Why does "money" have a plural, and how do you spell it?
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'?"
Ha! Well, it’s an interesting question, Michael. The singular word “money” is always a mass noun, like “water" or “furniture.”
- I need some money.
- I need some water.
- I need some furniture.
You’d never say “a money.” But the word does have two acceptable plurals: “moneys” and “monies.”
The “-ies” spelling always looks like it should be pronounced “monies” to me because it looks like “ponies” with an M, and then I think of Billy Idol, but that’s just my problem. It doesn’t affect what’s right or wrong.
Garner’s Modern English Usage and the AP Stylebook both say “moneys” is the better spelling, but it’s not nearly as clear when you go look at what publications are actually using.
'Monies' Is Now the More Common Spelling
The most popular spelling of “monies/moneys” has varied dramatically over the last 200 years.
In the early 1800s, the “-ies” spelling was most common, but the “-eys” spelling took over strongly until the mid-1970s. 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 this podcast before, you know that most things don’t bother me, but I have to confess “monies” annoys me a bit.
To me, it seems like “money” would work in every case where I see the word “monies.” 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,” but finance people tell me it actually does have a slightly different meaning. For example, they use “monies” to describe funds that are coming from multiple sources, so by saying “federal monies” you’re showing that it’s coming from more than one pot of federal money. It’s standard in legal and financial writing to use “monies” to describe “discrete sums of money.”
So “monies” is here to stay whether you or I like it or not, and maybe it helps to know that it’s actually quite old: The first example of “moneys” in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1384 in the Wycliffe Bible.
There’s No Such Thing as “A Money”
To answer Michael’s questions:
1) You can spell the plural either way. If you’re following a general style guide, they still usually recommend the “moneys” spelling, but if you’re a finance or legal writer or if you work for someone with a house style guide, you may want to use the “monies” spelling. Check and see what the convention is for your audience or publication.
“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.
Money image courtesy of Shutterstock.