Why is "aircrafts" bad English, while "crafts" is okay?

39

2

I am puzzled by this. Why is "aircrafts" invalid, while "crafts" can be used legitimately? I've also heard that "crafts" cannot be used because the plural of "craft" is always "craft". Which is right?

Kim YuJin

Posted 2017-02-13T01:35:59.110

Reputation: 589

9Don’t forget, there are several uses of the word craft. I could say that pottery, painting, and sewing are all crafts. I could also say that airplanes, pontoon boats, and the space shuttle are also crafts. – J.R. – 2017-02-13T01:49:30.257

4While airplanes, pontoon boats, and the space shuttle being crafts, why aren't multiple aircraft of a single kind called 'aircrafts?' – Kim YuJin – 2017-02-13T01:52:53.317

5

Have you looked at a dictionary yet? What did you find?

– J.R. – 2017-02-13T02:09:44.033

16I have a feeling that, unfortunately, the answer is "because it is". English frequently does not make sense. – Andrew – 2017-02-13T02:52:02.827

5@J.R. The sentence "airplanes, pontoon boats, and the space shuttle are also crafts" sounds incorrect to me. They would be "craft of various kinds", not "crafts of various kinds". – IMSoP – 2017-02-13T14:32:50.793

@IMsoP - I'm not sure how it should be worded in the sentence as I wrote it (i.e., with no "of various kinds" appended); I've never written a sentence like that before. I did think about it and I made a judgment call, based on how I was referring to different kinds of craft. I may well have gotten it wrong, but I think there may be some wiggle room here. – J.R. – 2017-02-13T15:36:00.310

3@J.R. the very dictionary entry you linked to says that the correct plural is (4) craft for vehicles and (5) crafts for items made by craftspeople. Hence your two comments contradict each other. – Octopus – 2017-02-13T18:47:19.203

3

@Octo - *Sigh.* Yes, I'm aware of that, and I realize craft would have been the 'safer' option. However, as this website says: "The plural of fish is usually fish, but fishes has a few uses. In biology, for instance, fishes is used to refer to multiple species of fish. For example, if you say you saw four fish when scuba diving, that means you saw four individual fish, but if you say you saw four fishes, we might infer that you saw an undetermined number of fish of four different species." I reasoned craft might be used similarly.

– J.R. – 2017-02-13T19:38:31.937

What are nouns like 'fish' or 'craft' called, when they usually don't take special plural form but for sometimes do? – Kim YuJin – 2017-02-13T22:41:15.387

It isn't. 'Crafts' is only OK as a verb, not as a plural noun. The plural of 'craft' is 'craft'. – Marquis of Lorne – 2017-02-13T23:24:57.260

2@EJP - Except for arts and crafts crafts. – J.R. – 2017-02-14T00:15:05.130

Answers

55

"Craft" is one of those words that has several very different meanings.

"Craft" could mean "skilled work" or "hobby". In this case, the plural is "crafts" - such as in "arts and crafts".

"Craft" can also mean a vehicle that people use to travel through water, air, or outer space. In this case, the plural is "craft" (no 's') - such as in "aircraft", "watercraft", or "spacecraft".

Here's an explanation for why this is:

Use for "small boat" is first recorded 1670s, probably from a phrase similar to vessels of small craft and referring either to the trade they did or the seamanship they required, or perhaps it preserves the word in its original sense of "power."

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary, Craft

So, it sounds like we have the British Navy to thank for this confusing usage.

Matt Cline

Posted 2017-02-13T01:35:59.110

Reputation: 1 549

2Heh, I beat you by about a minute. Up-voted your answer, though, for pure etymology. – RichF – 2017-02-13T03:39:41.947

5I suppose we should really refer to it as "The Royal Navy" instead :) – Richiban – 2017-02-13T11:24:19.580

It seems like it’s worth pointing out that craft can also be a verb, and as such can get the -s ending, as in he crafts something, but various derived terms like aircraft cannot be used this way. – KRyan – 2017-02-13T15:31:47.783

1If I were talking about the number of boats on the river, I would say there are "15 watercraft", but I would also say there are "15 craft*s*". Maybe that's technically grammatically incorrect, but it's what seems intuitive to me as a native US speaker. – David K – 2017-02-13T16:07:39.737

In architecture school, if someone cuts neatly and builds precise models, we say they have "good craft". – Andy – 2017-02-13T16:47:20.620

Not sure if it's relevant but the related German word "Kraft" pluralizes with a vowel change to "Kräfte". Maybe English "craft" once had a vowel change in plural that eventually disappeared? – Andy – 2017-02-13T16:51:13.770

2Just to pipe up as another native speaker, to my ear the plural of craft when talking about boats is also craft. Which is different than @DavidK provided, maybe it is a regionalism? – Ukko – 2017-02-13T18:59:11.840

@Ukko Your profile says you're from Minnesota, which is actually where I grew up. I suspect that using crafts is one of those things that has a grammatically correct usage, but many people (myself included) wouldn't notice either way. – David K – 2017-02-13T19:22:09.403

30

I think there is a distinction to be drawn here which will allow you to avoid confusion; namely: the noun "craft" has several meanings, while "aircraft" has only one.

