Singular or plural names in Africa or both?

I’m adding names of taxa to iNat in Setswana and other related languages from Botswana. I have noticed that almost all names added from Botswana are singular and the plural words are very, very rarely used.
Perhaps this means that if a user types in a plural word when searching for a taxon in a Botswana language, they shall find nothing.

Should we in Africa be giving both plural and singular words for each species, genus, family and order we enter ? This will certainly double the number of African names in iNat.

I took a peek at the names for Diptera in different languages.

English had flies, fly and dipterans
but the names in southern Africa were singular only’

What should we really be doing here in Africa ?

Thank you.


I think species name should always be singular (except rare cases, for example when there are higly differentiated subspecies), while higher taxa should preferably be plural. If the current higher taxa names in setswana are mostly singular i guess it’s because the user who added it previously did it that way, but this may need to be corrected. However, you should evaluate what to do basing on the knowledge you have about your language’s grammar and functioning, that most of us here don’t have.
For example, you should think what a setswana speaking user is more likely to search for when wanting to add an identification. If they observe a bird for which they don’t know the species, and want to identify it just as “bird”, are they more likely to search for the singular o plural word?
In english, the common name for kingdom Aves is set as plural “birds”, but given that only the s separates it from the singular, if someone searched for “bird” they would find it anyway. I don’t know how setswana works, maybe singular and plural words are more different than english? In that case it could be useful to have both words

The example you brough about flies is very explicative, because and unexperienced user that doesn’t know much about taxonomy and observes an unspecified fly, is very likely to identify it just as a singular “fly” and search for this word in the bar, even though the most appropriate name that should show first is “Dipterans”, “Fly” and “Flies” are indeed useful to be there


Southern African languages are far more complex than English in creating plurals.
English is often easy peasy. Just add S at the end unless its a cactus or a sheep.
In southern African languages different letters are added at the start of the word and the rules are quite complex.


The point of the names should be to help user’s find the correct taxon. If there are languages where a plural and a singular version of a taxon are drastically different then I think you should just add both.

I don’t really know exactly how the taxon names work in iNat, but I’d say the default for the local Botswanan language should be the plural, and other names should include the singular, exactly like you see with Flies being the default English name, and Fly just being there to help the search be more effective.


Moose, geese, mice, shrimp, etc, but yeah, the point is correct despite the large number of irregulars in English.

1 Like

I don’t know if there’s any absolutely correct take on the answer - it’s a good, tricky question.

My personal thought is that the ultimate goal of including common names (on iNat) is to help people find the organism that they are looking for using the terms that they are familiar with and likely to use. Since this is the goal, common names should be in whatever form people are likely to search for/input them. If there’s a language where users are likely to search using a mix of singular and plural names, then I think it makes sense for both to be included to facilitate searching.

In some languages, like English, it might not be necessary to include separate entries if the both singular and plural terms starting with the same text string: eg, someone searching for “squirrel” will find “squirrels” via the autocomplete and vice versa.

If there’s a language where that is not the case, then it makes sense to me to add both terms and prioritize the one that is more likely to be used based on local expertise.

I don’t know that it makes sense to have a universal rule to always prioritize a plural over a singular or vice versa. I think that users familiar with a given language should make the determination about prioritization based on their knowledge of real world usage. It might make sense to have a general rule/convention within each language (though I don’t think there’s a way to make this “official” on iNat - it would just be in practice). In English, for instance, the convention would be to use the plural for higher levels (above genus; eg, “Flies” for Diptera as opposed to “Fly”). Genera are often considered singular. You can see an overview of some code language here (, but this is also based on the fact that scientific names stem from Latin formulations.

There’s no official entity at iNat (or probably anywhere in the world!) who’d be able to determine the optimal usage for all languages, so I think it’s up to users to work this out.


For those unfamiliar, here are a couple of examples from Oshindonga:

efo – leaf
omafo – leaves

oshipundi – chair
iipundi – chairs

In other words, you begin the word with the singular or plural. So if only the singular is available and someone begins typing the plural, the search will not work at all.


This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.