English Teacher Article Fora & Forums

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Many speakers of English maintain that the correct plural of forum is fora rather than forums because it is a word of Latin origin. However, Google lists 3,720,000 entries for fora and 119,000,000 for forums.

I also hear few of these people argue that we should use the Latin genitive for the word, much less the ablative or vocative. It is a spurious argument to claim that a loan word should follow the rules of the language it comes from. How many people know the Inuit pluralisation rules for 'anorak', or the Nahautl rules for 'avocado'. If we borrow a Japanese word, can't we make it plural because Japanes has no plural? Where should we draw the line? Japanese does not accept an inanimate noun as a subject; should we follow this rule, too?

It seems that the case for fora is based on the fact that many of the pedants saying it is right have studied Latin. However, they do not extend the rule to all languages, nor do they extend it to all forms of the word. It seems to me that this is a rather flimsy arguemnt on which to base a claim that one is right and the one used by most people is wrong. I'm happy with people using fora, but I can't agree that they are somehow more correct or that forums is in any way wrong.

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I agree with most of your comment but I wonder if you have not got anything more important to do than pontificating on the internet. What about studying some latin?

We are an internet language site, so pontificating about language is what we do. I did actually do a bit of Latin at school, but I am, at present, learning Japanese, so I don't have the time to study Latin again. ;-)

No: "fora" is correct because it existed before "forums"(sic).

It was only stupidity which even led to "forums" ever arising! Also, "fora" is quicker to say & write, with no sacrifice in meaning.

Who cares what the google hits say? The world is full of stupid people. The tyranny of the majority is at work again...

Shouldn't the correct word be forae instead of fora?

Its prevalence does not make it correct; how many more supermarkets use "Less than 10 items" rather than "Fewer..."?

I'm actually here because I really want to know whether to change the "Forums" link on my organisation's web site to "Fora", and your site came quite high in Google's results for "latin plural forum". I think I'll bookmark you. What fun!

Funny.

The reason Latin plurals are used in many instances is that English is itself partly derivative of Latin, and our alphabet is Latin. Also, the adoption of proper Latin words into English was widespread from the medieval through enlightenment periods, and predated the wholesale adoption of loan words from many languages that we've seen over the last 150 years or so.

We use "alumnus" and "alumni" because the singular and the plural were both adopted into English a long time ago, but no one objects to casual use of "alum" and "alums". "Fora" is in the same category - anyone who nitpicks over whether "fora" or "forums" is correct is wasting his time. They're both correct.

Bacterium => Bacteria
Crisis => Crises
Alumnus => Alumni
Datum => Data

Those are English words that have kept the proper Latin plural forms. Why not Forum => Fora as well?

Surely language definition and structure should be defined by how it is used, and not by any rigid rule regarding the sanctity of the Latin origins of English.

If 'forums' is more used, then fair enough. If 'data' is used as the plural of 'datum', then fair enough as well. If there is genuine ambiguity regarding which is used more (in this case there isn't), then both should be perfectly acceptable.

Dictionaries are adding words in response to usage all the time - 'to google' is working it's way from common usage to dictionaries for example. This way round is the way it should be. The English-speaking public that uses the language has far more authority than stuffy pedants who simply enjoy being right and patronising people for the sake of it.

I used to use fora until the MS Word spell checker marked this as a mistake, which, in turn, made me consult this learned language forum. Having read the comments made by others, I guess I'll stick with fora, as forums just sounds too stupid.

As a student of Japanese you'll know that Japanese themselves often loan European words and inconsistently apply plurals but usually do not alter the word at all. I would personally prefer if Japanese (and English) did make more of an effort to follow the loan word's original rules consistently, e.g. take the root-nation name either from the language OR the country, not just either.
Sure, most of us won't know how to pluralise Inuit words (or even which words are loaned from Inuit) but maybe in Canada they should have a better idea, for example. Likewise, if you're speaking English adapt the loan word - please don't say indexes, for example, when indices should be reasonably simple to remember. Saying one is 'US English' is not an excuse - 'US English' is a legitimate shout should it be on an issue like the use of 's' vs. 'z' as this wasn't standardised in the 18th century. But use of Latin words generally was. This is just 20th century laziness.
One of the pluralist natures of English has been its reasonably accurate loaning of words (at least since the French influx of the 17th century), let's not go down the other path, or soon we'll be spelling root-Latin words how anyone with internet access likes...

As an Italian speaking a true pidgin English, I've had this curiosity too, about forums or fora ...

We have a simple rule in Italian: foreign words are always invariable. We have a complex language (latin based!), but if we adopt a word as "forum", its plural will be... "forum". The difference will be in the article, which in our language differentiate between singular and plural. Example: "il forum" = "the forum"; "i forum" = "the forums".

