Plural of Referendum

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
The plural of referendum is referendums. Referenda (the Latin plural) has dropped out of use.

The Plural of Referendum

The plural of referendum is referendums. The Latin plural referenda is now considered defunct or pretentious.
  • Referendums give the public unmediated and direct control over a policy.
  • Overusing referendums undermines parliamentary sovereignty.
The noun referendum has a Latin root, which is the derivation of the now defunct plural referenda. Referendums (which adheres to the standard rules for forming plurals) is by far the more common version.

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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
referendum
add s lamps
referendums
Noun Ending s, sh, ch, x or z fetus
dress
add es fetuses
dresses
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 fetus
medium
referendum
some nouns adopt foreign rulings feti
media
referenda
(now defunct)

Why Is There Confusion over the Plural of Referendum?

Confusion arises over the plural of referendum because writers are unsure whether to opt for referenda, which derives from the Latin root of referendum, or referendums, which adheres to the standard ruling for forming plurals.

In the past, both referendums and referenda were acceptable, but referenda has fallen out of use to the extent that many now consider it wrong or pretentious.

This graph from Google's Ngram viewer shows the recent decline of referenda. Note that the Ngram viewer scans the texts of published authors and academics. This is an important point because it tells us that those who consider such matters are now dropping referenda.

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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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