Rooves or roofs? (or how to make a writer die inside)

How do you say it: roofs or rooves? Even I’m confused about my preference. I know that the spelling for rooves looks ridiculous, and that the sound of roofs makes me die a bit, but that’s all I know. Time for some delving…

The Oxford English Dictionary (it’s the George Clooney of all source material – everything it says is correct) explains that the norm for pluralising words that end in /f/ is –ves; so wives, lives, knives etc. BUT there are six and only six /f/ words (titter) that have irregular pluralisation and just need –s: beliefs, chiefs, dwarfs, gulfs, proofs, and our pal roofs. Also, no dwarves eh? Controversial. But it’s the OED, so it’s the truth.

Thus, we’ve cleared up the spelling. Unfortunately, if you don’t recognise the OED as an authority then I can’t help you at all. But there must be a reason the roofs/rooves confusion arose in the first place, right…?

Well, FOLKS caused it, didn’t they! Grammatical Pet Peeve #1: Usage suggesting a different spelling, then people, lazy, lazy people, changing the accepted spelling willy nilly (remember that from the last post? Yeah, it’s a theme). Of course we say rooves because of the aforementioned dying-inside, native English speaker’s reaction to trying to combine that /f/ sound with an /s/ immediately after – but there are five other words that have this sound too! Granted, I’ve never tried to say chieves or proves but dwarves coulda been a contendah. For what reason? I don’t know! Silliness!

Tune in next week when I’ll be trying to staple jelly to the wall…

Leave a Reply