After reading this thread, I infer you don't have such a rule, do you.

No, fortunately or unfortunately, English does not use very many different forms of the article "the" when the word that follows it is the subject or object. We do have different forms for refering to things indirectly, such as "this", "that", "these", and "those". But not for just the simple "the".

Please, we have too many arguments about pluralizing nouns, can you imagine if we have to decline them, too?!

As to the original question of fora vs. forums, I would say this: fora is correct; forums is acceptable.

If you don't like that answer, you can shop other fora and probably find the opinion you were hoping for.

: )

Taking the rules of the language of the word that has been adopted into English would be very difficult and lead to an even greater inconsistancy in the language than there is know.
For example the plural of man in English is men. The plural indefinite of man in Swedish is män. So in a word borrowed from Swedish such as Ombudsman the plural usually used in English would be Ombudsmen, but using the root language rules it would be Ombudsmän and we would have to use a letter that doesn't even exist in Enlgish.
The application of the definite article is different in Swedish as well. It is achieved by modifying the noun. So table is bord, but the table is bordet. So having borrowed smorgasbord from the Swedish should we say the smorgasbord or should it be smörgåsbordet? (After all if we are going to use the grammatical rules of the source language we should also use the spelling).
Although appliying the root language rules might be more correct, it is highly impractical and likely to cause more confusion than clarity.

I am wondering how you feel about "data": is it singular or plural? The argument I have heard for using it as a plural is that it is plural in Latin although often used in the singular in US English. Google hits show a very mixed picture.

I am wondering how you feel about "data": is it singular or plural? The argument I have heard for using it as a plural is that it is plural in Latin although often used in the singular in US English. Google hits show a very mixed picture.

English is full of anachronisms and inconsistencies. We seem to choose when and how we apply rules of language. The language also changes due to common usage. Refer to may essays in http://slayageonline.com/ and how much debate there is about the mashing of language.

Forums is a more English term, and is simpler. Yes - it has more letters (congratulations to those who can count), but it is simpler because it complies with the more generic English plural rules.

Additional comment taken from Wiki.

If we do keep the Latin form, why do we not take it to its fullest extent and use the appropriate form of forum in the appropriate situation?

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/forum

I have decided to split the difference and use "foraumaeses" instead. It feels nicer to say - more liquid, more feminine - and it makes clear that the speaker is fully aware of the fora / forums debate and is angered by it.

I say "fora", my boss says "forums"... Guess who won the argument? :-) Anyway, I'll write forums but keep on thinking that fora is right, though I do feel it sounds pedantic when I say it in public. Thanks for a very informative discussion.

The online dictionary says "fora; also forums". I pick one based on context; I like my sentences to sound nice. Same with using "data" where I know "datum" would be correct. Sometimes the correct word sounds pedantic. Occasionally, friends and I will play with the concept and say "Hand me a few Kleenices, please." ;-) .

Agreed. Almost. I once wrote poems where the rule was that each line had to be 12 characters exactly, including punctuation and spaces. It was a devilish project! It had to be printed in a non-proportionally spaced font so the poem would read as a column of words. The words "forums" and "fora" have 6 and 4 letters respectively. That would made a huge difference to a poet. Not to mention the different endings for rhyming. So please don't take my fora! I may use forums in regular speech but the more words in the language, the better for the poet: the more choices, the greater expressive freedom, the greater chance of expressive accuracy.

But the point is well made. English is always evolving. "Disrespect" and "grow" have both changed a lot in the past 10 years. It looks like those meanings will stick. This is a living language, not a dead one.

Occasionally, friends and I will play with the concept and say "Hand me a few Kleenices, please." ;-)

Love that! Yes! There is room for humour!

... I dislike "forums." I'd really dislike it if people started going to "the opuses" to see "La Traviata," too.

I spent 8 years studying Latin (which I hated) and I use "fora" because it's obviously the correct English spelling, and has been ever since the Roman occupiers constructed them on our once green and pleasant fields. I very much hope that all the Daily Star readers and Americans and other ignorant types will continue to use "forums" and "there" for "their" and all those other tell-tale signs that they're not half as smart as they think they are. Please keep up the good work.

In keeping with the spirit and essence of language as a means of communication, I switch between "fora" and "forums" dependent upon the audience. That's part of the joy of such a versatile language as English.

I've nothing against purists who insist on using strictly declined Latin, nor the utilitarians who prefer the pragmatic approach.

However, I do take great exception to pompous arseholes who think that having studied a dead language for several years makes them in some way superior to those of us who get by with only speaking five or six living languages. Pathetic wankers.

Apologies to those who know Latin and don't consider it the yardstick of academic achievement.

Rant over!

