The Plural of Elk: Here’s What It Is and How to Use It

Sometimes in English, a simple word can have a complex pluralization when you’re considering new words. For example, the word elk is simple and short, and you would think that adding an “s” would suffice. But in this case, the word elk (pronounced ɛlk) can be kept as it is when referring to more than one, but the word “elks” also exists. This can get a bit confusing, so let’s discuss the meaning of our word of the day, it’s history and origin, and how to use the correct plural form.

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What Does the Word Elk Mean?

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 elk is “a large gregarious deer of North America, Europe, Asia, and northwestern Africa with the male having large antlers and many tines and that often form large herds.” 

It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between an elk and a moose. But they have several distinct differences. One of which being that moose are dark brown, and elk are light brown, almost yellow looking. Moose also have large noses and a “bell” under their throat, whereas elk have a much narrower nose. Moose also act very differently when approached by humans than American elk do. Moose are far more skittish when it comes to hunters.

The scientific name for an elk is Cervus Canadensis, and they belong to the mammal group of animals. They are herbivores and usually live anywhere between eight and 12 years. They were once very common in most of North America, but they were driven away to remote locations after many of them were killed off. Today, they mostly live in mountainous areas in the western part of North America. 

Like the word moose, which stays as it is when referring to more than one, the same rule can be applied to elk. The only difference is that you can also say the plural elks. But the only correct plural for moose is moose. This gets even more confusing when you think about the word “goose” and that the plural is “geese.” But when we look at the origin and context of goose and moose, we find out that they are from different languages and different times in history. 

This is why the etymology of a word can be so important. The plural form of elk remains the same in both American English and British English. 

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, elk is from the Old English eolh or elch, and it then evolved through the Middle English. It is derived from the Old High German elaho meaning “stag.” In Europe, an elk is a common word for a moose. In the 16th century, in America, the name elk was applied to a large North American subspecies of deer that was reddish in color. 

The Native Americans called elk “wapiti”, which means “light-colored deer.” This comes from the word “waapiti” meaning “white rump.”

However, Early European explorers thought that the elk resembled a moose. In Europe, a common name for a moose was an elk, so it basically got misnamed by the explorers in this context. 

The ancestors of the elk first appear in fossils from about 25 million years ago. There are many different subspecies of elk, including six from North America and four from Asia. These different subspecies vary in shape, size, and even mating behavior. 

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 example sentences of the word elk (and its plural) in context: 

  • “There are a lot of elk in this area, so drive slow.”
  • “Across the field, two elk grazed on the hill below the tree line.”
  • “In addition to the native deer, the elk or buffalo could have been eating the grain.”
  • “They offered me elk and bison meat when I ate dinner at their house.”

Synonyms for Elk

Finally, the best way to really cement a word into your memory is to learn its synonyms; words with similar meanings make it easy to remember how to properly use a word.  Here are some basic synonyms for an elk:

  • An American deer is a hoofed grazing or browsing animal, with branched bony antlers that are shed annually and typically borne only by the male.
  • A moose is a large deer with palmate antlers, a sloping back, and a growth of skin hanging from the neck. It is native to northern Eurasia and northern North America.
  • Wapiti is another word for elk, a term Native Americans used for a large light-colored deer.
  • An antelope is a similar animal, but much smaller and more delicate. They are characterized by their fast speeds.

In Summary

The English language has borrowed so much from other languages that it sometimes makes you scratch your head and wonder how people learn it. Words with silent letters like “tsunami” could keep you up at night. It is no wonder that it is hard to understand part of the English dictionary when the rules are not black and white. Sometimes it is up to your own discretion to pick the correct word in its context. Elks can be used when referring to the animal collectively, but the word elk can be used when referring to a group of elk. 

Hopefully, after reading about the definition of the word elk, its origin and history, as well as some synonyms and examples of the word, you feel more prepared to use the word in your own vocabulary. Good luck!