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Why Do We Say "Oxen" And Not "Oxes"?

Mignon Fogarty, better known as her alter ego Grammar Girl, has been sharing a series of short tips on usage and style. In her latest installment, she explains why the plural of the word ox is oxen instead of oxes.

Why do a few words take -en instead of -s or -es to become plural?

You may have heard that English is a Germanic language. The -en ending on plurals is something we get from our German roots. In Old English, some nouns were made plural with -s and -es as they are today, but many nouns took -en to become plural.

The s-form plurals became dominant in northern England first, while the en-form hung on in southern England. By the 14th century the s-form became dominant everywhere, but people didn't let go of the en-form completely; as late as the 16th century the plural of eye was eyen and the plural of hose was hosen. Today only a few en-forms survive; the most common are oxen and children.

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Mignon Fogarty is better known as Grammar Girl. She is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network, author of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, and the creator of the iOS game Grammar Pop. She is also the Donald W. Reynolds Chair of Media Entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism and Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Click here to read more articles by Mignon Fogarty.