How to write a plural form of 'ex' (ex girlfriend..etc)

32

3

She's my ex

But then,

In my photo album, you see many exes/exs/ex's of mine?

Maulik V

Posted 2016-05-17T08:12:13.723

Reputation: 66 188

3This could be a question that has opinionated answers from native speakers! :-) – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 – 2016-05-17T08:17:12.127

6

Perhaps relevant: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_My_Ex%27s_Live_in_Texas

– Will – 2016-05-17T14:47:11.337

8Both sexes have exes :) – Laconic Droid – 2016-05-17T15:50:11.877

2My girlfriend broke up with me because we couldn't agree on how to spell "exes". – nnnnnn – 2016-05-18T03:53:12.687

5I'd quite like it to be exen like oxen. But it's not. – abligh – 2016-05-18T09:23:30.550

Answers

50

We form the plurals of regular nouns ending in the sound /s/ by adding the sound /ɪz/ to the word. So for the word bus, /bʌs/, we get the plural form /bʌsɪz/. In writing we represent this with the written suffix -ES. So we write the plural form of bus as buses.

Words that end with the written letter X usually end with an /s/ sound. The word box, for example is pronounced /bɒks/. So we pronounce the plural form of box as /bɒksɪz/. In the writing we add the -ES ending: boxes.

The word ex is a regular, normal noun in English. The singular is pronounced /eks/ and written ex. The plural is pronounced /eksɪz/ and written exes.


Grammar note:

1. Some nouns in English are irregular. The word mouse ends in an /s/ sound, but it has an irregular plural, /maɪs/, written like this: mice.

2. If a noun ending in an /s/ sound has the letters SE at the end, then we still add /ɪz/ to the pronunciation, but we only add S to make the written plural. We don't add ES. For example, the plural of horse is horses, not horsees.

Araucaria - Not here any more.

Posted 2016-05-17T08:12:13.723

Reputation: 25 536

22Unless you are 5, in which case it's horsies . – aslum – 2016-05-17T15:18:51.817

@aslum +1 Very nice. Touché! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-05-17T15:21:38.923

A well known example of which is "all my exes live in Texas". – Eric McCormick – 2016-05-17T17:45:14.897

2

@EricMcCormick - but that well known example spells it with an apostrophe: All my ex's live in Texas

– Johnny – 2016-05-17T18:15:01.813

2I think the second grammar note should point out that although we don’t add -es, we do add the sound /ɪz/ to the word. It’s just that the silent e on the end of horse means we only need to add -s to achieve that sound. – KRyan – 2016-05-17T20:45:19.147

1@Johnny ex comes from Latin. Maybe they decided to treat it as indeclinable and thus avoid applying the English plural rule. – Bakuriu – 2016-05-17T21:36:22.787

1@KRyan Quite right. Thanks! Is that better? (see edited version) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-05-17T22:43:04.453

1@Johnny How would you shorten "All my exgirlfriend's exboyfriends access axes", "All my exgirlfriends' exboyfriends access axes" or "All my exgirlfriend's relatives access axes"? – Crowley – 2016-05-18T12:45:09.973

2Just to complete(?) the confusion, that irregularity is irregular. It's mouse/mice and louse/lice, but the plural of grouse (a game bird) is ... grouse. And "he's got a lot of grouses" is not incorrect, but that's grouse in the other sense (i.e. complaints). – nigel222 – 2016-05-18T18:08:59.263

@nigel222 Yes, indeed! – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-05-18T18:14:56.717

3@Crowley “All my ex's exes access axes”, “All my exes' exes access axes”, “All my ex's relatives access axes”. – SevenSidedDie – 2016-05-18T18:36:14.073

I wouldn't have used "buses", since it can be confusing given it's also spelled "busses"... – user541686 – 2016-05-19T05:40:12.813

Weak vowel merger speakers will add /əz/ instead. – matty – 2016-05-19T06:33:46.137

@matty Quite so. (I would include that kind of info on an EL&U answer btw, but want to keep the one here straightforward). I've included the link to ELU because you seem to know a bit about English phonology and I though that site might interest you! : )

– Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-05-19T07:38:13.700

13

Ex is not an abbreviation nor an acronym. There is no reason not to follow the pluralization rule of English words.

If words end in "sh", "ch", "s", "x" and "z", we are supposed to add "-es" at the end except for some exceptions.

I have checked Oxford Online Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and Collins Online Dictionary, but none of them listed the plural from of the word. I suspect the reason is it follows the pluralization rule.

Wiktionary and Wikipedia show that its plural form is "exes".

user24743

Posted 2016-05-17T08:12:13.723

Reputation:

5Snap! (see my answer). The reason the plural is not listed in the dictionary is that the dictionary only lists irregular plurals. Because this word is completely regular, the dictionary does not need to list the plural. :-) +1 from me. – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-05-17T08:43:43.620

8

The best way to say this formally is to say it like:

I saw my ex-boyfriend at the mall yesterday.

In plural,

The ex-policemen were on a strike demanding justice.

or,

All of my ex-husbands showed up at my latest wedding!

In informal English, especially US English, it is acceptable to say:

Hey man! I saw your ex with this hot dude yesterday!

or,

She is still in touch with all of her exes.

Neer Varshney

Posted 2016-05-17T08:12:13.723

Reputation: 236

3Nice answer. I'm not sure ex can refer to an ex-policeman though. We usually only use it to talk about ex-partners (girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives). – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-05-17T08:49:04.597

2

@Araucaria It is more frequently used for ex--partners but at least as per Cambridge Dictionary, it can be used to "show that someone is no longer what they were": https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/ex?q=ex-#translations

– Neer Varshney – 2016-05-17T09:48:00.417

5Yes, it can be used like that as a prefix, for sure. But as a word on its own, we only really use it for partners :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2016-05-17T10:07:55.220

This answer is correct. If you look at this page, second definition and ask for more example sentences, it uses 'exes' in one example. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ex

– AJFaraday – 2016-05-17T14:47:39.547

5

Very relevant excerpt from Garner's Modern English Usage (2016):

ex (n.) is a casualism in the sense of a former spouse or lover

The plural of ex is exes, and the possessive is ex's — but be aware that many readers will find these forms odd-looking.

