Michael S. asked:
It's accepted to say, "to hold moneys for payment in trust." I presume moneys is plural; I've also seen it spelled monies. Does this mean, then, that the singular would be "a money"?
Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary list both spellings—moneys and monies—as acceptable plurals of the word money.
Garner’s Modern American Usage and the AP Stylebook suggest that moneys is the better spelling, but that’s not what you find publications using when you go look.
Monies Is Now the More Common Spelling
Before the mid-1970s, moneys was the more popular spelling, but since then, monies has become more popular in both books that Google has scanned and in the New York Times. The magazine The Economist also appears to favor the monies spelling.
Dictionaries and Style Guide Don’t Match Actual Usage
It seems as if dictionaries and style guides are lagging actual usage, and I’m not the only person to notice. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage also notes that “Moneys is given preference over monies in all dictionaries . . .Yet general usage in the UK and US is clearly in favor of monies.”
Why Do We Need a Plural for Money?
The bigger question is since money is already a mass noun, why do we need monies no matter how we spell it? Both Garner and The Cambridge Guide to English Usage explain that monies is usually used by legal or finance writers to talk about “individual sums” or “discrete sums” of money.
Monies: I Don’t Like It, but It’s Not Going Away
If you’ve listened to my podcast before, you know that most things don’t bug me, but I have to confess that monies annoys me a little bit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sentence in which someone uses monies when money wouldn’t work. For example, one of the examples in Merriam-Webster reads, “Most of the project is being paid for by federal monies.” To my ear, it would work just as well and mean the same thing to say, “The project is being paid for with federal money.” Maybe finance writers see a distinction I don’t see. (I also did some research on the difference between by monies and with money and didn’t find anything that seemed significant.)
But I can tell you that monies is not new and it’s definitely here to stay. The first example of moneys in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1384 from the Wycliffe Bible.
There’s No Such Thing as “A Money”
To answer Michael’s questions:
1) You can spell the plural either way, but I’d go with monies since that’s what most legal and finance writers seem to be using today.
2) Even though monies is the plural, I can’t imagine a sentence in which you’d ever need to talk about “a money,” but if you can prove me wrong, leave a comment below!
“money,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, online edition. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/monies?show=0&t=1408125909 (accessed August 15, 2014).
"money, n.” OED Online. June 2014. Oxford University Press. http://0-www.oed.com.innopac.library.unr.edu/view/Entry/121171?rskey=2aHfpB&result=2&isAdvanced=false (subscription required, accessed August 15, 2014).
“When should ‘moneys’ be used, rather than ‘money’?” AP Stylebook website, Ask the Editor section. April 9, 2008. http://www.apstylebook.com/online/?do=ask_editor&id=5489 (accessed August 15, 2014).
Garner, B. “moneys; monies.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, third edition. Oxford University Press. p. 546.
Peters, P. “money, moneys or monies, and moneyed or monied,” The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. 2004. Cambridge University Press. p. 356.
[Correction, 8/21/2014: This article originally referred to money as a collective noun instead of a mass noun.]
Money image courtesy of Shutterstock.