Submitted by Dyske on May 8, 2003

Email

Someone told me that “email” does not have a plural form “emails” because it is used in the same manner as “mail”, which means that “an email” is wrong also. So, I suppose I should be saying: “I received a piece of email from John.” as opposed to: “I received an email from John.”

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I wouldn't worry about using the prevalent pluralization of e-mail (or email) "e-mails," as it's so commonly used and widely recognized. The same for "an e-mail." E-mail has become a noun of its own, independent of its original form, "electronic mail."

That being said, if you *do* wish to use e-mail as a derivative of mail (probably only to be considered when used as the formal, perhaps even archaic "electronic mail"), I suppose it would make sense to go by mail's rules. But you wouldn't need to say "I received a piece of email from John" (as this wouldn't make much sense), just "I received email from John." Though neither would you need to say "I received a piece of mail from John," unless you were referring to a specific article of mail. While it wouldn't be *incorrect* to do so, you'd typically just say "I received (some) mail from John," I would think.

I suppose the kicker would be when you wish to refer to a specific e-mail under the rules of the noun mail. The thing is, the form "electronic mail" refers more to the system of transmission than individual transmissions themselves. While you could probably drum up a term to take the place of "piece," this very situation just might be what caused the creation of the form of e-mail, independent of its root, meaning "specific article of e-mail," bringing us back to where we began.

So, I think this is probably just a simple case of etymological evolution- something you see frequently in the ever-developing world of technology. Regardless, no one's going to trounce you for using "e-mails."

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I think it's ok to pluaralise email, so you can say.
I received an email from Em (for one), or,
I received emails from Em (for many)....

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To switch to "a piece of e-mail" would make you idiomize "piece" (since real mail comes in pieces). I prefer using "an e-mail" since it doesn't do that; it seems more accurate.

Given that "e-mail" is a new word in the language, how it is used is totally determined by the populace; "rules" just don't apply. As a student in the language I am sure that you realized early on that all the English "rules" were merely statements of general use. Taking all that into account, I prefer accuracy in the statement.

There are words that I wonder about, for instance is "daikon" a non-count or countable noun?

Also in Japanese, many Japanese really don't have a notion of "iru" and "aru" down very well; it seems to change from person to person and is very situational. This is more confusing to me.

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From what I have seen of the usage of the term, the primary difference in grammar rules generally rely on the spelling, "e-mail" or "email".

It appears that most people who spell the word "e-mail" tend to use it closer to mail rules, and thus a letter is "an e-mail message". "I received an e-mail message from John". This also implies the use, as with mail, "I received e-mail from John".

The people who spell the word "email" primarily use it as refering to a specific thing. Used this way, then it is acceptable to use "I received an email from John" or "I received several emails from John". This still holds a little of its roots with the still acceptable "I received email from John".

I am far from a grammar expert, as may be apparent in my abuse without someone else proofreading what I type. I just thought I would throw in my two cents worth since this is about an online term.

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It's easier to make an end-run around this troublesome usage by using the term "message."

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I like Merge's way...cheers to you!!!

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"email" is French for "enamel." Use "e-mail."

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Email (e-mail?) is the plural. The correct singular form would be something like an e-letter or something along those lines, although no-one speaks like that anyway.

BTW, Earl, what's so hard about differentiating between iru and aru?

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Once again this is language evolution in action. Eventually the arguing will die down and a standard will be established. Or the arguing will never die down and more than one standard will be established :)
In Australia we say 'I sent you a couple of emails', 'I got email' (plural) and 'I got mail' (singular or plural, usually using or implying an electronic voice like the one in the Amercain movie of the same name). Older computer users and/or non-computer users often write 'email' as 'e-mail' or 'E-mail'.
'Mail' here almost always means email as 'post' mean letters. So I might say 'I didn't get any mail but I got something in the post.'

For those learners of American English now too confused to visit Australia, don't worry. American English is understood everywhere in the English-speaking world.

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We also say 'I sent you some email' (singular and plural).

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I've seen "emails" used in The New York Times and heard it used on National Public Radio in the U.S.. I would guess that this is a sure sign that weather it makes sense or note, given how we use the work mail, emails will be commonly accepted.

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My supervisor at work and I were debating this a little while ago. This is an interesting topic, to be sure!

Since the word "email" is a relatively new word stemming from Internet culture, arguments on the correct or incorrect way to use it are still up in the air. I doubt anyone could claim one way as the "rule" while the word is still so young. Still, from what my perception of appropriate English is, and simply from what "feels good", here's my take on it...

The word "mail" seems to be the closest word to compare "email" to. Taking that into account, we could ask ourselves what "mail" represents. Typically, it represents more than one letter or postal item (or at least the POTENTIAL of more than one). If someone told you, "I got some mail today", you wouldn't be able to discern whether or not they were talking about one letter or more than one letter, right? If they wanted to specify the plural, they would say, "I got 10 letters today".

