The English language is full of contradictions, and it makes the rule seem like the exception more times than not. English grammar is complicated and does not lend itself well to people trying to learn all the different rules for the spelling, pronunciation, and grammatical context for its words. Pluralization is an especially difficult concept to grasp because so many words are made plural in so many different ways.
The word tornado is one such example, where the plural form of tornado (pronounced tɔːˈneɪdəʊ or tɔrneɪdoʊ) does not seem to follow any specific guidelines, and people seem to disagree on which version is correct. In this article, let’s explore the proper use of the word tornado, how to pluralize it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
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To fully understand a word, it is important to start by defining it. According to the unabridged version of the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of tornado is, “a violent destructive whirling wind accompanied by a funnel-shaped cloud that progresses in a narrow path over the land”. A tornado is a very terrifying violent windstorm that is notorious for destroying huge parts of towns. They are sometimes produced by cumulonimbus clouds.
In fact, in America, there is a region known as “Tornado Alley,” which is a colloquial term used to describe the area where a rotating column of air is most frequent and violent. This area stretches across a large part of Midwest America, covering the majority of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and parts of Illinois, Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky. According to the NOAA, Tornado Alley has no agreed-upon boundaries but represents an idea of an area rather than an exact border. These are just the areas that most regularly experience violent thunderstorms that have destroyed millions of dollars of personal property and infrastructure over the past few years.
The word tornado has an interesting plural form, and like some other English words, does not seem to follow the rules. For example, its plural can be either tornado or tornadoes, and usually depends on region, culture, and usage. So they are technically both correct.
The History and Origin of the Word
To really study and understand a word, it is important to understand the usage history of the word, or its etymology. According to EtymOnline, the word “ternado” was first used to describe a windy violent storm in the tropical Atlantic, which was a mangled borrowing of the Spanish word “tronada”, which means thunderstorm. It also may have its roots in the Spanish “tornar,” which means “to turn.” That word in turn was derived from the Latin tonāre or Latin tornāre, which is translated, “to thunder”. First, it became tornade in the English language, but this has evolved since. The modern spelling, when taken from Spanish and Latin and into the English, became tornado and represents the destructive rotary funnel cloud with high wind speeds that we see today.
Etymology is a great way to understand how words change over time, because etymology represents the way that culture influences language. English is such a casual blend of so many different languages that it makes sense that the rules would be bent and broken more often than not.
Example Sentences of the Word in Context
The best way to really grasp the meaning of a word and how to use it is by exploring how other people use it. Hearing or reading a word in context can solidify the correct usage of that word into your own vocabulary. Here are some basic examples of the word tornado used correctly.
“Overall, most tornadoes (around 77%) in the United States are considered weak (EF-0 or EF-1) and about 95% of all United States tornadoes are below EF-3 intensity.”
“Did you hear about the tornado that went through Kansas last week? My friend Sarah said she saw it from her window, and half of their main street downtown was destroyed!”
“The sailor could see the tornado from his ship, tearing across the surface of the sea like a giant waterspout, causing turmoil everywhere it went like a typhoon.”
“According to meteorology reports, there is currently a tornado warning in your area due to the current weather conditions and rotations within the thunderstorm cell that is overhead.”
Synonyms for Tornado
Another great way to learn what a word means is to try and understand words with similar definitions and work them into your vocabulary as well. You can often find these yourself in a thesaurus, but here are some common synonyms for tornado (or just other words with similar definitions):
Twister: slang for tornado that describes its motion or rotation
Squall: a word that describes the circumstances inherent in a storm that forms a tornado
Waterspout: a tornado that forms over water, creating a thinner and less destructive funnel
Funnel: a term that describes the shape and physical form of a tornado, usually also slang but also used in meteorological terms to define the boundaries of the tornado that touches down to the ground
So Which Should You Use?
Now, the differentiation between tornados and tornadoes is admittedly cultural. Dictionaries are not the definitive answer to language, they are only used to document the current usage of words. As such, they are absolutely not an infallible authority, they just demonstrate what is culturally relevant at the time of publication.
Culture drives language, rather than the other way around. For example, the word selfie was added to the English dictionaries recently because of its cultural relevance.
Therefore, the plural of tornado being both tornadoes and tornados is local and colloquial, and both are deemed to be culturally correct. However, if you want to go by the dictionary standard, tornadoes is used most commonly in modern English.
While a tornado is a terrifying natural disaster that can cause great anxiety for anyone caught in or near its path, using the word in conversation or in writing does not have to be equally daunting. If you have reached the end of this little article, hopefully you feel more prepared to use the word tornado in conversation or in academic or casual writing, and hopefully you also know more about what it means in its plural form.
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.