The meaning you are focused on is "craft" as a moving vessel, such as watercraft, aircraft, or spacecraft. All three of these terms as well as "craft" itself are the same in their singular and plural forms, like the word "deer."

Three craft were in the water, two in the air.

However, "craft" also means "an activity involving skill in making things by hand." When the word is used with this meaning, it is pluralized normally:

  1. That potter really knows his craft.
  2. His two crafts were cabinet making and bricklaying.

RichF

Posted 2017-02-13T01:35:59.110

Reputation: 2 425

1

I'm glad you mentioned deer. Turns out a lot of animal words follow this phenomenon (plural same as the singular), such as sheep, quail, shrimp, fish, and elk. This blog post mentions the -craft family in its discussion on the matter.

– J.R. – 2017-02-13T08:47:42.667

@J.R., they're game animals, the ones for recreational hunting/shooting/fishing – Separatrix – 2017-02-13T09:15:31.370

5@Separatrix - hehe, you've just given me a mental image of sneaking through the undergrowth to hunt down a herd of shrimp. – Simba – 2017-02-13T09:39:51.627

Now I'm confused. "Three craft were in the water", but in @J.R.'s comment on the question, "airplanes, pontoon boats, and the space shuttle are also crafts". In this case the meaning is the same, so shouldn't only one form be allowed? – Fabio says Reinstate Monica – 2017-02-13T11:03:17.117

1@FabioTurati 2 complicating factors. 1st is the primary meanings of craft having different pluralization rules. J.R. had just written "crafts" in relation to skills, so it was an easy mistake to extend that when in the same sentence he spoke of craft in relation to vessels. 2nd is he was speaking of classifications of vessels, not vessels themselves -- a pluralized plural. That sort of makes it only half of a mistake, IMO. One might get away with, "There were three groups of deers with at least 5 deer in each group." Not right, but understandable to want to do. – RichF – 2017-02-13T12:12:42.737

@RichF - Half a mistake – if even a mistake at all. I'm not sure how to pluralize crafts when referring to three different types of craft; I parsed my sentence as: (Airplanes, pontoon boats, and the space shuttle) are crafts, not (Airplanes), (pontoon boats), and (the space shuttle) are craft. It's a grey area for sure; thank you for explaining and defending me. P.S. Related: a discussion on ELU about 'equipments'.

– J.R. – 2017-02-13T15:29:08.163

1@J.R. - You've done it unintentionally. "Craft" is invariable, so the only way to refer to different types of craft is to say exactly that: different types of craft. – paolo – 2017-02-13T16:37:34.437

I think "His craft was pottery" is more idiomatic – Andy – 2017-02-13T16:52:05.290

2@paolo - I may have made a mistake, but it was anything but unintentional. I gave it some thought before I typed my sentence. – J.R. – 2017-02-13T17:44:41.923

@J.R. No need to defend yourself. I'm not attacking anyone! I just wanted a clarification, and now I have it. – Fabio says Reinstate Monica – 2017-02-13T23:23:52.360

What sort of nonstandard definition are you using for a colon? Double colon doesn't have any meaning in English. (Are you perchance a Postgres user? :) ) I recommend using standard English words and punctuation on this site especially. Cleverness and unlabelled use of "jargon" belongs elsewhere. – Wildcard – 2017-02-14T01:59:46.500

@Wildcard a : b :: c : d, "a is to b as c is to d" // It is a simplified (by me) analogy construct, as seen in this PDF grade school worksheet. You are right, I should avoid it on a "language learners site". It was the best way in writing I could think of to map two words meant to be taken as a whole in the way it is actually pronounced. Would you find a plus sign ("difference+confusion") to be appropriate? Since I don't intend "plus" to be pronounced, it might not be a good choice.

– RichF – 2017-02-14T02:47:22.973

"I think the difference/confusion is that..." could work, as could "I think the difference (or confusion) here is that...." Personally, I'd just rephrase the whole passage. I'll suggest an edit; see if you agree. :) – Wildcard – 2017-02-14T03:08:19.903

2@Wildcard Wow, when you "suggest an edit", you go all out. I would have accepted it, but someone else had already approved it. – RichF – 2017-02-14T04:42:41.123