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

English is a strange language because it is a melting pot of so many other languages. There are many dialects of the English language, and different cultures hold certain meanings for words that others may not. Trying to decipher how to say a word when it is plural can be nearly impossible. Some words follow the rules, while others break them. 

However, there are some words that cannot make up their minds and have two different variations in the plural form. One of these words is our word of the day, stylus, pronounced staɪləs. Let’s explore the meaning behind this word, its history, and origin, as well as the two different ways to say more than one stylus. 

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What Is the Plural of Stylus?

To get a better understanding of a word, it is always helpful to look at its definition. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of stylus is, “an instrument for writing, marking or incising.” Another definition is “a pen-shaped pointing device used for entering data into a computer.”

In ancient times, a stylus (sty-lus) was used for writing into wax tablets. Sumerians, in particular, used styluses to write on clay tablets, which is the first written language surviving today. 

The stylus on a record player is the needle that allows a phonograph record to play. 

Although the stylus has been around for centuries, in today’s modern world, we usually refer to a stylus pen when talking about an object that is used for touchscreens on an internet device like an iPhone. A stylus has two different types, including active and passive. An active stylus usually includes internal electronic components such as a pressure sensor to use on the touchscreen, which can give you a very personalized web experience. A passive stylus can be used in the same way on a screen but does not have components in it that communicate with the device. They can also be used for writing Braille. 

The plural of stylus is either styluses or styli. This is a word where you can pick which one you say or write, and either is technically correct. Although some people may have a preference for whichever one rolls off the tongue easier. 

Is Styluses a Word?

It may be confusing to some people for a word to have multiple correct spellings. Yes, styluses is a word, and so is the plural styli. It really is just a personal preference for which one you use, and you cannot really be incorrect. The reason there are two spellings is that the English word came from Latin/Greek words. 

To look into why there are two spellings, let’s discuss the origin of the word and its use throughout history.

The History and Origin of the Word

The best way to really learn a word and to answer the question of why it exists is to explore that word’s etymology. The roots and origin story of any given word can open so many doors to understanding its current context in English.  Because English borrows so many different words and concepts from other languages, it is important to look back.

The word originates in the 1700s from the Latin word, “stilus” meaning “a stem-like part of a flower pistil.” This was influenced by the Greek word “stylos,” meaning pillar. The Latin word had many meanings, including “the stem of a plant,” “a sharply pointed piece of metal,” and “a pointed instrument for incising letters.” 

The plural version styli follows the Latin rules for constructing plurals, whereas the word styluses follows the rules for Greek plurals. 

Styluses were first used in ancient Mesopotamia to write in cuneiform. They were usually made of reed but also were made with bone or metal. 

Styluses have also been used in the arts for many different purposes, such as tracing, embossing, and engraving materials. 

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 stylus used in conversation:

  • “Children use a pointed bone or metal stylus to make marks on the wax.”
  • “The surface is measured by moving the stylus across the surface.”
  • “It has a stylus-operated on-screen keyboard that takes great skill to master and make the site work.”
  • “The electronic store just received a shipment of styli that go with the new tablets.”

Synonyms for Stylus

Exploring words with similar definitions is the last good way to really understand how to properly implement a word into your own vocabulary.  Here are some common synonyms for the word stylus.

  • Pointer: “a long, thin piece of metal on a scale or dial which moves to indicate a figure or position.”
  • Probe: “a small device, especially an electrode, used for measuring, testing, or obtaining information.”
  • Pen: “an instrument for writing or drawing with ink, typically consisting of a metal nib or ball, or a nylon tip, fitted into a metal or plastic holder.”

These words are not exact copies of a stylus, but they have very similar connotations. 

Another similar word that has changed its meaning over time is the word tablet. This is usually what a stylus is used to write on. We usually think about tablets as a type of portable computer, but thousands of years ago it was just known as a flat slab or surface used for writing. 

In Summary

A word can change its meaning over time. Culture influences language to a certain degree, and therefore words are constantly evolving. Thousands of years ago, a stylus was a very simple writing tool, but we have since invented multiple other types of writing tools. So now, a stylus has taken on a new, more technologically advanced definition. If you were to ask someone today what they thought a stylus was, they would tell you that it is used on touchscreen devices.

Now that you know the proper usage of stylus and its pluralization, context, and history, you are well equipped to implement it into your own vocabulary!