10

Are there languages whose plural pronouns ('we', 'they', etc.) are formed from singular pronouns ('I', 'he', etc.) plus a plural marker?

For example, if English were such a language, instead of "we" we would say "Is" (the pronoun 'I' + the plural suffix -s), "hes" to mean "they", etc.

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    This is a pretty broad question and it would be hard to pick a single "best" answer. – Javid Jamae Aug 10 '13 at 14:16
  • @Javid, I guess you're right (in fact, it already happened), but the question is on-topic, isn't it? – JMCF125 Aug 10 '13 at 22:18
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    @JMCF125 Yes, it is. – Alenanno Aug 10 '13 at 23:24
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    @JMCF125 - Sure, but isn't the litmus test on the Stack Exchange sites whether a single best answer can be selected? For example, "what is the most useful programming book" is technically on-topic and a valuable/useful question to many people, but that question has been marked as too broad in Stack Overflow because you can't select a single answer. There are numerous other examples. I'll leave it at that to avoid further discussion in the comments. – Javid Jamae Aug 11 '13 at 6:23
  • @JavidJamae If you want to discuss that further, you can open a Meta question or a chat room. I don't think anybody would be against that. – Alenanno Aug 11 '13 at 10:34

17 Answers 17

13

As already said, Japanese works this way:

私      +   達 = we
watashi   tachi

But the same happens in Chinese as well:

我 + 们 = we
wo  men

The first portion of both is the standard way to say "I" (we'll ignore other versions for the sake of this answer). The second is a plural marker.

  • 3
    That's not quite true. Japanese (and I'd imagine Chinese as well) do not actually have a true singular/plural. -tachi and -ra are what's called the associative plural - they indicate the accompaniment of others in addition to the base nominal (etymology: 'tachi' means 'companion'). Most pronouns and proper nouns are inherently singular, and must take this suffix when referring to plurals; in contrast, common nouns have no number, and rarely take such a suffix. – Justin Olbrantz Aug 10 '13 at 23:16
  • The distinction between "plural" and "accompaniment of others" is that a true plural is homogenous - having multiple instances of the same noun. "accompaniment of others" is heterogeneous - potentially containing things of fundamentally different types. – Justin Olbrantz Aug 10 '13 at 23:21
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    @JustinOlbrantz The OP was referring to personal pronouns in their question, so the part about common nouns you specified is not included in this question and, as far as I see, your comment doesn't really apply to my answer even if I understand what you meant to highlight. – Alenanno Aug 10 '13 at 23:24
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    Note that etymologically 私 is a noun and not pronoun though. Morphologically and syntactically Modern Japanese nouns are identical to pronouns. Old/Middle Japanese did have われ (ware) and なれ (nare) though, which behaved distinctly from nouns, most notably by taking on irregular declensions (stem drops the -re before some suffixes). They actually do add the usual OJ plural -ra: われら (warera), なれら (narera) – ithisa Aug 11 '13 at 0:29
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    Ancient Chinese does not distinguish between singular and plural pronouns. After around Han dynasty (2nd century BC), a plural case may be indicated by adding concrete words with meaning "the kind of", "several", etc. For example "吾->吾輩", "我->我屬", "彼->彼等". "們" is observed to emerge around the 10th century (Song dynasty). – Anonymous Coward Aug 11 '13 at 15:02
12

Some varieties of English have plural personal pronouns that are composed in roughly the way you're asking.

Southern US English

you'all/ y'all is composed of the 2nd p. singular pronoun + plural marker all. Because there is now a separate 2nd p. plural pronoun you tends to be restricted to singular reference.

I understand the other comments as saying that Japanese tachi in watashi-tachi is a plural marker that it is also used in other circumstances as a plural marker. you'all doesn't meet that definition because it's not grammaticalised as a morphological plural marker. But it marks plurality lexically and could in the future be grammaticalised as a plural marker.

Tok Pisin

Tok Pisin is an English-based creole (more specifically: English is the lexifier language) spoken in Papua New Guinea. The morpheme pela (from English fellow) argueably works as a plural (or not-singular) marker in the pronoun system:

  • 1st (exclusive) singular: mi
  • 1st (exclusive) plural: mipela
  • 2nd singular: yu
  • 2nd plural: yupela

The Dual is marked in the following way:

  • 1st (exclusive) dual: mitupela
  • 2nd dual: yutupela

This is why I said pela might be interpreted as not-singular because it's also used in the dual (and trial where it exists).

