I know questions about finding resources are off-topic on the main site, however, this puts users like me in a bind. Frequently, questions are flagged as easily answerable with the right resource (often online), but unless you're an expert with subscriptions to many language sites, you don't even know what resources are out there.

Currently (as in this week), I'm interested in the etymology of irregular plurals, in particular ones with a Germanic origin (Latinate and Greek ones are easy to find information on). I don't think I've ever seen a dictionary that gives plural etymologies, as it's assumed that in most cases it's simply adding '-s' to a regular noun, or alternatively, the plural form is listed separately without any additional etymology. It "just is".

How can I find these resources so I can get the answers without posting off-topic questions?

  • You are not supposed to be familiar with all available sources, but you need to show your research citing, in this specific case, at least one etymological dictionary, showing that it doesn’t provide the information you are looking for.
    – user 66974
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 0:25
  • Of possible interest: english.stackexchange.com/questions/4386/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 0:40
  • Thanks @user240918. I'm really just looking for info on English nouns with a Germanic origin, not verbs at the moment. I found a great Wikipedia page that lists the different types of English plurals, but unfortunately it doesn't go into the etymologies at all.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 1:18
  • Irregular plurals in English - blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/04/10/… - The older noun system - uni-due.de/SHE/HE_Grammar_OE-ME_nouns.htm
    – user 66974
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 6:09
  • @user240918 Thank you for your help! As an example of what I'm looking for, "sheep/sheep" was once something like "*shaap/*shaapu", but the final vowel was lost, resulting in the modern plural being identical to the singular.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 6:34
  • Another source is a research by single noun, i.e. Sheep: “the plural form was leveled with the singular in Old English, but Old Northumbrian had a plural scipo.etymonline.com/word/sheep, but I agree that it is not exhaustive, from which a possible question on ELU.
    – user 66974
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 7:40
  • 1
    @user240918 Unfortunately, no information on the plural for "deer" or "reindeer".
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 8:05
  • This may help - english.stackexchange.com/questions/188578/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 8:08

2 Answers 2


If you specifically would like to be directed to a good reference work on an English language topic, you've come to the right place! Reference requests are off-topic on the main site, but they're on-topic for ELU.meta (that's not a general SE rule, but it is the rule locally). First have a look around to see if what you want has already been discussed here—the reference FAQ question What good reference works on English are available? is a good place to start—and if you don't see it, ask a question.

On the other hand, if you have a specific question about the English language and/or its usage, but you're concerned that it might be easily answered in some reference work you've never heard of, you should:

  1. Do some digging for the answer in the works you do know. We mostly expect people to be familiar with dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias—or at least know how to search Google for "define [term]" and "[term] synonyms" and how to use Wikipedia.
  2. Do a basic search in EL&U to see if your question has already been answered.
  3. If you didn't find what you were looking for in 1. or 2., ask your question on the main site, being sure to describe the research you've already done.

Part of our definition of "commonly available" means accessible to the general public. If a website is members only or the answer is only found in some offline book, then it is not commonly available. This is part of the principle behind which Stack Exchange itself was founded. It was originally meant in part to be an alternative to the subscribers only Experts Exchange service. We also provide a list of commonly available resources in the text of our closure reason as 1006a.

Do a search on google, show us some of the things that turned up and if something promising turned up, explain why it is not adequate. In all likelihood your question will remain open if you do at least that much, since we then have reason to believe that a commonly available answer is not easily found, or

Also, generally speaking, if you look and show us that the best results were inadequate, we'll give it a pass because part of the Stack Exchange's goal to aid in the dissemination of good information.

I would advise against asking for resources on meta. It is off topic. If it was within our jurisdiction to set the policy like normal like normal, it would not be off-topic, but our proprietors do not allow us to dictate the scope of meta-websites. I have explained most of the reasons I believe this here, and though it is not a popular opinion I still believe it to be the correct one, especially considering that Stack Exchange has a history of removing features to curtail abusive use such as harboring otherwise out of scope questions. The lack of reputation point gains on meta is not a valid excuse for asking out of scope questions.

Imagine a future where Stack Exchange decides that to curb P.O.B. resource requests that they require all meta posts to be made on the main S.E. wide meta where people more judiciously vote to shut down off-topic questions. We would lose our ability to autonomously legislate, which would be a great detriment to our ability to decide our own scope. Moreover, the people who visit a section of any website have the right to expect that posts will be germane to that section, and too many off-topic posts will drive them away. That much is basic internet etiquette and a major reason why we decide to allow some questions but not others, and the lack of irrelevant chit-chat is a such major predeliction of Stack Exchange that it is in every website's tour, including ours. I fail to see what makes a resource request any better here than on the main website.

With that having been said though, certain kinds of resource requests may be asked on Language Learning, because unlike us their community decided to make such questions within scope on the main website.

We also have a list of commonly available resources that 1006a already provided.

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