The word "email" has evolved into both a singular and a plural noun. In the plural sense, hearing the phrase "I received some email today" is far more common than hearing "I received email today". On the other hand, in the singular sense, "I received an email" is also commonly heard. If this is common, and the word "email" is used in both a singular and plural sense that often, then making the word plural should also make sense, such as, "I received 10 emails today". Saying, "I received 10 email today" just doesn't sound right, does it? It's the same as saying, "I received 10 mail today" when answering the question "Did you get any mail today?"

If there was an accepted word for one piece of email, say, "email message" or "e-letter" then I could see where it would be awkard to pluralize the word "email", but there is no other word to use to represent a single email...is there?

"I received mail today."
"I received 10 letters today." (not "10 mail")

"I received email today."
"I received 10 [insert plural form of the word representing a single email] today."

Since the commonly used word to represent a single email is "email", it makes perfect sense to use it in a plural form.

"I received 10 emails today."

Does this make sense?

Mike O.

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I think that society has unconsciously decided that there is no need for a separate noun for the individual messages, since there aren't really different categories of e-mail (though there are different types I suppose, such as HTML e-mail, plaintext e-mail, encrypted e-mail, spam e-mail, mass e-mail, etc.; but these are not different enough to merit individual words), whereas mail comes in many forms besides letters.

I don't think there is any reason to tightly couple the words "mail" and "e-mail" (or "email"). They are distinct words, and if we'd stop thinking of "email" as an abbreviation, we'd be better off.

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Mike O's observation is the same as mine. I work at a large international company, and no matter where the speaker is from, if they are speaking English, they refer to a number of pieces of e-mail as "e-mails."

Therefore, my boss in Aberdeen, for example, could be heard to complain--on a conference call to my managers in Stavanger, Houston, Rio de Janeiro, and Kuala Lumpur--that he sent out several e-mails about the meeting, but all the participants didn't show up. Everyone would know what he meant and would think his usage perfectly acceptable.

Yes, Anonymous, "mail" and "e-mail" are different words, but they are no more different from each other than are the words "white" and "off-white" or than "string" and "G-string." All of these word pairs, and the majority of similar pairs, use the same declension rules for the compound as they do for the single word.

By the way, spelling the word "email" makes no more sense than to call the dancer's thong a "gstring."

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Lots of English words lose their hyphen after a long period of usage. E-MAILS has become EMAILS surprisingly quickly, granted.

There is a very obvious reason why G-STRING hasn't become GSTRING!

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"Email" is a sensible enough spelling, because it can be reasonably pronounced the same way as "e-mail." "Gstring," however, can't be pronounced as a word in English, so we have to maintain the separation that the hyphen provides, to indicate that the first letter is to be read by name not by it's normal pronunciation.

Because "email" can be read as a word (rhymes with "female") and pronounced the same way as "e-mail," it makes sense to drop the hyphen, and it seems to me inevitable that that will happen in time (in general use, of course, it has already). It's use as a countable noun is ubiquitous, and there's frankly no reaosn to avoid doing so.

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Actually, there's a perfectly sound and consistent reason why "e-mail" should be hyphenated.

Most compound words in English in which the first part of the compound is represented by its first letter follow this rule: H-bomb (for "hydrogen bomb"), G-string (for "genital" or "guitar" string, stories vary), f-stop (from f-number, "focal length number"), d-fructose ("dextrorotatory fructose"), etc.

All of the words that typically do not use a hyphen use a space instead ("B movie," "C ration," "D day," etc.). Many of these compounds have alternate acceptable forms that are hyphenated (for example, "D-day").

This is worth an article. I won't go into that great detail here.

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But in all of those examples you gave, removing the hyphen would indicate a different pronunciation, whereas with e-mail it would not. They hyphen in "H-bomb" exists as much to indicate pronunciation as it is to indicate that the word is abbreviated (as opposed to "hbomb"). What distinguishes email/e-mail is that it is pronounced the same and that the word sees such frequent usage in everyday American life that convenience will bring about an end to the hyphen. While usage does not always dictate grammar, I think it will in this case for two reasons: (1) it has tremendous support and (2) it is used in a manner distinguished from its archaic, unabbreviated form (emails, which is not an abbreviation of electronic mails), which indicates that the word is no longer really an abbreviation in any sense but an etymological one.

All of the examples you gave require the hyphen or space because of their pronunciation (D-day takes a hyphen, by the way).

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Anonymous:

1) I'm certainly not suggesting that the word ought not to change in the future according to popular usage! lol...

2) I got the non-hyphenated "D day" from the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary. They actually give no hyphenated alternative within the definition. If you disagree. you may wish to take it up with them.

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Interesting. Compare to:
http://www.bartleby.com/61/4/D0050400.html

Also, the M-W entry has a listing for "d-day," though you have to be a subscriber to see it.

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The _Chicago Manual of Style_ just answered a question about this very topic on their Q&A site (did one of you submit the question?). See here: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/cmos...

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hiu

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