Wiktionary also says it's exes:

exes (n.) (plural of ex English) vb. (en-third-person singular of: ex)

And so does WordHippo (a site I had never run across until researching this question):

What's the plural form of ex? Here's the word you're looking for.

Answer

The plural form of ex is exes.

J.R.

Posted 2016-05-17T08:12:13.723

Reputation: 108 123

1

Short Answer:
If you want to appear "properly informed" for what passes for the moment as educated, use exes (no matter how funny it looks1). Otherwise, feel free to use ex's. Just don't get it confused with the possessive of the singular ex, which is also ex's.


If only English were/was (take your pick) so easy...then the plural of the two letter word ox would be oxes, for everyone.

Yours (or, for some, your's) is a great question, since the word ex meaning ex-girlfriend is a detached prefix. It looks weird standing there so alone, so short, ending with -x, added to words with the hyphen attached: ex-girlfriend, ex-convict.

Ex is also the "name" of the letter X, and people don't agree how to pluralize letters. Answers to the ELU question What is the proper way to write the plural of a single letter? return mixed results. Yet, if one decides that the plural of x is x's, it's not unreasonable to intuit that the plural of ex is ex's.

This plural-marking apostrophe carries over to other short words. What's the plural of and? Is it ands or and's? You will find plenty of the latter in the idiom no if's and's or but's, spelled like that, the apostrophe indicating plural.

Sure, there are rules devised by grammarians, but these are the same people who brought you such damnable rules as don't start a sentence with and or end one with a preposition.

Most native speakers do not intuitively know how to pluralize ex. There are plenty of examples of pluralizing it as ex's: for example, see the reference to the hit single "All My Ex's Live in Texas" below.

This doubt carries over to certain words that end in -ex. You'll find plenty of T-Rex's running around.

And this is not limited to ex. People, native speakers, tend to reach for the apostrophe when in doubt. Sometimes last names are pluralized with an apostrophe: the Jackson's. (And no one can authoritatively say it's wrong to do so.) Two hundred years ago, the apostrophe was used to pluralize "foreign-sounding" words ending with a vowel: pasta's, potato's, ouzo's (for a reference on this, see the next link). Now if a grocer uses potato's or banana's he's accused of using the dreadful greengrocers’ apostrophe.

In any case, the writer of the hit single "All My Ex's Live in Texas" made a stylistic choice (consciously or not), and I'm not sure that this spelling (ex's) was necessarily done out of ignorance of "standard" pluralization rules; or whether it was chosen as an assertion of an alternative spelling or just because it looked better.

Apparently the author of this tweet was using their/his (take your pick) noggin:

#ifwedate dont bring up ya old hoes or ex's i'll smoove cut you off as fast as pnd posted that pic with kehlani in his bed

Notice how careful 'brown boy' was to pluralize ho as hoes, but good luck determining if that's "correct." Hos has a history.

My answer is that it depends. Why shouldn't it be? This ELU site & ELL usually eschew prescriptivist answers. And if you can take your pick in the case of other uses, why can't you take your pick in the case of your ex's/exes? As usual, you should choose the Style Guide of your choice whether that's Strunk & White or Shafer & Strait. If English speakers acted in accord, it would be oxes; we've had over a millennium to conform this beast to the norm.

Last thought: perhaps it should be ices, given that ex is from the Latin and the traditional plural of codex is codices, index is indices, etc. Many might feel ices to be quite an appropriate plural for ex.


1 "The plural of ex is exes, and the possessive is ex's—but be aware that many readers will find these forms odd-looking." (The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style)

Alan Carmack

Posted 2016-05-17T08:12:13.723

Reputation: 11 630

If you can find just one style guide which explicitly explains how to pluralize "ex" or its equivalent, I would be very much surprised. Extra is also a prefix and broadly used as such, e.g., extraterrestrial, extra-curriculum, extraordinary, etc. and how do you pluralize it when it is used as a noun? Is it Extra's? Even though the word is informal, ex is an English word listed in all the dictionaries (that I can find) and it follows the pluralization rule and has nothing to do with how to pluralize an English letter or English acronym. – None – 2016-05-17T17:42:41.643

I'm curious about the source of the assertion that the plurals of "foreign-sounding" words took an apostrophe two hundred years ago. – David K – 2016-05-18T02:30:51.643

As for the main topic of this question, I suppose the fact that someone asked the question at all (rather than just writing the word in whatever way seemed OK to them) is a good indication that the answer to their question is exes. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. :-)

– David K – 2016-05-18T02:40:11.320

The name of the letter "X" is ex, and its plural is exes. The name of the letter "M" is em, and its plural is ems. – nigel222 – 2016-05-18T17:39:43.047

-1

I would simply pluralize the other word and thus have the quite common sounding:

  • my ex-boyfriends
  • there are many of my ex-boyfriends in the picture
  • those men there were all ex-boyfriends of mine.

Michael Durrant

Posted 2016-05-17T08:12:13.723

Reputation: 155

This is a good workaround, but it doesn't really answer the O.P.'s question. – J.R. – 2016-05-17T17:24:38.630

See Scott Pilgrim to know the semantic difference between “ex-boyfriends” and “exes”: the former implies that all of them are male, which the latter doesn't.

– MvG – 2016-05-19T12:56:26.383