Allow users to enter singular and plural names into iNat

Thanks. Good idea. I have been finding people by flagging.

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Another interesting one is ‘moose’, where you get ‘mosses’ and ‘common earthworm’ before actual moose, apparently due to German and Ojibwe common names respectively.

On the flipside, if you search ‘cow’, the first thing that comes up is domestic cattle/domestic cow, even though ‘cow’ is the second word, but ‘cow parsley’ does not appear in the list at all, even though ‘cow’ is the first word.

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So the proposal is to have another option on this page (maybe where the red arrow is) that says something like “Name is:” and allow the user to choose “plural” or “singular”, correct?

I’m pretty sure this is not a process we’d want to be going on in the background, although I guess that depends on how often it would be run. In the end I think it would have to be manually curated.

@botswanabugs do you have example names we can use to discuss this? It’s difficult to have a conversation and allude to names.


@tiwane @dianastuder @tonyrebelo Thanks for your interest in this problem and I realise that the work involved in AI correction of plurals and singulars, misapplied to genera, families and species may be too great to be justifiable.
Here is an example. I chose oaks as a random sample.
I assume that ideally, the plural word oaks should be used for the genus and singulars reserved for species. However when I look at regional names (names for places) for the genus quercus oaks, I see a mix of plurals and singulars which perhaps ideally should be corrected to plurals only.
I see some singulars used here which perhaps need to be converted to plurals.
dub (Czech) Hrast ( Bosnian) eik (Norwegian) and there may be others.

For southern African languages it is a harder, I think, because the plural is made by changing the prefix rather than the end of the word, so an African plural looks very different from its singular.
In Tswana ( ideally called Setswana !) for example there are 12 different prefixes that can be involved create a plural from a singular. And there are also irregulars as well !
eg Fly ntsi Flies dintsi
Vulture lenong vultures manong
crow mogakabe crows megakabe
quail tshosabanna quails botshosabanna

‘Many south-central African languages have complex plural nouns where the beginning of the plural word is different from the beginning of the singular word . Therefore auto-complete, which functionally resolves this ambiguity in many languages (including English), won’t kick-in and direct the user to the correct form of the noun.’

Perhaps the simplest solution is that when a person enters a new name for a species, the software reminds the name-enterer that a singular word should be used. If the user clicks on a plural box then the word is not accepted and a singular word is then requested before name addition can continue.

When a new name is entered for a higher-level like genus,family, order, tribe etc then if the user ticks singular then the name is rejected and a plural is requested.

I’m interested in adding names in southern African languages which may have never before been written down and do not appear in dictionaries or name lists.

eg I aim to collect names for a plant endemic to my village, called Serowe and surroundings. The plant was described from a couple of flowerless, old, dry museum specimens many years ago, and the author of the name had no access at all to flowers. The first pics of flowers to be published appear here on iNaturalist. I’m sure Botanists will find these pics of use and value. one day when they take an interest in this species and want to add a description of the flowers and fruit !
Name in Sengwato ( main language in Serowe)
singular setoto plural ditoto
I think both these names should appear in the name list on iNat and there should be some indication of which is plural and which is singular and both should be searchable.

I have invented an English name. Serowe lashes ( is this singular or plural ?)
English speaking southern Africans call the genus Blepharis, lashes.
That is OK since lashes is a plural word !
But, they also consistenly call the species names on iNat, lashes as well !
I suppose it is debateable if lashes is a singular or plural word when used in this context.
Should lashes be changed to lash for a species name ? I guess it is similar to the use of the word sheep for both plural and singular.
Blepharis genus lashes

Blepharis bainesii false lashes
Blepharis subvolubilis eye lashes
Blepharis breyeri Waterberg lashes
Blepharis aspera Rough lashes
Blepharis diversispina Grey lashes
Blepharis integrifolia Narrow lashes
Blepharis grandis Grand lashes
Blepharis mitrata Stack lashes
Blepharis capensis Cape lashes
Blepharis gigantea Giant lashes
Blepharis grossa Desert lashes
Blepharis macra big lashes
Blepharis procumbens Creeping lashes
Blepharis obmitrata mountain lashes
Blepharis furcata fork lashes
What are the plurals of these names ?

