Learning a language’s grammatical concepts is arguably one of the most difficult things about learning any language. For example, for anyone who has ever learned a foreign language before, you know how difficult it is to memorize verb conjugations, different forms of pronouns, lists of noun rules, and various other grammar rules. And if you have ever learned more than one other language, it can be very easy to get them confused.
Welcome to English, a language that is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to master due to the complexity of its rules and the fact that it actually breaks its own rules more often than not, especially when considering plural nouns. The exceptions often outnumber the rules, and it can be very hard to keep track of what is right and what is wrong, especially if you find yourself working with several different groups of people with their own colloquialisms or slangs. English lends itself to several common grammar mistakes that beginners and experienced English speakers alike make often.
In this article, let’s explore our word of the day, “bison” (pronounced baɪsən), learn its proper use, how to create its plural forms, look for its synonyms, and learn its etymology and context.
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To first understand a word, its history, and how to use it properly, it is important to first define what it actually means. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of bison is “any of several large shaggy-maned usually gregarious recent or extinct bovine mammals (genus Bison) having a large head with short horns and heavy forequarters surmounted by a large fleshy hump.” In total, there is really only one generally accepted definition for bison because the term refers to such a specific animal, the American or European bison (Bison bonasus). The American bison is often referred to as the American buffalo, but this idiom is incorrect, as they are separate animals.
The thing that makes the English language so difficult to learn is the fact that it so often breaks its own rules. For example, in creating the past tense of verbs, you typically add “-d” or “-ed” to create the past tense. However, several words actually break this rule and create their own irregular past tenses. For example, the verb “to run” does not add a suffix; instead, it completely changes its spelling.
This is the case with nouns very often as well. While most nouns just add “-s” or “-es” to create a plural form, the plural of some nouns is irregular and involves changing spellings.
The plural of bison is complicated because it is actually irregular. In this case, however, there are two acceptable forms of the plural: both “two bison” and “two bisons” are acceptable.
No, bison is not plural for buffalo. Bison and Buffalo are different animals with some very small variations in classification.
Are Bison and Buffalo the Same?
No, actually they are not the same. While the two words (bison and buffalo) are often used interchangeably, they are actually not the same animal. A “true” buffalo is actually native to Africa and Asia (like the water buffalo), while the Bison is only found in North America and Europe. They are in the same sub-family, but they are not the same species.
What Are Bison Often Called?
Bison are often mistakenly called buffalo due to the fact that many people do not understand that there is a difference. And, since the majority of people use the words interchangeably, they have come to mean the same thing in most contexts. This is an important example of language being driven by culture; what is considered acceptable or correct changes over time due to human usage.
What Words Change When Plural?
Words that completely change when they are pluralized are called irregular nouns. Some examples of this are the fact that when made plural, the word foot becomes the word feet, the word, man and woman become men and women, mouse becomes mice, and many other examples. These words’ irregularity is often due to their etymology.
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. In Middle English, it was bisonte. According to EtymOnline.com, the word bison was first used in modern English in the early seventeenth century and meant “European wild ox.” The word originated from the French word bison, which first saw use in the early fifteenth century and was, in turn, derived from the Latin bisōn, which means wild ox.
The majority of nouns in the English language can trace their roots back to ancient languages such as Latin and Greek, or even Germanic origin, and so it is no surprise that bison is that way.
Examples of the Word in Context
Another great way to learn how to use a word is to explore the word being used correctly. Either reading the word in its proper context or hearing someone else use it in conversation. Here are some common example sentences of the word bison in context:
“What did the daddy buffalo say to his son when he dropped him off at school? Bison!”
“The bison are native to the western plains regions of the North American continent and were regularly hunted for both their pelts and their food for decades.”
“Have you ever seen bison in person? They are incredibly rare.”
Synonyms for Bison
Finally, to really solidify a word into your vocabulary, it is useful to explore words with similar or same definitions. The more words you know that can fit into a specific context, the easier it will be to remember which ones to use. However, in this case, it is terribly difficult to find synonyms to such a specific noun in the thesaurus. The only one that really fits is the word buffalo, and even that is technically a misnomer. People often confuse bison with buffaloes or with the extinct bison-lie creature, the auroch.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that knowing your audience is an essential way to learn how to communicate well. Once you can really relate to them, the correct words will come easily. 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.