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

Learning languages can be a really exciting way to learn about a different culture, its country, and its people.  However, language can also pose several challenges due to the fact that languages often do not follow their own rules.  Anyone who has ever studied a second or even third language can attest to the fact that grammatical rules can be the most difficult part to learn.  From learning new words to complicated verb tenses to noun declensions that cover both singular, plural, gender, and case, to the lists of pronouns that older languages like Latin supply…in short, grammar is difficult.

English is widely considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn just based on the fact that it tends to struggle with following most of its own rules.  Part of the reason for this is that American English borrows (or just completely steals) most of its grammar from other languages.  English is an etymological mashup of several different languages, which causes several common grammar mistakes.

In this article, let’s explore our word of the day, “specimen” (pronounced ˈspes.ə.mɪn), learn its proper use, how to use its plural form, look for its synonyms, and learn its etymology and context.

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What Does Specimen 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 specimen is “an individual, item, or part considered typical of a group, class, or whole,” “a portion or quantity of material for use in testing, examination, or study,” or, “something that obviously belongs to a particular category but is noticed by reason of an individual distinguishing characteristic.”  In its slang form, it can also be used to refer to an individual in a somewhat distinguishing way, e.g., he’s a tough specimen.  In a medical setting, your doctor might take a urine specimen.

Part of what makes English such a difficult language to master is that no matter where you look, there are rules, and then there are exceptions to those rules.  For example, the common rule for making the past tense in English is to add “-d” or “-ed” to a verb to give it the past tense.  For example, the verb cook becomes cooked, and the verb bake becomes baked.  In both situations, you either add the “-ed” or the “-d” suffix, and the word is past tense.  

Many plurals follow a similar rule: to create a plural, add “-es” or just “s” to the current word.  In most contexts, that is how the plural of specimen is formed.  The most commonly accepted plural of the word specimen is, in fact, specimens.    

What Is Plural for Specimen?

The most commonly accepted plural for specimen is the simple, rule-following form of the word, specimens.  However, there is a secondary accepted plural usually among scientific contexts, and that is the word “specimina.”  This is a rather rare form of the word used in only very specific contexts and areas, so before you use this form, learn your audience and figure out how they would prefer you to communicate, rather than going straight from the English dictionary.  For example, if you are writing in an academic context, ask your teacher or your professor before you proceed.  

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, the word specimen actually entered the English language in the early seventeenth century in its current form.  It derived from the Latin word specimen, meaning “indication, mark, example, or evidence,” or the Latin verb specere, meaning “to look.”

The English word is quite similar to the Portuguese espécime, but it differs quite a lot from the word in other languages like the Italian campione or the Spanish ejemplar. 

When you look up word origins, most of the modern English language nouns actually come from Latin, whereas many of the verbs in English actually come from early Western European languages.         

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 examples of the word specimen in context: 

  • “That fine specimen was our most successful trial yet.  It lived for 36 hours in the air once removed from the bacterial solution.”
  • “Have you tested the specimens yet at their current temperature?  They need to be checked with every plus four-degree increase.”
  • “When you get a chance, record the heartbeat of every individual specimen.”
  • “That model is one of the finest specimens of a man that I have ever seen.”

Synonyms for Specimen

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.  Here are some synonyms from the thesaurus for the word specimen: 

  • Species can be a synonym for specimen that conveys a very specific nature to a kind of animal, usually used in a scientific context
  • Sample, used in a scientific context to replace “research specimen” with “research sample,” for example
  • Archetype, used as a synonym for specimen in the sense of one of a group or collection that shows what the whole is like

In Summary

At the end of the day, what is most important in communication is knowing your audience.  Sometimes it will be prudent to avoid certain words if it appears like your audience will not be able to grasp the intent of your communication given a certain vocabulary choice.  However, by reading this article, you should be fully prepared to use the word specimen any time it is appropriate in either written or spoken communication.  Good luck!