So, just out of curiosty, what ARE the Inuit pluralisation rules for 'anorak'? :)

The pluralisation of 'forum' as 'fora' is entirely consistent with grammatical rules for pluralisation in English. Loanwords have to fit into the grammatical structure of the adopting language.

Interchanging of 'there' and 'their' is an entirely unrelated issue.

Having an opinion doesn't make one a "pedant." And, I would not say that one is right and one is wrong, but that one is "more correct."

Thad:It's funny you use the phrase "more correct" when defending pedants. As "correct" cannot be qualified, something is either correct or not.

I'd say we borrowed two words from Latin, namely the singular "Forum" and its plural "Fora". Both plurals, "Forums" and "Fora", seem to be perfectly well understood by all parties, and of course, multiple plurals are quite acceptable. Which computer told you that there can only be one, unique, plural form, for any given noun?

To me, the "pedants" include all who insist on either version being absolutely and exclusively correct. In particular, those who insist on "Forums" as The Only True Plural should be prohibited from speaking of computer "Data" - it's "Datums", don't you know!

I really am sitting on the fence here. As someone who has learned Latin, I would have expected to say "fora" when referring to the plural. But I accept "forums", since although the word comes from the Latin route and has a similar meaning, it is currently used in a different context.
As far as I am aware, the Romans had little involvement in internet discussion groups.
Hence, I feel that one can use the English style of plural for the English style of the word, and one should use the Latin style of the plural if one wishes to refer to the Roman markets/meeting places.
To doggedly stick to the "foreign way" of saying something always reminds me of my Auntie, who insists on pronouncing Paris in the French style: Par-ee, simply because "that's how they say it".

While I agree that both are correct, (I prefer Fora myself, but solely because it was what I was taught, so I stick with it) I just want to counter the notion of a Google search being the proper arbiter.
Google N-Grams are a search of books written in English, and American English as well as all English-Language fiction. In British English "fora" has always used more often, while in the others "fora" has been the more commonly used word, with "forums" only used more between 1939 to 1959.
http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=Forums%2CFora&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

It's a much better tool for getting a handle on how the word has been used, formerly and formally.

Tom Lehrer, one of the best and most inventive users of the English language, used 'Stadia' in refering to more than one stadium. It sounded exactly right. I'm sticking with fora.

The use of various forms of words is interesting. The (mis)use of 'forums' says more about the literary imperialism of America and globalisation than it does of a desire to be correct.
It is also interesting to note that this influence comes from a nation where "50% of adults can not read a book written at a 8th grade level and 44 million people are unable to read simple stories." (unesco, 2010).

The answer can be found in Fowler's Modern English Usage. "Forums" is the correct plural in English; whereas, although "fora" is obviously the correct plural in Latin, it is regarded as merely pretentious to use it in English.

Ben, " it is currently used in a different context", is a phrase telling us that there are far more important things to worry about than 'fora' and 'forums'.
Something 'is' or it 'is not' what is the point of the irresistible urge to stick the word 'currently' where is has no business to be?
Unashamedly of pedant stock, I bemoan the loss of the finite verb anyway, but to exacerbate its demise by splitting it with a superfluous word adds the crime of tautology to the charge sheet.
That, however is the subject for another forum.

I find it amusing when people say things like 'Forums' "sounds stupid". I have the complete opposite view. 'Fora', to me, sounds ridiculous compared to forums. It's all in what you are used to.

One could argue that forums as we discuss here are an internet age creation, not akin to the fora of their latin counter part, in which case it is fitting that the internet majority (119mil) is more correct in its usage.

I also find it funny that there was a suggestion of staying true to the originating language. Not sure where that poster was from, but how to you feel on American English dropping "U's" from their English counter parts; ex: colour, favourite, armour, etc.

I'm studying Japanese too, ganbatte.

Japanese incidentally, does have the odd plural, as in the case of watashi=I becoming watashitachi=we.

Ok. But what about this. We adopt the word into our language, lets imagine that happened ona single date. And on that date we say, oh and what's the plural of that word. We ask the centurion we learnt the singular from and he says "fora" so we decide to use that form from the onset. However we don't have a use for the genitive, or the ablative because English no longer subscribes to a case-endings based grammar system. So the other forms of the noun are not absorbed into the English language i.e. Forum and Fora are made words in English but Fori, Foro, Fororum and Foris (all incorrectly capitalised) were never incorporated. Not because we "ignore the rules" or only apply it irregularly, but because we have no use for those words)

In the cases of other languages either words don't need plurals or other forms (e.g. Afrikaans) or the English plurals form and the original plural form is the same (e.g. cafe)or sometimes, the word does not exist or has since ceased to exist in the source language, in which case the word is given an English plural form (e.g. double entendre pl. double entendres)

As you can see occassionally there is a little more detail to be examined before one can determine whether or not hte rules have been followed. It is not always clear cut and so to allow words that don't obey the rules, simply because the rules are seen to be defunct only worsens the situation. Instead, when encountering words that don't obey the rules MORE effort should be made to FOLLOW the rules in order that the situation becomes more clear, rather than more complicated.

