Lester Lee – Chinese/English translator and freelance writer

This blog will host articles and other works authored by me in various fields – poetry, philosophy, science, history, politics, current affairs, music – and anything else which seizes my attention and imagination!

“S” ~ 要不要這條尾巴?

“s”— 要不要這條尾巴?

        “s”,小小一個英文字母,用法卻不簡單。

       英文名詞,一般在詞末加 “s”以表複數。但有例外,如bison、cod、counsel、deer、grouse、issue(後嗣,如He died without male issue)、offspring、police、salmon、sheep、squid、swine、trout等詞,單式複式一樣,從不加 “s”。

       有些名詞不論單數複數都離不開 “s”,如、means、gallows、narrows、shambles、bellows、mumps、measles、rickets、innings(美語可作inning)、biceps、triceps、barracks、headquarters、whereabouts、works、gasworks、ironworks、waterworks。

       有些名詞看似複式實為單式。如 crosswords (Indonesia is at a crossroads)、bad news(可怕或討厭傢伙 — He is a bad news)。一篇談亞特蘭奥運會的文章,有in this Games的說法,指的是該屆奧運,不能說in this Game或in these Games。

       若干學科名(mathematics、politics、economics、physics、metaphysics、semantics)及遊戲名稱(billiards、bowls、darts、dominoes、draughts、skittles、quoits、snakes and ladders)詞末有 “s” 而用作單數。

       複合名詞的複數,s 有加於詞末,如gin-and-tonics、whisky-and-sodas;也有加於前面的名詞,如knights-errant、 attorneys-general、secretaries-general。

       以 y 作結的名詞,如 y 之前的字母是响音,複數一般加 s,如boys、keys、guys。如y前面的字母不是响音,則把 y變為ies,如beauties、flies、orgies。例外的是專有名詞,複數加s,如Januarys、Marys、two Germanys。

       又有一些詞只有複式而無單式。Binoculars、calipers、compasses、dividers、glasses、pincers、pliers、scales、scissors、shears、spectacles、tongs、tweezers等工具名稱詞末例有 “s”,需冠以pair或pairs以表單件或多件(a pair of compasses;  three pairs of glasses)。Alms、banns、contents、dregs、entrails、genitals(亦作genitalia)、goods、minutes(會議紀錄)、premises、proceedings、proceeds、remains(作遺骸解)、takings、shavings、victuals等字常常要拖著 “s”這條尾巴。

       有些片語裡的名詞,按理是複式而偏偏以單式出現。A five-year-old girl、four-minute mile、three-point turn、two-litre drum、two dozen eggs、100-metre race、six-inch deep、two pound of sugar、seven hundredweight of coal、all manner of sympathies等語中的名詞都不加 “s”。人生七十是three score and ten;數十年則是scores of years。They are beating their chest(搥胸)不作They are beating their chests)。

       相反地,有些詞句中的名詞慣用複式。 Heads I win and tails you lose(反正我贏定了),雖說heads和tails,擲的卻只是一枚銅板。又如good looks、sports car、jobs crisis、singles bar、under wraps、the sands of time、the winds of change、the ups and downs of、to throw all caution to the winds、to sow his wild oats、he set his sights high、you are in my bad books、he was pals with so-and-so、she went bananas、he was nuts about something、he saw rats等慣用語,其中帶 “s” 的名詞都不能以單式代替。

       又有個別的名詞,在片語中出現時而單式時而複式。且舉幾個例子。Asset — asset sale、asset-stripping;assets test。Hand — to die by one’s own hand、to grease the hand of;to shake hands with、it is off my hands、keep your hands off。Word — to keep one’s word、a man of his word;to eat one’s words、to have words with someone。 Number — number theory(數論);numbers game(數字遊戲)。 Wages — 這是一個複式詞,聖經名句the wages of sin is death中作單數是唯一的例外。在某些複合詞中,wages的 “s”須略去,如wage earlier、wage cut、minimum wage。Spirit — to break one’s spirit、give up the spirit、the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,spirit以單式出現;在out of spirits、in good spirits中卻作複式。Spirit亦指酒精 (如spirit lamp),spirits卻是烈酒(a glass of spirits)。Time — ahead of time與ahead of the times不同:前者是提前或早來,後者是超越時代。Heaven — heaven指天堂、老天、上帝;heavens則指天空,有時亦指上天。慣用語有go with heaven、for heaven’s sake、Heaven only knows、Heaven forbid(不加 “s”)、the heavens clear、Heavens above!、Good Heavens! 等等。

       Stress lowers our resistance to diseases有語病,resistance to disease才對;disease是疾病的統稱,diseases反而指個別疾患。To be healthy one should eat more fruit:fruit泛指水果,不作fruits。這使我想起著名辭書Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,不用複式的Phrases 與Fables,唸起來覺得不妥,但這只能怪自己的耳朵。The Oxford Dictionary of QuotationsThe Oxford Dictionary of New Words的Quotations與Words當然沒問題。

       有些物質名詞不加 “s” 時表物質,加了 “s” 則表個別物事。如straw、grain、hair意為乾草、穀物、毛髪:straws、grains、hairs則指一根根乾草、一顆顆穀粒、一根根毛。

