dialect in novels

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Mar 2 14:15:10 UTC 2001

>The rule may be arbitrary but it is unambigous.  When referring to people (or
>objects) in the real world, the plural is "dwarfs".  "Dwarves" (as in "Snow
>Whie and the Seven Dwarves") is used only in fantasy.

In which standard American reference is this rule found?

American Heritage, Random House, Merriam-Webster dictionaries all give both
plurals without any restrictive remarks, and none seems to distinguish
between meanings of the word in this connection.

Maybe American 'authorities' are more friendly to the irregular plural than
British ones are. Still, David Crystal (a person of the UK, I think) gives
"dwarf" (along with "hoof", "scarf", and "wharf") as an example of a word
for which two plurals are used ("Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English
Language" [1995], p. 200).

Doing a quick Web search, I note that "dwarfs" only slightly outnumbers
"dwarves". Of course, "dwarves" entries include a lot of fantasy-related
items, but so do the "dwarfs" entries (e.g., the Disney movie has "Seven

Taking a field which (I presume) favors "dwarfs" -- astronomy -- I find
"red dwarf" pluralized "red dwarfs" about ten times as often as "red
dwarves" (maybe astronomers tend to be Tolkien readers). Still, there are
some respectable users of "red dwarves", including Royal Observatory
Greenwich (http://www.rog.nmm.ac.uk/astroweb/stars/).

-- Doug Wilson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list