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Q: What is the plural of Virus? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: What is the plural of Virus?
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: pollard_craig-ga
List Price: $3.00
Posted: 27 Jun 2003 17:09 PDT
Expires: 27 Jul 2003 17:09 PDT
Question ID: 222617
What is the correct plural version of the word 'virus' according to
the English language and dictionaries?  Is it 'viruses' or 'virii'? 
Please note, not American English, not Australian or South African
English: the Queens' Oxford English only.  I stress I am interested in
the strictly correct answer not the most common likely use of either

Is 'virri' the correct word and how can you support this?  What is the
underlying principle for this decision and what is this rule named (if
a rule  exists)?

Other examples and differences of similar words that demonstrate the
use of "viruses" or "virii" rules are not essential but some examples
would also be appreciated.

Any questions, please seek clarification.


Subject: Re: What is the plural of Virus?
Answered By: missy-ga on 27 Jun 2003 17:47 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Craig,

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the correct plural is
"viruses".  Tom Christiansen of presents the OED's
abbreviated entry for the word:

" Etymology: a. L. virus slimy liquid, poison, offensive odour or
taste. Hence also Fr., Sp., Pg. virus.

1 Venom, such as is emitted by a poisonous animal. Also fig.

2 Path. a A morbid principle or poisonous substance produced in the
body as the result of some disease, esp. one capable of being
introduced into other persons or animals by inoculations or otherwise
and of developing the same disease in them. Now superseded by the next

b Pl. viruses. An infectious organism that is usu. submicroscopic, can
multiply only inside certain living host cells (in many cases causing
disease) and is now understood to be a non-cellular structure lacking
any intrinsic metabolism and usually comprising a DNA or RNA core
inside a protein coat (see also quot. 1977). [ Formerly referred to as
filterable viruses, their first distinguishing characteristic being
the ability to pass through filters that retained bacteria.] "

What's the Plural of `Virus'?

In the "Classical Inflections" portion of his paper, he explains in
detail the classical linguistic reasons for this.  (Due to copyright
restrictions, I cannot reproduce his entire treatise here.}

He goes on to say:

"Virus is not attested in the plural in Latin, and is of a rare form
(2nd declension neuter in -us) that makes it debatable what the Latin
plural would have been; the only plural in English is viruses. 
Omnibus and rebus were not nominative nouns in Latin.  Ignoramus  was
not a noun in Latin."

What's the Plural of `Virus'?

Jonathan de Boyne Pollard explains:

"The convention for forming the plural of Latin words in English is to
use the Latin plural form, or, if Latin does not actually have a
plural form for the word, to form the plural in the normal manner used
for other English words.

So, for example:

        * The plural of basis is bases. basis is a third declension
noun with the nominative singular ending in -is. The nominative plural
of such nouns ends in -es.

        * The plural of ignoramus is ignoramuses. ignoramus is not a
singular word in Latin. It isn't even a noun. It is a verb, and
already in the plural. (It means "we do not know". This is the first
person plural.) So one forms its English plural by appending -es.

virus is a second declension noun ending in -us. (It can be translated
to "slime", "poison", "venom", or "stench".)

However, it is one of the few such nouns that has no plural in Latin.
It occurs only in the singular. So, just as with ignoramus, one forms
its English plural by appending -es."

The plural of virus is viruses. rather dryly concurs:

"Q. What is the plural of virus?
A. Viruses.

It is not viri, or (which is worse) virii. True, the word comes
directly from Latin, but not all Latin words ending in -us have -i as
their plural. Besides, viri is the Latin word for 'men' (plural of
vir, man, the root the English virile). There is in fact no written
attestation of a Latin plural of virus."

What is the plural of virus?

Perhaps of interest:  In one discussion (which I am prohibited from
linking to here because the URL is obscene), people who refer to
viruses as "viri" or "virii" were rather derisively referred to as
"idiot script kiddies".  Ouch.

I hope this helps!

-- Missy

Search terms: [ "plural of virus" ]
pollard_craig-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you!  I knew I was correct in this little pub debate and am now
the proud winner of a pint of ale :)  Thanks again, excellent response

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