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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.”

  • May 8, 2003
  • Posted by Dyske
  • Filed in Usage

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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."

prot May 9, 2003 @ 7:03AM

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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.

earltender May 17, 2003 @ 6:13AM

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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.

vampyro July 10, 2003 @ 2:56PM

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

bb August 24, 2003 @ 4:47AM

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

speedwell2 February 3, 2004 @ 10:58AM

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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."

speedwell2 July 30, 2004 @ 8:11AM

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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.

speedwell2 August 2, 2004 @ 8:54AM

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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.

speedwell2 August 2, 2004 @ 1:03PM

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bru67 August 7, 2006 @ 12:04AM

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