       水是water;江河湖海之類則是waters。混水摸魚是to fish in troubled waters(不能說 troubled water)。木是wood; 林地、樹林、森林有時作wood,如cannot see the wood for the trees(見樹不見林),有時作woods,如out of the woods (出險)、take to the woods(逃進樹林)。Sky是天空,例句reach for the sky、the sky is the limit、If the sky falls we shall catch larks;sky falls亦可作skies fall,如 “We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen” (Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence)。Praise (someone) to the sky、praise (someone) to the skies二者都有人說,後者似乎比較普遍。

       Breast是個奇怪的字,有二解:胸部(如Cleopatra held the asp to her breast)或乳房(breast或 breasts:she had tattoos on one breast/she had tattoos on both breasts)。

       抽象名詞是否有複式,視個別詞而定,多無定則。They would lose face、they want to save face、we would lose heart、they make a living out of、in their natural state、to test their mettle、beyond our ken,其中face、heart、living、state、mettle、ken各字均作單式。但下列片語中的抽象名詞卻需加 “s”: He undertook graduate studies(研究生課程)、We are living through hard times、I can’t read their minds、they led good lives、to set the world to rights、to set their consciences at ease。Discontent、economy、enthusiasm、happening、imponderable、indignity、injustice、journeying、livelihood、questioning、sympathy、technology、uncertainty、understanding等字抽象得很,有時卻以複式出現。例句:

l       local farm economies

l       Civilisation and Its Discontents (English title of book by Sigmund Freud)

l       …There are more forthright emphases on the body and its demands now, regrets for the physical decay of age when mental powers seemed stronger, the imagination livelier than ever before.   And there are the great questionings as illness brought death nearer.   (Introduction, Yeats’s Poems, edited by A. Jeffares, Papermac)

l       …Coleridge, unquestionably a great poet, was addicted to opium and was a man of many enthusiasms … (The Wordsworth Book of Literary Anecdotes, edited by Robert Hendrickson)

l       …I have enormous affection for India…I know well its virtues, grandeurs and diversity… (City of Joy, Dominique Lapierre – Translated by Kathryn Spink)

l       The holocaust was a process which depends upon the rousing of historical hatreds and ancient prejudice.

l       …Mozart reached new heights in music.

l       … In literatures other than Anglo-Saxon, it is featured… (Introduction to Comparative Literature, François Jost)

l       Thus it was that after a long conflict of loyalties he came to a desperate resolve… (On Guard, Evelyn Waugh, in Modern English Short Stories)

l       He might once have had the makings of a clever character… (Herzog, Saul Bellow)

l       …stirring the depths in their natures and troubling their minds…(The Story of Philosophy, Durant, p.455)

l       …Where there is Sorrow there is holy ground.  Some day you will realise what that means.  You will know nothing of life till you do.  Robbie, and natures like his, can realise it… (De Profundis, Oscar Wilde)

l       …they obeyed…the internal dictates of their own natures (The Grand Titration, Joseph Needham)

l       Poverties and Triumphs (The Grand Titration, Joseph Needham)

l       We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.  (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence)

l       Imperfect Sympathies (title of an essay by Charles Lamb)

l       based on sustainable technologies

 

       除表示複式外, “s” 還有一些特別用法。

       某些與時間有關的詞增添 “s” 後就產生副詞作用,如nowadays、Sundays、nights、earlies、lates。He works only Mondays、She prefers working nights、Li works earlies、Charles works lates、we works nights是說老李當早班,小陳當下午班,我們值夜班。Work late與work lates不同;Charles work late是說Charles天晚了還在工作。

       以s作結的專有名詞,佔有格一般加 ’s,如St James’s Street、Charles’s wife、Pathagoras’s doctrines。但在詩歌及若干古名則沿用舊法,不加s,如Archilles’ heel(注意是heel而不是heels)、Venus’ Bath、Mars’ hill。複數專有名詞亦然,不再加s,如Joneses’ family、the Rogerses’ party。

       For _______’s sake 是常用片語,如For God’s sake、for mercy’s sake、for old time’s sake。詞末帶噝聲的多音節名詞,可省掉 ’s 中的 s,如for conscience’ sake、convenience’ sake,甚至連撇號一并省去也可以:for conscience sake、for goodness sake。

       Johns Hopkins University是美國著名大學,許多人誤寫為John Hopkins,因為John太普遍,習焉不察也。西澳珀斯的Narrows Bridge,是天鵝河河峽上貫通南北的一座橋,英文不大好的移民常誤稱之為Narrow Bridge,不知narrow是窄、narrows卻是河峽的意思。

       諸如此類的用法,看似蒜皮小事,卻不能掉以輕心。

August 24, 2009 - Posted by | Word-watching 語文影

1 Comment »

  1. lates、we works nights是說老李當早班,小陳當下午班,我們值夜班。Work late與work lates不同;Charles work late是說Charles天晚了還在工作。

    Please check your typos.

    Comment by Anonymous | August 31, 2009 | Reply


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