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An extra maître d' serves up a spelling question

When it comes to making a noun plural, there are a few general rules we follow in English. 

Most are are pretty easy. Slap an "s" on the end of "book" or "dog" or "desk" and suddenly you've got more than one. If the word ends with a vowel followed by a "y", the same rule applies, like "keys" and "boys."

If you've got a "y" preceded by a consonant, no sweat. Just trade out the last two letters for "ies" to get "cherries" or "babies" or "buddies."  

There are other rules, and of course, they all have exceptions. But today we want to talk about pluralizing one word in particular: maître d'. 

Not surprisingly, this one is borrowed from the French expression "maître d'hôtel" or the "master of the hotel."

It was often used to refer to the head or the master of the hotel restaurant, which is how we came to use it to refer to a restaurant's head waiter.

"Maître d'hôtel" was borrowed into English as a full expression before "hôtel" was dropped off the end. The apostrophe stuck around though, and thus, we have a word in our language that ends with a punctuation mark instead of a letter. 

When it comes to making "maître d'" plural, you could argue that we should follow the same rule that gives us "sisters-in-law" or "attorneys general" and add an "s" to the end of "maître.'

However, since the phrase itself is not transparent, most writers put the "s" on the end: maître d's. 

Is there another noun that gives you grief when you try to make it plural? Let us know at rkruth@umich.edu or acurzan@umich.edu.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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