3rd person dual conforms to the system: tupela

But 3rd personal singular and plural have suppletive forms: em and ol

Again, as far as I know pela is not used as a plural marker otherwise. But the meaning of the pronouns is still compositional in that there is a person morpheme (e.g. mi), a dual morpheme (tu), and a non-singular morpheme (pela) that combine to form the various pronouns.

  • 2
    The Southern US English case is a great example. We can tell this is genuinely a 2nd person plural pronoun, and not just a contraction of the pronoun + floating quantifier, since, apparently, the following is fine: a) "All y'all get in the car". – P Elliott Aug 10 '13 at 11:18
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    @PElliott, wouldn't that a) be redundant? – JMCF125 Aug 10 '13 at 22:19
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    I don't see why. The first 'all' is a quantifier, the second is a grammaticalised plural marker. It's no more redundant than saying 'all of them'. – P Elliott Aug 10 '13 at 22:25
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    I started thinking of creoles before I got to this answer. I looked at English-based creole pronouns a few years ago when I was interested in dual/inclusive/exclusive and found that all the ones I looked at home similar but distinct systems to Tok Pisin. Sorry no details though ... – hippietrail Aug 11 '13 at 2:49
  • @PElliott indeed, "All (of) y'all" refers to each person individually, whereas "y'all" refers to the group as such. – user0721090601 Nov 24 '14 at 1:12
10

yous

This regional term is predominantly used in Scotland and Ireland and throughout Australia, as well as overseas areas of previous Irish emigration e.g. some parts of the US (Boston, MA and Philadelphia, PA) and northern Nova Scotia and Lanark Ontario/Canada and South Auckland, New Zealand. It also occurs in Scouse (usually spelled "yous" as above, instead of "youse" a more American variant).

Noun. Plural form of you.

  • 1
    I always used to see it spelled youse in Australia too. – hippietrail Aug 11 '13 at 2:49
  • How do you know that this is formed from you plus the plural -s? – curiousdannii Nov 23 '14 at 22:51
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    @curiousdannii. YourDictionary.com quotes The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition as giving the origin of youse as you + –s. – TRiG Nov 25 '14 at 2:22
8

Edit: I had almost forgotten about the existence of WALS. Chapter 35 gives an overview of plurality in independent personal pronouns: Chapter Plurality in Independent Personal Pronouns.

It looks like the category most relevant to your question is type 8 (person stem with a nominal plural affix). If you look at the map on WALS, you can see 19 type 8 languages listed, many of which have been mentioned here, e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Southern US English. Type 3 (person-number affixes) and type 7 (person stem with a pronominal number affix) might also be of interest to you, as they show some morphological complexity in the expression of number in the pronominal system.

Interestingly, it looks like it's far more common not to have a morphologically transparent pronominal system, like English. The morphologically transparent pronominal systems are in a small minority.


Several meso-melanesian languages have morphologically complex pronominal systems, including number marking on plural pronouns. One example:

Babatana

  • 1sg exclusive = ra
  • 1dual exc. = raru
  • 1pl exc. = rami

Kubokota, another meso-melanesian language is especially interesting, in that the plural form is suppletive, but the dual and trial forms are morphologically complex, with the plural form as a stem:

Kubokota

  • 1sg. exc. = ara
  • 1pl. exc = yami
  • 1dual exc = yami-kori
  • 1trial exc = yami-kue

'Nominal Number in Meso-Melanesian' (Palmer, 2012)

7

One of these languages is Thai, except it's not a suffix, but a prefix:

คุณ [kʰun] you (singular, formal) - พวกคุณ [pʰûːək kʰun] you all (plural, formal)
เธอ [tʰɤː] you (singular, informal) - พวกเธอ [pʰûːək tʰɤː] you all (plural, informal)
เขา [kʰáu] he/she - พวกเขา [pʰûːək kʰáu] they

Note, this does not apply 1st person: ผม versus เรา or พวกเรา

  • 2
    thou is singular informal; you is formal. – 200_success Aug 11 '13 at 6:39
6