Well that's my twopenny anyway.

"The data is good". See Synesis or "constructio ad sensum" to understand. If you use the term data, you typically refer to the data as a whole as in "the information", not individual data points.
Most folks who favour "The data are" are in science and haven't gotten much further than understanding singular and plural.

The first paragraph of the original article makes the elementary mistake of assuming that the majority is always right.

The majority thought the Earth was flat.

The majority thought the Sun went round the Earth.

etc.

etc.

Ah, Sheldon...my favourite pedant.

Interesting discussion.

I think Latin is a special case. From the birth of Christianity in the 5th century until well into the 18th century, Latin (and sometimes greek) was used widely in clerical, professional and scientific circles as a real, live language of discourse and publication. Newton's Principia for instance was published in Latin, which was handy as it could be read anywhere in Europe without translation (one reason why it was taught in schools at the time).

As a result, not only Latin words but also plurals and declined derivatives (ab initio) were commonly used by those (few) that received an education. It is however fairly exceptional in that respect. Despite also adopting Saxon words in greater abundance, we didn't usually adopt the derivatives. The use of Latin plurals probably persisted as a way of indicating one's educational or professional prowess rather than for any functional purpose, hence it is dying out.

In Norwegian language it just sounds better to use the latin plural form. Normally we would add 'er' for plural instead of 's' , but 'forumer' just sounds terrible.

Cant explain it though, maybe it is just habit, things sound strange because you are not used to them. But then I try to use the regular plural form over and over in my head and it still sounds strange. Anyway, there is nothing 'posh' about using the 'fora' form here.

Of course I know this is a discussion about English, not about Norwegian..

Given that the previous search was limited to the use of Forums and Fora at the beginning of the sentence (ngram is case-sensitive), I ran it again and got this result: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Forums%2Cforums%2CFora%2Cfora&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=18&smoothing=3&share=
Even the British prefer forums over fora.

And again through 2008. Even "Forums" has overtaken "Fora" in the British corpus as of 2008.
http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Forums%2Cforums%2CFora%2Cfora&year_start=1800&year_end=2013&corpus=6&smoothing=3&share=

Furthermore, I speak English, not Latin. So forums is correct for me. If you want to speak correct Latin, if there ever was such a thing, as it too changed constantly over the centuries, then get in your time machine and go back to ancient Rome.

If language didn't evolve, if people didn't invent and adjust words, we would all still be going round grunting 'Ugg!'

I really loved reading through this thread!

I can see everyone's point of view.

My hunch before searching for the answer here was that 'fora' was the purist spelling, and I'd use that for audiences/readerships that were likely to care/know about spelling purism. But that it would sound a tad pretentious used on people who were unaware or unfamiliar with it.

English is full of irregular plurals, innit?

We don't need to resort to Latin for examples.

Mouses anyone?

And as people change the words they use (by drift, invention or mistake) the words carry on meaning what people want them to mean.

That's what dictionarians love about language. The record usage, rather than dictate it.

So google counts do count.

But ultimately, we are battling to prevail with our favoured usages.

Fora.

Just to clarify to the curious, there are many Inuit languages. Though they tend to be similar, one would not say I speak Inuit, as Inuit actually means people.

According to Wikipedia, anorak come from the Kalaallisut word anoraq. Kalaallisut is the native language of western Greenland. I don’t know how to pluralize this.

In the Eastern Canadian Arctic, where I live, most Inuit speak Inuktitut, which actually has four dialects. While anorak isn’t a word, annuraaq (meaning a piece of clothes) is. Its plural would be annuraat. There’s a lesson on this here - http://www.tusaalanga.ca/lesson/2364/grammar

Fora is only the plural when referring to multiple anciant Roman public squares or marketplaces used for judicial and other business.

Forum is the correct term when referring to multiples of a meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged (such as internet forums).

I know the latter obviously derives its meaning from the former, but the derivative adopts the modern pluralisation method (adding an "s" on the end)

No - The plural of Latin singular words ending in "a" is "ae" (larvae; antennae); the plural of words ending in "um" is "a".

Like Dander69, I sometimes do tend to modify according to audience but something tells me that I've had my day even for that! I was on a TEFL course in 2008 where only 2 of us were over 40, everyone else in their 20s or early 30s, some American, some English, one Scottish. One evening I happened to say that "Funnily enough" often gets changed to "Funny enough" and other "lys" often get left off as well and one lovely 20-something (English) said "There's no such word as "funnily". No-one else had heard of it either. So there we are. Let's eat healthy and live happy ever after!

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