Grammar Guy

How not to get a misspelled tattoo

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Oh, those crazy -o ending words! What are we going to do with them? Specifically, how do we know how to spell them when they become plural? And how do we make sure we don’t get a misspelled tattoo? Let’s march forward into the mess.

In college, I had a friend who wanted to honor his late grandfather by getting a tattoo. He wanted to ink “Last of the Heroes” on his arm in elegant script; however, neither he nor the tattoo artist knew how to spell the plural form of the word “hero,” so my friend got “Last of the Heros” permanently emblazoned on his forearm. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it wasn’t spelled right.

A “heros,” as it turns out, is a type of multicolored fish found in South American river basins. My friend’s grandfather was not the last of a species of fish.

There are some ways to know how to spell plural words ending in -o, so let’s tackle them before we all start getting poorly spelled tattoos.

If the -o word has a consonant before the “o,” the general rule is to add “es” to make the word plural. We find this in the case of words including potatoes, tomatoes, dingoes, echoes and buffaloes. Of course, that depends on which dictionary you consult. Some say that both “buffalos” and “buffaloes” are correct. You can find some that include “heros” as an acceptable plural form of “hero.” Can the American Spelling Council please convene on this issue?

If the -o word has a vowel before the “o,” the general rule is to add “s” to make the word plural. We see this in ratios, studios, tattoos, radios and zoos. Also, if a word is a shortened form of a longer word, like kilo, photo, hippo and memo, simply add “s” to make the word plural.

We have words that don’t follow the general rules I just provided. See pianos, casinos, avocados, silos and bonobos, for instance. When a word originates from Spanish or Italian, including solo, taco, trio, inferno and stiletto, simply add “s” to make the word plural.

Finally, we have -o words that go both ways. Cargo can become “cargos” or “cargoes.” This also applies with the plural forms of volcano, domino, commando, halo, mango and mosquito. In my informed opinion, “hero” does not fit into this category.

With all this being said, some dictionaries still do not agree on the plural form of words ending in “o,” including the aforementioned “hero.” When in doubt, add “es.” Whatever you do, please double and triple-check the spelling of a word before you get it tattooed on your body.

 

Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.

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