Grammar Elfs or Elves: Which Word Is the Correct One? |
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Elfs or Elves: Which Word Is the Correct One?

Imagine you’re taking a walk through the forest. From the corner of your eye, you spot a quick movement followed by a mischievous giggle. Moments later you see through the brush a small, childlike creature sitting and smiling. You have discovered an elf!

Just as you are thinking how you will explain this sighting to your friends, you realize the elf might have friends as well. Actually, it does have friends: At least a dozen of them are now also watching you from different trees and bushes.

You have yourself quite a story to share, and it will test your own friends’ sense of your normality. Will you tell them that you were visited by many elfs or elves?

In other words, what’s the plural of the word elf?

The Plural of Elf

The proper plural of elf can challenge all kinds of fantasy fans. However, establishing the right word is easy (easier than convincing people you’ve seen one).

Generally speaking, the plural of elf will be elves. It is possible that elfs was once an accepted spelling, but during the last couple of centuries, literature has resolutely drifted toward the -ves spelling.

Many other English words that end with “f” receive a similar treatment:

dwarf becomes dwarves

wolf becomes wolves

knife becomes knives

thief becomes thieves

What makes this spelling tricky to remember sometimes is that there are exceptions to the rule. For example, the plural of roof is simply roofs. That main way to ensure accuracy is to memorize individual words and their plural spellings as you continue to read and write them.

Why Is Elves the Plural of Elf?

If you’re wondering why words ending with “f” are sometimes pluralized this way, there are two things to consider.

The first is that words ending in “f” could be awkward to pronounce if pluralized with a simple “s.” It is easier to speak and hear elves than it is the incorrect elfs. The -fs ending softens the “s” sound, which can sometimes make the plural less distinct from the singular form.

Over time, many word adaptations in English—and American English in particular—follow ease of use and communication. If something is simpler or easier to understand, it often becomes the prevailing convention.

Many words we use in American English have foreign roots as well. While it’s not clear whether elves derives from German, Danish, or an older version of English or Gaelic, many similar nouns and phrases are imported into our language. That means they may be pluralized in ways different from what we’d normally expect.

Either way, for words such as elves, it’s best to simply become familiar with their usage so you’ll know the correct pluralization.

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