The word "specie"

As an aside, please note that the word “species” is spelled “species” in both the singular and plural forms. The word “specie” doesn’t exist in biology (it is an English word but it means something to do with money/coinage, nothing related to flora & fauna).


I was going to say Nomia, but saw it’s already been determined in the observation.

@DanielAustin I have seen “specie” used in some science publications (mostly antiquated ones, but some modern ones). Used like “species,” whether to mean singular or plural. Possibly those are incorrect usages, although may also have been considered acceptable/understood in some contexts.

e.g. Vârban, D. I. (2006). Research regarding Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench specie seedlings, biology and optimal nutrition space.

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Sure, I don’t doubt there are others who make the same error (especially as a vast number of academic papers are written by people for whom English is their second or third language), but you won’t find the singular form “specie” accepted in any dictionary or grammar guide. And in my experience of proofreading and copy-editing, I’ve not encountered a publishing house with a stylesheet that would accept it either.

The example you give (Vârban, 2006) is written by a native speaker of Romanian, and was not published in a professional journal so won’t have been through a professional proofreading process. Indeed, opening the first page of that paper, I also see “fowering” (instead of “flowering”) and the phrase “The research were carried out…” – so I am not sure I would treat that paper as a guide for proper English.


We might not disagree. I’ll just clarify a few things I meant. Where “specie” is used, I’ve seen it used as singular or plural, or as only singular (so overall, it doesn’t only result as an attempt to make “species” singular).

I haven’t yet read the full history on the word origin. Some sources state it was first used in the 14th century (def: “kind or form”; unsure whether in biological context). The first definition of biological species (which may not been first usage) was John Ray’s Historia Plantarum (1686). A few other language translations for English “species”: species (Latin), specie (Italian), specii (Romanian).

I’m not very familiar with the source I gave, although it was from a Romanian conference and book. Here’s another Romanian publication. And a 2001 Michigan publication, not necessarily from a journal but which had a PhD faculty advisor.

My main thinking was based on whether “specie” was ever used (in addition to “species”) in antiquated historical English biology works (e.g. Darwin, Mendel, Spencer). It’s possible I’m misremembering but vaguely thought I saw it used at times. If it was, it may indicate it at least was more accepted at that time (whether or not a technical error). Even if not, there’s still a minor question about some modern sources using it. That said, it’s possible it’s technically incorrect, just that the matter may be slightly more complex than a mere error, as the continued examples of usage may suggest.

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I agree that there is surely more complexity to the story (there invariably is in etymology!) I checked the full OED and it doesn’t have a record of “specie” (other than in the monetary usage) but it does record “specieses” being used as an alternative plural up until about 1800.

The only two dictionary sources I could find mentioning “specie” in the taxonomic meaning were Wiktionary, which says that it is a “proscribed singular of species which is universally considered by prescriptive references to be an error: a back-formation from species (plural), the final ‘s’ being misinterpreted as a plural ending.”; and Merriam-Webster, which defines it as a “non-standard singular form of species; a back-formation from species (taken as a plural)”. In other words, these two acknowledge that it is sometimes used but that it came about through misunderstanding.

A few other sources I found on the matter (they all pretty much seem to agree):


I mostly agree. The stackexchange link above and this article it links to ( sounded similar to my suggestion, that it may have been used more often in the past and more regarded as usable (even if a technical error by some definitions) and later became more fully obsolete (in English language at least). Sources seem to say the first original Latin word was “species” (although I haven’t read the original biology-sources directly), based on a non-English word meaning “to spy.”

Although I haven’t fully confirmed (can’t remember) if “specie” was widely used in the past, if it was then possibly it could be argued that the past common usage changed the meaning and in a sense made it less of an error (at that time at least). Although that could be debated, so it’s an interesting historical/language question. I agree that typically an editor in an English speaking country today would suggest “species” vs. “specie.” That will probably be all for my take on this. I don’t have a strong view either way because the history is complex.

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Specie is also used in describing types of particles. e.g., Steinhauer, L. C., & Ishida, A. (1997). Relaxation of a two-specie magnetofluid. Physical review letters, 79(18), 3423.

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Which is not biology. QED.


The physics example seems to correspond to the “kinds” definition. Also in the above title “specie” is being used plurally (not a mistaken attempt to use it singularly). Similarly, “species” as a biological taxon or concept are also “kinds” (the term “kinds” is sometimes used in taxonomy).

Don’t be fooled by the “two” in “a two-specie magnetofluid”; that doesn’t make the noun grammatically plural. In English compound nouns of that form, we use the singular noun: a “two-man tent” or a “ten-rung ladder”… (not a two-men tent or a ten-rungs ladder).


I have occasionally heard the word “specie” used in a biological context – in one case, by an administrative person/manager who oversees biologists – in reference to some biological study or finding. It’s often a flag that the person has little or no biological training. But then I’ve also heard the occasional biologist say “genuses” instead of genera!


Because genuses is a form as accepted as genera.

Yeah, but it’s not common (at least in my experience) and if you’re writing for publication it probably won’t fly.

Even though it is uncommon it is correct, so if things were going fair way you couldn’t be stopped and corrected for using it.

Genuses is the non-standard plural. Technically correct, but not much used.


I may agree that whether the meaning is plural or singular isn’t clear in the title itself. “Specie” can be used singularly. I didn’t bring up the physics/chemistry papers examples, they’re not entirely analogous to biological spp., but we can look at them.This other paper refers to “specie concentration.” In the body text they indicate they’re referring to individual elements as “species” (e.g. hydrogen).

Note the original meaning of species I think came before the biological usage of it. Some definitions refer to the original as “to spy” (to see appearance of something), “appearance,” “form,” or “kind.” Above I implied the physics or chemistry papers may be using it in that original sense “forms” or “kinds.” I don’t know chemistry deeply, but do seem to remember they used species (or maybe also “specie”) somewhat analogously to the biology usage (but for chemicals). So, that opens up another question of if physics and chemistry usage of “specie” is technically incorrect or not (the answer in theory could differ vs. for biology).

My point doesn’t depend on if “specie” is used plurally or singularly. Although authors (including in biology) have used it to mean singular and/or plural, or to mean singular and where species means plural. My initial point about plural/singular was “specie” usage isn’t always due to an attempt to make “species” singular (even if occasionally that could be the reason).

I’ll remind that I’m not exactly defending “specie.” I said I don’t know if it’s technically correct or not for biology, but what I’m wondering (which hasn’t been disproved yet) is if it was more widely used in the past among non-naive authors (often in addition to using “species”), and so in a sense wasn’t regarded as an error (whether or not technically an error). That’s more a history of science question. I didn’t have time to research it further. If anyone knows the deep history of it in more detail, that would be most relevant. The dictionary websites aren’t always reliable.

The use of species as both singular and plural, as we use it today, was common in biological publications at least as far back as the 1850s. Probably even much earlier, but I haven’t made the effort to search the literature older than that.

Added note: at least back to the 1820s.


I agree with that, like in “origin of the species.” What I mean is I think some authors also used “specie” at times. Sometimes (including for modern author examples above) they use both in the same publication. So, the matter isn’t really about plural vs singular.

It’s an interesting question to ask those authors how they understand their use of that word and its meaning.


Sometimes […] they use both in the same publication.

Does not speak well for the publication. Sloppy editing/proof-reading.

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