‘What is the plural of status?’ tops the list
I have been writing about grammar for years and have answered hundreds of people’s grammar questions. The posts that receive the most hits on my Online Writing Training site surprise me. I would never have predicted that the most popular posts would be:
- The plural of status
- Staff or staffs
- Decision-making or decision making
The plural of status
Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, says:
‘In English usage status has both an anglicized plural statuses and the (zero) plural status. The second results from its being a Latin fourth declension noun… but also correlates with English use of the word as a mass noun, as in considering their relative status.’
So status and statuses can both be used as the plural, depending on the context, but status is more common.
The survey considered participants’ viewpoints, social status and demographics.
The survey considered participants’ viewpoints, social statuses and demographics.
Statii and stati are not plurals of status!
Other -us Latin fourth declension nouns include: apparatus, census, hiatus, nexus, prospectus, sinus.
Staff or staffs
The correct word is staff if you are referring to a group of people within an organisation.
However, you can use staffs as a third-person singular verb meaning to work or operate.
She staffs the shop every Monday.
Staff is a collective noun and should have a singular verb, i.e. staff is.
This sounds odd because we are talking about more than one person, which is why many people use a plural verb, i.e. staff are.
Many people raised on traditional grammar consider staff are is wrong. However, modern grammarians now say collective nouns can take either a singular or plural verb depending on the context.
So you could treat a collective noun as singular if it referred to a single entity, and plural if it referred to a number of individuals. For example:
The family (single unit) is united in its disapproval.
The staff (several individuals) are giving each other presents.
Often you can get around this problem by changing the word. For example, instead of using staff, you could say employees or our people.
Decision-making or decision making
You can use either decision making or decision-making, but I think decision-making is gaining in prominence. The Chicago Manual of Style now recommends a hyphen and the online Macquarie Dictionary says decision-making.
Always hyphenate decision-making when the two words act as a unit and have an adjectival meaning, e.g. decision-making paper.
The decision-making process lasted for weeks.
Learn more with my online Grammar, Punctuation and Usage course.
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