Another language that does this is Nhanda, a Pama-Nyungan language of Western Australia. Nhanda has a productive plural suffix '-nu', which is used to form plurals of both nouns and pronouns, as follows (only showing subject forms):

  • ngayi = 1sg 'I' - ngayinu = 1pl 'we'
  • ngini = 2sg 'you.sg' - ngininu = 2pl 'you.pl'
  • ala = 3sg 'he/she/it'; alanu = 3pl 'they'

For more detail see:
Blevins, Juliette. 2001. Nhanda: an Aboriginal language of Western Australia. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

6

In Persian (a.k.a. Farsi) pronouns are built with suffixes:

man => me, maha => we

shoma => you (formal), shomaha => you all (plural formal)

an => he/she/it, anha => they

5

Hungarian

ő  = he/she (genderless) 
ők = they (also genderless)

Note that in Hungarian, the suffix -k is generally used for plural for all words, not just in this case.

The basic case has only the third person obeying this rule, the other two are exceptions. However, in other cases, most (or all, I didn't really count) obey this rule, with minor variations, but still ending in "k":

nekem -> nekünk (for me -> for us)
neked -> nektek (for you, singular -> for you, plural)
neki -> nekik (for him/her -> for them)

velem -> velünk (with me -> with us)
veled -> veletek (with you, singular -> with you, plural)
vele -> velük (with him/her -> with them)

Other examples, listing only one person, (but all persons have this rule)

tőlem -> tőlünk (from me -> from us)
enyém -> mienk (mine -> ours) derived from (én=me, mi=we)

etc.

  • Maybe you should also mention ön -> önök. – user4938 Nov 24 '14 at 7:01
4

You don't need to go around the world to find examples. In Portuguese and French, all plural personal pronouns end in "s". Check below:

English       French   Portuguese

I             je       eu
you           tu       tu
he            il       ele
she           elle     ela
it            -        -
we            nous     nós
you           vous     vós
they (masc)   ils      eles
they (fem)    elles    elas

Notice for "il/ele" and "elle/ela" the plurals are precisely what you were looking for. Plus, they're formed as in English (they're all related languages, so it's no big deal). Interesting that when I saw your question I thought "well, that's interesting", until I tested if it worked in Portuguese: then the answer was obvious.

As these answers have shown, this is far from uncommon, even appearing in English non-standard forms. I guess if you knew some other languages it would help, don't you think?

I noticed no one directly answered your question, and although it is clear what all of us mean, I always like a direct answer: yes, there are such languages.

4

Quechua has completely regular plural second- and third-person pronouns:

  • 1sg: ñoqa
  • 2sg: qam
  • 3sg: pay

  • 1pl excl.: ñoqayku

  • 1pl incl.: ñoqanchik
  • 2pl: qamkuna
  • 3pl: paykuna

cf.:

  • “man”: runa
  • “men”: runakuna

  • “woman”: warmi

  • “women”: warmikuna

The plural suffix -kuna is not mandatory if context suffices.

  • 1
    Just out of curiosity, are the plural affixes also used to mark plurality in the nominal domain generally, or are they unique to the pronominal paradigm? – P Elliott Aug 11 '13 at 14:41
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    I updated the entry with examples of “man” and “woman.” – Lucas Aug 11 '13 at 21:36
3

My first language, Tamil, has the "gal" suffix in its formal form, and the "ga" or "nga" suffix in the colloquial form.

Me - Naan    
Us - Naangal (formal)/Naanga (colloquial)

You - Nee  
You (plural) - Neengal (formal)/Neenga (colloquial)

He/She (polite) - Avar (formal)  
They (polite) - Avargal (formal)

It - Adhu   
They (neuter) - Adhugal (formal - rare)/Adhunga (colloquial)

He (impolite) - Avan   
They (masculine, impolite) - Avanuga (colloquial only)

She (impolite) - Aval   
They (feminine, impolite) - Avaluga (colloquial only)

The same suffixes apply for nouns also, though I just realized the curious fact that most of the time we leave out the plural marker in colloquial Tamil. 10 naay irundhadhu (10 dog was there) is at least as frequently used as 10 naaynga irundhadhu (10 dogs were there). Optional grammatical number!