I also think there should be a method of entering the name of a fruit or part of a plant.
Can the fruit names also be searchable and lists of fruit and other plant part names be maintained and kept distinct from species/genera names ?
In some African languages the fruit, root or tuber has a different name from the parent plant.
The fruit name may be added mistakenly to iNat as the plant name.

I hope that one day after a vast number of African names have been entered into iNat, then iNaturalists shall be able to generate illustrated name lists in any language the user chooses and that list could include names for plurals and singulars, male and female, young and old animals, fruits, roots and tubers etc. Currently Botswana has quite comprehensive dictionaries for Setswana (Tswana on iNat) but the other 20 or 30 languages really have nothing ! The Setswana dictionaries are riddled with biology mistakes though. Having good and accurate name lists on iNat may assist lexicographers (who may lack biological knowledge) to create dictionaries for the more neglected languages of southern Africa.


Thanks for the diagram proposal showing where a box for choosing plural or singular could be.
Perhaps it could be higher up and above ‘is this a scientific name, is it currently accepted ?’
I know it is very debatable how important it is to define whether a word is singular or plural, but this is an issue for all inat name enterers rather than just curators, who as far as I am aware deal with the scientific names,

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No. Because a common name - should be - a name which is in common usage - going back thru generations.

Since those are common names, they should be added and searchable. But the default common name would be (by our ‘imposed’ rules) the one for the plant.


But I think there should be something in the name list that indicates the name is a part plant and not the name of the species for the whole plant. And the plant parts have singulars and plurals as well !

That info could be worked into the Wiki.
Common name is about providing access points for searching. I want what observers (or identifiers) write in notes or placeholder or comments - to not be trapped there because they can’t find it on iNat.
The in-depth needs to be elsewhere.


There are at least a few instances of this in English too. ‘Nutmeg’ really refers specifically to the seed of Myristica fragrans, but as far as I can tell the plant itself doesn’t really have a specific English common name so ‘Nutmeg’ is the only English common name available for it currently on inat. The English language wikipedia article only really refers to the plant as its scientific name. At least in English I’m not sure its necessary to distinguish that the name only refers to part of the plant, because a user who got to the taxon page by searching ‘nutmeg’ has already found what they are looking for.

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I do not think that other languages will add plants parts like ananas, pear, apple, potatoa or cocoa bean as a common name on iNaturalist. If the product, the fruit and probably the plant has the same name, Nutmeg, then it can be added without a problem but I should expect only names of plants should be added.

De Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie had vele eeuwen het monopolie over Myristica fragrans. Vandaar dat zowel het product, de vrucht als de boom een eigen naam heeft en een eigen wikipedia pagina… Maar geen van de drie komen voor op de pagina van iNaturalist.
Nootmuskaat of muskaatnoot is een specerij afkomstig van de muskaatboom (Myristica fragrans ),

I’m concerned that this would turn iNaturalist into something it’s not meant to be: a database of and guide for any common name or biological term. I think that would be a great and important thing, but it should be its own separate resource, and functionality can be built specifically for those data. iNat could maybe pull in data from it like it does with Wikipedia or link to it like it does with Macrostrat. I would honestly work on entering all that information on a different site, or a Google Sheet, or something similar, because we can’t promise iNaturalist will support the name-focused functionality you’re envisioning. It’s outside the scope of iNaturalist. iNaturalist records observations and its functionality should be geared toward observations.

That’s super interesting, and I can see how it would be helpful in search to have both forms of the name entered. I’m less convinced there needs to be new functionality that labels the name singular or plural, but I can see some utility for it to help reduce confusion.


This is very relevant for Swedish too.
My friend has suffered from this multiple times. She entered “krabba” (crab) because she saw a crab, but she should have searched for “krabbor” (crabs), so she wasn’t able to register it as anything. Another time she entered “duva” (dove/pigeon) and unwittingly picked a coral also called duva. She should have searched for “duvor”. And so on. And then I have to go and clean it up. She doesn’t get how taxonomy works exactly, and not super interested, so I guess that’s part of why I haven’t bothered helping her with that.
And… not every animal/plant/fungus in plural ends with -or like in those examples. Knowing the plural form is something a lot of immigrants here struggle with (like, why is “cats” called “katter” and not “kattor”? I have honestly no idea), and they are far more likely to know the singular form.