Blog Excerpts

How Do You Pluralize "Prius"?

At the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, Toyota is taking a poll to determine what the plural of "Prius" should be. It's all part of their "Prius goes plural" ad campaign, as they unveil three new Prius models. The Detroit Free Press consulted with some experts, including Visual Thesaurus editor Ben Zimmer, to get their take on how to pluralize the Latin-sounding car name.

Here's an excerpt from the Free Press article:

A vote for simplicity: Priuses

For Rachel Smydra, a special instructor of English at Oakland University, "Priuses" is what works best. Even though she acknowledged: "You're going to stumble over the words a little bit."

But some Latin scholars are irate -- iratus/irata/iratum, to be precise -- that the authentic answers aren't among Toyota's five options ["Priuses," "Prii," "Prius," "Prien," and "Prium"].

Only two correct answers

The true answer to the Prius plural question is "Priora" or "Priores," according to Nick Young, a Latin and classical studies instructor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Ben Zimmer, "On Language" columnist for the New York Times, concluded that Priora or Prii (pronounced Pri-EE, not Pri-EYE) is the correct answer. But then he added:

"Either one seems like it's trying to force a Latin plural into that word. We're not speaking Latin. We might as well form the word the way English plurals are formed."

So, is that another vote for Priuses then?

Does it really matter?

People in the trenches -- trenchi? -- don't seem to be stressing out about this debate.

"We usually use Prii when you see more than one," said the Rev. Richard Yeager-Stiver, 33, of Grosse Pointe Woods, who owns a white 2005 Prius. "To me, I don't care what they call it. We're just excited it gets good gas mileage."

You can read the full article here. For further discussion of Prius and its pluralization, check out the discussion by Visual Thesaurus contributor Nancy Friedman on her Fritinancy blog, here and here. And see Jan Freeman's Boston Globe column on the topic from 2007, which Nancy links to.

How would you choose to pluralize "Prius"? Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments from our users:

Friday January 21st 2011, 6:40 AM
Comment by: John S. (Dublin 15 Ireland)
"Priores" to my way of thinking is the more classical annunciation of the word, but the problem arises when the term is used in a general marketing retail context therefore to use "Prii" could well be more appropriate.
John S (Dublin Ireland)
Friday January 21st 2011, 7:17 AM
Comment by: Mark A. (Bexley, OH)
"Prius" as a noun is a modern invention. It's based on Latin, but it's not Latin. Convention suggests "Priuses."
Friday January 21st 2011, 8:41 AM
Comment by: Mark A. (Bexley, OH)
A check of the Oxford English Dictionary shows "prius" as a noun, derived from the adjective "prior," dating to 1882 and "nisi prius" (with prius as a noun) dating to the 13th century. So, it's not as modern as I supposed, but its application to an automobile rather than "a prior thing" dates to the 1990s. So, "Priuses."
Friday January 21st 2011, 9:07 AM
Comment by: carlos C. (miami, FL)
Priuses is the mos assserted word as a plural.
Friday January 21st 2011, 10:27 AM
Comment by: Jan Freeman (MA)
Since Nancy's column is quoting my research, I think you might want to mention that too. To wit:

Language columnist Jan Freeman, writing in the International Herald Tribune, got the scoop from Harry Mount, author of the new book Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life:

"Yes, it's Priora," he told me, "because it's neuter plural. But if you cheated a bit and made the car masculine or feminine - and I do think of cars as female - then it would be Priores. And Priores has nice undertones of grandness - Virgil used it to mean 'forefathers' or 'ancestors.' "
Friday January 21st 2011, 12:38 PM
Comment by: Jean R. (Mount Hermon, LA)
It should be like moose, deer, pants and shorts where singular and plural forms are exactly the same spelled and spoken. It sounds better, looks better, and everyone would know how to pronounce it.
Friday January 21st 2011, 11:27 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)
Jean R, are there any words of two syllables that have the same form for singular and plural?

To me, Priora seems the best, even if Prius as a car name is a new use of the word.

However, if Prius is not, in fact, a noun in Latin, but means 'to go before' or 'leading', then declining it is not really logical, is it?

And it would make sense for Toyota to use the word 'prius' as a car name to denote a leading edge.

I guess that Priuses is going to make it though since English does form plurals as it sees fit. That is, as people will say it.
Saturday January 22nd 2011, 12:20 AM
Comment by: agoddessinlove (I wander far and wide, CA)
Jean R. I completely agree.

Just let the two syllable exception ride.

It was my first thought on the subject.

For no other reason than it feels right to say.
Saturday January 22nd 2011, 2:38 AM
Comment by: Glenys P. (Hope Valley United Kingdom)
Well whilst we're having fun with this, another way to think of a plurality of Prius cars is to coin a collective noun! How about a priority of Priuses?
Saturday January 22nd 2011, 10:20 AM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)
Good, Glenys, but I still think that speakers will turn that phrase into 'a priority of Priuses'! LOL
Saturday January 22nd 2011, 10:25 AM
Comment by: Melanie Weiss (Amsterdam Netherlands)
Go with what people will choose first...priuses. If you chooses a more fancy Latin ending, most people won't use it anyway.
Saturday January 22nd 2011, 10:38 AM
Comment by: Radlet6 (Sunderland United Kingdom)
I am with Jane B on this one as prius is technically a latin adjective used by Toyota as a noun. As such, how can it be subject to any normal conventions of pluralisation?

