Many nouns in Welsh have a the plural form that is shorter than the singular form (i.e. the singular form looks like the plural form + affix).

For example:


  • coeden 'tree'
  • seren 'star'
  • malwoden 'snail'


  • coed 'trees'
  • ser 'stars'
  • malwod 'snails'

This way of forming the plural is common in Welsh nouns. It may be that this way of forming the plural is fairly common in other languages. Even if this form of pluralisation isn't all that rare, I'd still like to know what this kind of pluralisation is called?


Some words in Welsh use a singulative/collective distinction instead of the singular/plural distinction used e.g. in English. This means exactly what you've shown: the collective term for '(a collective of) trees' is the root, and you add the singulative suffix to get 'a tree'. This is sort of analogous to 'a head of cattle' in English.

  • True. But plenty of Welsh words use either suffixation (mynydd_/_mynyddoedd 'mountain/s') or internal vowel change (_bardd_/_beirdd 'poet/s') to form the plural.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 21 '13 at 0:11

I don't know another language which has singulatives like Welsh.

But it's well to remember that Welsh, like English and the Western Romance languages, has lost all its case inflection except on pronouns. The reason I bring this up is that in Russian and other Slavonic languages many nouns have a suffix except in the genitive plural (eg рука (ruka) 'hand'; рук (ruk) 'hand gen. pl')

Now I'm pretty sure that Welsh singulatives aren't like this, and they do actually contain a singulative suffix (IIRC plant 'children' is borrowed from Latin planta, so the singular plentyn must be derived). But you can't tell that from their current form.

  • A side question: Latin planta as in... plant? Why was that used to mean children?
    – Alenanno
    Apr 21 '13 at 9:20
  • 2
    From the OED, s.v. clan: Etymology: < Gaelic clann family, stock, race, Old Irish cland, clann, apparently not originally a Celtic word, but < Latin planta sprout, shoot, scion, slip (compare stirps stock, stem, race). Goidelic substituted k for p, as caisg, corcur, Latin pascha, purpur". So W. plant is "offspring".
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 23 '13 at 23:26
  • The null ending on рук is a result of phonetic change. The final schwa in Proto-Slavic *rǫkъ was a clear and present case marker. An even earlier form had probably been something like **ronkъх, the -x being a reflex of PIE gen.pl. -s as preserved in Latin. Dec 15 '14 at 16:07
  • There's no gen.pl. in -s in Latin: without exception they're in -um. Or are you referring to the -s- (> -r-) that precedes the -um in -a stem and thematics (1st and 2nd declension)?
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 15 '14 at 17:07
  • My bad; I got carried away. I was somehow sure there were -s paradigms as well as the rhotacised ones. Anyway, the useful part of that comment was me trying to say that the "truncating" effect of the Russian gen.pl. was a phonetic accident (as opposed to, say, the colloquial Russian new vocative: "Саш!" for Саша, etc., which applied a truncating rule from the start). Dec 15 '14 at 18:57

I'm not familiar with Welsh, so make some general remarks.

If you assume that the unmarked form in a paradigm is the most basic, and that all morphological signs are marked by the addition of phonological material, then you arrive at the singulative analysis. If you instead would like to assume that the singular form in the paradigm is the most basic, then you are required to admit morphological operations such as subtraction, truncation, and ellipsis. If you read French and have access to a university library, consider looking in Mel'čuk's Cours de morphologie générale on the topic, or that failing, find a copy of his more condensed and more widely available English work, Aspects of the Theory of Morphology.

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