Yesterday on Twitter, copyeditor Ashley Bischoff was publicly pondering the singular and plural forms of the yummy candy Mentos. Would she eat one Mento from a roll of Mentos? Or would it be one Mentos from a roll of Mentoses (or even Mentosi)? Or is the word Mentos like deer and moose, both singular and plural?
Though this might seem like some flight of fancy, these are the kinds of conundrums copyeditors face every day, and it’s up to us to find the answers.
English has some standard rules for making a plural noun from a singular, but those rules are followed by a whole mess of irregular plurals, exceptions, and alternatives. And throwing trade names into the mix only adds complexity.
Generally, companies prefer you avoid pluralizing their trademarks and trade names because doing so contributes to the genericization, which, if allowed to run rampant, could cause them to lose their trademark. Instead, companies want you to use trade names as descriptors, not nouns. Apple, for example, wants to sell millions of iPad devices, not millions of iPads.
Thankfully, you aren’t bound by law or ethics to follow such a proscription, so you aren’t forced into jarring constructions like “iPhone phones.” But how do you decide what form to use when you need to make a trade name plural?
1. Check other publications’ house style guides for their viewpoints. (Here are a few places to look.) You might find that the industry has already reached a consensus. For example, though the plural of blackberry (the fruit) is blackberries, publications have generally agreed that the plural of BlackBerry (the obsolete smartphone) is BlackBerrys.
You might not find the name on any house style guide, though, in which case . . .
2. Ask the company that owns the trade name. See if the company website has an FAQ section, or find them on Twitter and ask. Though the company’s official line will likely be “please don’t make our product name plural,” some more nimble and sociable companies might offer an alternative.
You aren’t bound by their pronouncements, though. You might remember when, in 2011, Toyota announced that the plural of Prius, its hybrid car, would by Prii. That was little more than a publicity stunt, and thank goodness the word never stuck. Priuses is just fine.
If you cannot get an answer or you don’t like the answer you get, that leaves you with . . .
3. Follow the usual rules for making plurals. Although irregular and alternative plurals number in the thousands for common nouns, irregularities (like Prii) are rare in trade names, so simply adding -s or -es to the name will suffice most of the time.
Does all this solve Ashley’s Mentos problem? Not exactly. There are always exceptions, and in this case, those exceptions include trademarks that are already plural in English (Starbucks), that are or even look plural in another language (Lamborghini, Mentos), that are possessives (Carl’s Jr.), or that use odd spellings that make pluralizing even more maddening (Chick-fil-A).
Avoiding the plural forms is usually preferable for all trade names — and especially those in this last group. But if the plural is unavoidable, let euphony be your guide. What sounds right and looks right on the page or screen? There’s really no one right answer — which means there’s no wrong answer, either.
But whatever you choose, don’t forget to add it to your style guide or convention sheet so you can remain consistent in the future.
Note: The Mentos UK website FAQ offers this helpful-but-not-entirely answer: “Mentos is the singular form; it’s not a Mentos without the S.” That solves half the problem!
UPDATE: According to company spokestweeters, Mentos is both singular and plural: