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.
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 rhinoceros (pronounced raɪˈnɒsərəs). In this article, let’s explore the proper use of our word of the day rhinoceros, how to pluralize it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
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When learning to use a word, one of the best places to start is to learn its definition. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of rhinoceros is “any of a family (Rhinocerotidae) of large heavyset herbivorous perissodactyl mammals of Africa and Asia.” They have one or two upright horns and thick brown or gray skin “with little hair”. The rhinoceros is a very large land mammal of the family rhinocerotidae that is almost reminiscent of ancient dinosaurs like the triceratops, although the rhino itself is an extant species. Its profile is very intimidating, but it is not an overly scary animal, as it is plant-eating rather than carniverous, despite its thick skin. There are multiple kinds of rhinos, including the Indian rhinoceros (the Rhinoceros unicornis), the White rhinoceros, the Sumatran rhinoceros, and the Black rhinoceros, and it is a distant relative of the hippopotamus, another extant genera.
The plural of rhinoceros is extremely complicated because it technically has several forms, and the dictionary is not as helpful when it comes to providing the correct answer as to which is most proper. The plural form of this particular word can take three different forms that are considered grammatically valid: “rhinoceros”, “rhinoceroses”, and “rhinoceri”. The reason for this extra layer of complication is due to the word’s complicated etymology, but that will be discussed later on. For now, it is sufficient to say that the word was completely borrowed from other languages, leaving it subject to that language’s grammatical rules but has also been changed somewhat over time due to English as well.
What Do You Call More Than One Rhinoceros?
Multiple rhinoceros can be referred to in several ways, including “rhinoceri”. Here are some examples of the multiple correct plurals:
“The zoo just got three rhinoceri.”
“Dad, can we go see the rhinoceroses?”
“That is a family of four rhinoceros.”
And then there is the slang term for rhinoceros, which is rhino, and the plural of that word is just simply “rhinos”.
The History and Origin of the Word
A great way to get a better understanding of what a word means is to explore its history and the languages it originated from; another word for this is the word’s etymology. The etymology of the word rhinoceros is fairly simple. According to EtymOnline.com, the word comes from the Latin rhīnocerōs, which originated from a side-translation from the Greek rhinokeros or rhinoker which is translated literally as “nose-horned”, from “rhinos” (which means nose) and “keras”, meaning “horn of an animal”.
The word was first used in the early fourteenth century to describe the animal that is still described today, although the Middle English rinoceros is still not the same as today’s spelling. It became the source of some grammatical debate in the early twentieth century. The same EtymOnline article states that, “What is the plural of rhinoceros? … Well, Liddell and Scott seem to authorize ‘rhinocerotes,’ which is pedantic, but ‘rhinoceroses’ is not euphonious”, citing Sir Charles Eliot’s, “The East Africa Protectorate,” 1905. Eliot’s point was that the word rhinocerotes was patently ridiculous, but the word rhinoceroses was not pleasing to the ear.
Today, the plural form seems to be a conglomeration of several root pluralizations, as both the Latin and Greek are represented, in addition to the Anglicized version, which is rhinoceroses.
According to Elizabeth Pyatt, a linguist for Penn State University, “What’s interesting to me here is that my preference suggests that English phonology may be driving the formation of some neo-classical plurals.” This backs up the previous point that the English has actually modulated the grammar.
Culture drives language, not the other way around, and so at the end of the day, what really matters is what society generally accepts or deems to be correct.
Examples of the Word in Context
The best way to understand a new word is to explore its uses in context. Hearing or reading someone else using a word properly will help cement it into your vocabulary in its correct context. Here are some valid example sentences of rhinoceros and its plurals in everyday grammar:
“Here at the Cleveland Zoo, some of our most famous exhibits are our gorillas, our hippos, and our rhinoceroses.”
“The circus used to have a family of rhinos, but they were getting old and the management determined that it was more humane to allow them to retire.”
“The last stop on our safari drive today is at the habitat where the rhinoceri tend to hang around during most of the summer months.”
“Most rhinoceros can run at a speed of north of thirty miles per hour.”
Synonyms for Rhinoceros
Because the word rhinoceros has such specific connotations and describes a very specific species of animal, it does not have any real synonyms that you can look up in the thesaurus. Other than its slang form, rhino, there is really no other way to describe this large herbivorous pachyderms native to Asia and Africa than those that we have discussed in this article.
Because English is such a hodge podge of many other different languages, learning how to use it properly in every context can be a challenge. The word rhinoceros is definitely a word that can be daunting at first glance, but now it does not have to be; now you are fully prepared to use it in your daily vocabulary or in your next writing assignment!
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.