So as I beg to differ, I will go for the French version of Priee.
Sunday January 23rd 2011, 8:11 AM
Comment by: Andrea D. (Cambridge, MA)
Jean R., two-syllable exception? Kleenex, of course.
Sunday January 23rd 2011, 2:47 PM
Comment by: Ranpali F. (Queens Village, NY)
what's in a NAME "That which is called a ROSE -by any other name would
smell the same".I am not a Language Guru.A SURGEON ,genome XX,Fiercely
Committed to the economic health and growth of America. Call THIS GENRE


Sunday January 23rd 2011, 2:48 PM
Comment by: Nicholas Franco (Beacon, NY)
Priuses and be done with it. Sheesh!
Sunday January 23rd 2011, 8:00 PM
Comment by: Nancy K.
Say what you will, lexophiles, but it's the dumbing-down of America. The masses will invariably say "Priuses."
Sunday January 23rd 2011, 11:24 PM
Comment by: Rene G. (Sunnyvale, CA)
Prius is a Latin word that can function as an adjective, an adverb or a noun.

Consequently, when used as a noun or adjective, its plural MUST be "prii", the same a "foci" for "focus", "loci" for "locus", and so on.

Here is the usage of the three ways prius can be used:

prior, previus, ahead, in front, leading; previous, earlier, preceding, prior; former; basic;

earlier, before, previously, first;

lesser, earlier times/events/actions; a logically prior proposition
Monday January 24th 2011, 1:18 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)
Rene G, the problem with its use as a noun seems to be the meaning of the noun. It's totally incompatible with good naming! Being 'lesser' is not what a car manufacturer wants to have its car be. Nor does 'earlier times/events/actions. The last just doesn't seem to fit at all.

Either adjectival or adverbial uses have possible meanings, 'going before', 'leading', or 'first'.
Tuesday January 25th 2011, 9:38 PM
Comment by: OldFox (Smoky Mountains, TN)
It's a made up word!

It must take on the plurification rules of the speaker's language. British and US English: Priuses, just like Lexuses, Marcoses, Augustuses, Lucases,and vomitouses, not to be confused with the troublesome phlegm.

The interesting question is: What do you call a group of Priuses? A pride, a gaggle, herd, a school, a pack, a band, a cohort, or praps, a battery.
[Italics omitted.]
Wednesday January 26th 2011, 11:19 AM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)
Old Fox, it's just not as much fun as a made up word! LOL
Wednesday January 26th 2011, 6:07 PM
Comment by: John S. (Dublin 15 Ireland)
Bearing in mind the use this plural "word"will be applied to I.e. Electric cars the worn battery is possibly the better way describe a number of these cars
John S Dublin
Wednesday January 26th 2011, 10:13 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)
John S, that's a great observation! LOL
Thursday January 27th 2011, 6:13 AM
Comment by: Chocoholic (New Delhi India)
I agree with Jane R...
But even Priuses is easy to say...and helps connect with the masses...
Friday January 28th 2011, 10:18 AM
Comment by: John S. (Dublin 15 Ireland)
It is correct that the rules of grammar should at all time be observed,and elements in regard to how we write the language, that of course is taking into account the type of English we are using i.e. ( UK US) so perhaps we have played out this particular discussion or have we?
But we also must recognise there is a place in our language to create new words which more aptly describe the circumstance / use to which the word is being employed, so may be we might put aside rectitude and give some thought to a new word which would be fitting to describe more than one "Prius" shall we give it a go? and have some fun.
Monday January 31st 2011, 5:25 PM
Comment by: Huebner
Wednesday February 2nd 2011, 1:17 AM
Comment by: Rosemary M.
@Huebner: Amen! But barring that, Jean R. has my vote. Just makes the most sense.
Wednesday February 2nd 2011, 6:46 AM
Comment by: John S. (Dublin 15 Ireland)
Amen Rosemary M I believe you are correct Jean R is on the right track, and it sounds good
Wednesday February 23rd 2011, 6:27 PM
Comment by: catwalker (Ottawa Canada)
Jean R & Andrea D.:
I got curious, so I did a search on "noun identical plural." No need for a "two syllable" exception. I found several right off the bat: bison, salmon, aircraft (and similar forms), cannon, scissors, trousers. If you want more than two syllables: headquarters, pyjamas.

Priuses for real and Prii for fun.
Thursday February 24th 2011, 2:28 AM
Comment by: John S. (Dublin 15 Ireland)
Jean R you win the day, you have indeed indicated what is the "solution" we are all indebted to you.
Monday May 2nd 2011, 11:00 PM
Comment by: Fiona W. (Portland, OR)
Priuses.Or Prii. It could go either way for me.
Wednesday May 18th 2011, 11:55 AM
Comment by: Cinnamon
KIS - priusii

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