Vehicle - Vandi 
Vehicles - Vandigal (formal)/Vandinga (colloquial)

Dog - Naay
Dogs - Naaygal (formal)/Naaynga (colloquial)
  • 1
    Good contribution! I think it would help readers if you pointed out exactly what the plural morpheme is and whether it is also used in other circumstances as a plural marker (such as on nouns). Also, is it colloquial or formal Tamil you are referring to? – robert Aug 11 '13 at 19:43
2

In standard Arabic,

  • Ant = You mascline sg
  • Anti = you feminine sg
  • Antuma = you dual
  • Antum = you mascline pl
  • Antunna = you feminine pl
  • 1
    Good example! Isn't the 3rd person masculine singular anta, though, in Modern Standard Arabic? – robert Aug 11 '13 at 10:31
  • I don't think this is what the OP is looking for since the suffixes -uma, -um, -unna aren't used to form duals or plurals generally in Arabic, only in these pronouns (I believe). – TKR Sep 20 '13 at 18:04
2

Spanish:

ella (she) => ellas (they)

Finnish:

tämä (this evident) => nämä (these evident)

tuo (that evident) => nuo (those evident)

se (that, non-evident) => ne (those, non-evident)

The marker N is said by Michael Fortescue to be the remnant of common Nostratic plural -n, present in modern Semito-Hamitic and Germanic languages (and also in a rare form of plural in Komi: pi => pian (son => sons). Cf. also Komi pi with English boy, Finnish poika, Swedish pojke, all the three being of presumably unknown etymology).

  • Would you mind elaborating on the glossing a little? I'm not familiar with 'evident' in this context. What is it taken to mean? – P Elliott Aug 11 '13 at 20:49
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    Evident means 'conveying the meaning of evidentiality'. – Manjusri Aug 12 '13 at 9:49
  • What is the meaning of d'oh? I have no native language, so some English expressions are obscure to me. – Manjusri Aug 12 '13 at 17:38
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    See this video for an extended explanation of the meaning of "d'oh" :-) : youtube.com/watch?v=8DdeLUA0Fms I don't quite understand what you mean when you say you have no native language. Were you a feral child or something? I suspect you understand native language to mean something different to me. – P Elliott Aug 12 '13 at 18:16
1

Wikipedia suggests that Japanese is such a language. For example the pronoun watashi "I" becomes watashi-tachi "we"

  • 1
    Japanese has already been mentioned in the first answer. – P Elliott Aug 10 '13 at 11:12
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    @PElliott To be honest, Danger posted before I did. I posted because I wanted to mention Chinese as well and add some other details. – Alenanno Aug 10 '13 at 11:13
  • Ah, my mistake. Apologies Danger. – P Elliott Aug 10 '13 at 11:23
1

Aymara

naya    -naka    we (exclusive)
juma    -naka    you (pl.)
jupa    -naka    they
jiwasa  -naka    we (inclusive, more than 2)

Nayanaka is obligatorily contracted to nänaka though.

  • What language familiar is Aymara from? – curiousdannii Nov 23 '14 at 22:55
  • @curiousdannii Aymaran languages (=Aymara, Jaqaru, and Kawki) – Atamiri Jan 2 '15 at 17:12
0

Correction to the Tamil:

avai (அவை) is the plural of athu used in formal speech and in writing, not athugaL.

The plural of both avan and avaL is avanga in every speech community I have ever heard (and is also used to refer respectfully to individuals). I would not be so bold as to say Avaluga is never used but I would need more details before I accept it as an attested variation.

0

In Turkish, -ler and -lar are the plural suffixes. Both have the exact same meaning and function; the one whose voice is most fitting comes at the end of the word.

               |    Normal Form    |     Polite Form
-----------------------------------------------------
I              |    Ben            |     Biz
You (sig.)     |    Sen            |     Siz
He, She, It    |    O              |     Onlar⁽¹⁾
We             |    Biz            |     Bizler⁽²⁾
You (pul.)     |    Siz            |     Sizler⁽²⁾
They           |    Onlar⁽¹⁾       |     Onlar⁽¹⁾

⁽¹⁾ Onlar is the plural form of o, made by adding the plural suffix -lar. The auxiliary letter n between is just for making it read easier; It would had been difficult to read if it was written as olar.
⁽²⁾ These are made by simply adding the plural suffix -ler.

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