making a person’s name plural.

[Note that the conclusion here contradicts earlier advice I gave on my blog. In that case, I used initialisms as the model for “iPhone 2S,” and the general rule for initialisms that end in “s” seems to be that you just add another single “s,” giving you “OSs” as the plural of the initialism for “operating systems” for example. Upon further consideration, however, I believe product names are more like people’s names than like initialisms, and I have changed my mind. Common usage also seems to support “iPhone 4Ses.”]

[The official spelling is "BlackBerry" (camel case). The original article spelled it as "Blackberry." Further, readers have pointed out that the "S" designation did not start until the iPhone 4.]

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