Plural of Census

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
The plural of census is censuses, despite its Latin origins.

The Plural of Census

The plural of census is censuses. Census derives from Latin, but the Latin plural census (with a long "oo" sound for the "u") is not used. Censi (which some people think is the Latin plural) has never been a plural form.
  • Censuses were originally the only method of collecting national demographic data.
  • Population censuses rely on a sampling frame to count the population.

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The Standard Rules for Forming the Plurals

The table below shows the standard rules for forming the plurals of nouns in English.
Type Example of Type Forming the Plural Plural
Most Nouns lamp
scythe
add s lamps
scythes
Noun Ending s, sh, ch, x or z dress
census
add es dresses
censuses
(Unlike some words with foreign stems (e.g., nucleus with the plural nuclei), census forms its plural using the standard rules of English.)
Nouns ending [consonant] o hero
zero
tomato
add either s or es
(There are no rules for this - you have to know.)
heroes
zeros
tomatoes
Nouns ending [vowel] o patio
ratio
add s patios
ratios
Nouns ending [consonant] y story
penny
change the y to an i and add es stories
pennies
Nouns ending [vowel] y donkey
chimney
add s donkeys
chimneys
Nouns ending f or fe dwarf
hoof
ves and/or s
(There are no rules - you have to know.)
dwarfs
hooves or hoofs
Exceptions man
louse
some nouns undergo a vowel or letters change men
lice
More exceptions salmon
sheep
some nouns do not change at all salmon
sheep
Foreign rulings census
medium
some nouns adopt foreign rulings census
(The Latin plural census (with a long u) is not used.)
media

Why Is There Confusion over the Plural of Census?

The rules for pluralizing Latin nouns (like census) are inconsistent. For example:
  • Some retain their Latin plural:
  • Some have dropped their Latin plural:
    • referendum becomes referendums
    • datum becomes datums
    • ("Data" can now be considered a new word meaning information.)
  • Some use both plurals:
    • syllabus becomes syllabuses or syllabi
    • formula becomes formulas or formulae
Census falls into the second category. It has dropped its Latin plural.

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See Also

Unusual pluralsPlural forming table Quirks with forming plurals Forming the plurals of abbreviations Forming the plurals of compound nouns

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