Here are DailyWritingTips.com readers’ queries about plural usage, and my responses.
1. I am working on a book about the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, and the author has used MIL and DIL throughout to abbreviate. But the plural forms of those terms are mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, so what are the plural forms of the abbreviations? The author uses MILs and DILs, but that style incorrectly implies that the plural falls at the end of the compound noun (mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws.) Should the abbreviations be MsIL and DsIL?
Mother-in-law and similar constructions include what’s called a postpositive adjective, in which an adjective follows the noun it modifies. (The second words in “attorney general” and “accounts payable” are also postpositive adjectives.) In abbreviations of such terms, ignore the position of the plural form, and attach the s at the end, or omit it altogether. For example, “attorneys general” is abbreviated AGs, not AsG, and “accounts payable” is abbreviated APs, not AsP. If you’re going to abbreviate mothers-in-law, MILs is the way to go.
2. Our team mascot is a wildcat, so I would expect people to use Wildcats when talking about the school teams in general. Is there a rule for singular or plural use when identifying a specific organization, as in “We are the Wildcats” or “This is the Wildcat football program”?
Team mascot names should be treated as plurals except when, as in the case of Stanford University’s Cardinal (not Cardinals) — ugh — the name is singular: “The Wildcats are undefeated this season.” The program should also be referred to in the plural form: “This is the Wildcats football program”; the only instance in which the singular form is used is when referring to an individual player, as in “John Smith was a Wildcat when the team won the state championship.”
3. When someone says, “He only answers with yesses and nos,” is that the correct way to spell the responses? Also, do I need to put each word in quotations? I could revise to “He only answers with yes or no,” but what if I have to record the statement verbatim?
Write, “He only answers with yeses and nos” — no internal quotation marks. (Technically, only should follow answers, but this is a transcription.)