The English language is full of contradictions and complications that make it one of the most difficult languages in the world. People who try to learn English as a second or even a third language struggle with very common grammar mistakes due to the fact that English often breaks its own rules and even native speakers often have a difficult time.
Words that seem like they should have an easy plural form often do not, and sometimes spellings are not as intuitive as they seem like they should be. Because English gets so many of its words and concepts from other languages, it is easy to confuse endings and suffixes. A word that fits into this category is the word aircraft. In this article, let’s explore the proper use of our word of the day, aircraft, how to pluralize it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
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The first step in really understanding a word or learning how to use it properly is to understand its definition. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of aircraft is “a vehicle (such as an airplane or balloon) for traveling through the air.”
Aircraft is a term usually used by pilots and other aeronautical professionals to describe the commercial aircraft and tools they use to complete their jobs. Laymen usually just call them airplanes or planes for short. However, aircraft is the term used to actually describe the physical fuselage and accouterments of the airplane while in flight and is also used by the air traffic controllers on the ground.
Why Is the Plural of Aircraft Aircraft?
The plural form of aircraft is where things get complicated. Normal pluralization rules in English usually dictate adding either -s or -es onto the end of a word to pluralize it. For example, one dog, two dogs. One boat, three boats. One sandwich, a picnic basket full of sandwiches. However, some words completely break that mold completely. Aircraft is one of those words.
The plural of aircraft remains just simply “aircraft,” despite the fact that it’s a countable noun (also sometimes called a collective noun). According to GrammarMonster.com, “confusion arises because aircraft remains unchanged in its plural form. Unfortunately, there is no clever way of knowing which nouns follow which rules. You have to know.” And therein lies the problem with the English language. The sentence “you have to know” is why English is just so difficult to learn.
Part of the reason that this particular word is difficult is due to its etymology, which is what we will discuss next.
The History and Origin of the Word
One of the best ways to understand a word is to learn where it came from. A word’s etymology can reveal a lot about the changes a word has gone through to get to where it is today in modern English.
According to EtymOnline.com, the word aircraft is an entirely English creation. This is rare because the majority of English words actually originate from Latin or by way of other European languages. It was first introduced in 1850 as the word “air-craft” in the writings of John Wise, and it was originally used to refer to hot air balloons. It has been used to describe airplanes since 1907, and since the 1930s, it is actually exclusive to them.
In fact, the British English “aircraft” is very different from the words for the same thing in other languages, like the German flugzeug, while some, like the Portuguese aeronave and the French avion, are relatively similar.
The word’s complicated plural is due to the fact that it is a compound word that involves two words that do not have plurals either. Air, in this context, and craft, also in this context, do not have commonly accepted plural forms. For example, when talking about watercraft, you would not say “thirteen watercrafts,” you would say, “thirteen watercraft.”
The important distinction to make here is that culture and necessity drive language, not the other way around. Because technology moves so quickly, it is impossible for language and dictionaries to keep up with all the new names. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, flight was a relatively new concept, and so people had to create new words that fit the new inventions that were being created.
The takeaway is that the dictionary can never be the definitive authority on language, grammar, and spelling. It may be a very effective tool, but it will never be perfect. So at the end of the day, it is important to know your audience, know how they speak, and communicate effectively for them.
Examples of the Word in Context
Another good way to learn a word and apply it to your own vocabulary is to hear it used properly. Reading it or hearing a word used in its correct context is a great way to learn how to use it yourself. Here are some common examples of the word aircraft used in conversation:
“Unidentified Cessna, what is your aircraft callsign?”
“The sky was dark with the overhang of several air force squadrons of military aircraft all bearing down on their target.”
“I will admit she is a beautiful aircraft. And at that price, I may just have to make the purchase.”
“Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft, the Spirit of Saint Louis, was the first aircraft to successfully make a transatlantic flight.”
Synonyms for Aircraft
Finally, exploring words with similar or related meanings can be a great way to solidify a word into your own vocabulary. Here are some common synonyms for the word aircraft, right from the thesaurus:
Airplane (or aeroplane), usually means the exact same thing as aircraft but is usually used by laymen and actually has a plural form, airplanes
Plane, a shortened version of airplane with the same definition
Airship, not quite an airplane, but another aircraft that is now obsolete due to technological improvements
Glider, a smaller vehicle that sometimes has no engine but rather glides on air
Blimp, a rounder vehicle that flies in a different manner
At the end of the day, your audience is important. If the people you are communicating with relate better to the word airplane than the word aircraft, use it instead. But now you are hopefully fully prepared to use the word aircraft in any context, written or spoken. Good luck!
Kevin Miller is a growth marketer with an extensive background in Search Engine Optimization, paid acquisition and email marketing. He is also an online editor and writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He studied at Georgetown University, worked at Google and became infatuated with English Grammar and for years has been diving into the language, demystifying the do's and don'ts for all who share the same passion! He can be found online here.