Why plural days and nights in Spanish greetings?

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R.R. points out that many European languages have a greeting that means "good day" — German "guten tag", Dutch "goeden dag", Swedish "god dag", French "bonjour", Italian "buon giorno", Portuguese "bom dia", Catalan "bon dia", etc. — and asks why (only?) in Spanish, the corresponding phrase is plural: "buenos dias". And also "buenas noches", "buenas tardes".

A related question might be where all of these greetings came from — they certainly seem to be post-classical, replacing Latin "ave", "salve" etc. Was there a greeting based on dies in vulgar Latin? Did all the "good day" forms come from Germanic? When did the Castilian forms become plural? Were there ever plural variants in other Romance dialects?


  1. Eamonn said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 7:13 am

    In the world of Rioplatense Spanish it's strictly "buen día". The plurals are used in the other cases though

  2. Andrew said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    Googling "buenos dias why plural" gives a few hits, mostly giving the answer "I don't know" or "that's just how it is".

    Someone on this page
    suggests it's because "buenos noches" is short for ""Buenas noches nos dé Dios", meaning "may God give us good nights", and "dias" and "tardes" are by analogy/

  3. Qaoileann said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 7:44 am

    In Irish the usual greeting doesn't follow that format (Dia duit i.e.: "God be with you"). "Good night" (oíche mhaith) is something you'd only say to someone going to bed (at least for the people I speak with).

    I don't know whether that offers any clues or if it is similar in other Celtic languages.

  4. Miguel Monteiro said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 7:48 am

    Not surprisingly, there is a rather frequent variant in Portuguese for "bons dias", "boas tardes", "boas noites" (plurals); occasionaly it does have slightly humorous undertones.

  5. DEJ said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 7:49 am

    Antonio Blanco Sánchez (Majadahonda, Madrid; zamorano de nación) interpreta la versión plural de "buenos días" como una derivación del bonus díes de Virgilio. Don Antonio plantea la duda de por qué esa misma derivación no se ha dado en los otros idiomas romances. Efectivamente, ese es el quid de la cuestión. Sigue siendo un misterio por qué los castellanos dijeron "buenos días" y no "buen día". Quizá se refieran esos "días" a los que tardan los frutos en madurar. Desde luego, en latín, dies, en plural, avala esa interpretación. La vida especialmente dura de los primitivos castellanos explica que se acogieran a esa interpretación climática de los "días". (http://www.libertaddigital.com/opinion/amando-de-miguel/el-origen-oculto-de-las-palabras-y-de-los-hechos-49550/)

  6. Joseph F Foster said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    In Rumanian, 'day' is zi ; plural is zile . The definite form 'the day' in the general (nominative~accusative) case is

    ziua . The greeting 'Good Day' is

    Bună ziua.
    good-fem day-the-fem

    Sooo, … it's singular, not plural.

  7. Lipman said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    A key might be in Portuguese, where one difference for the choice of singular or plural can be whether one person is addressed or several are. From this, one can in good conscience assume that the plural or polite variant was generalised. (If this might turn out to be true, remember you read it here first. :-) )

  8. K.L. said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 8:06 am

    In English, we do have an expression "Many happy returns." This is to say, "May the happiness of this particular day (usually a special occasion such as some sort of anniversary) return to you on many other such days." You might also hear this idea tacked on to the end of the Happy Birthday song: "…and many more!" There are other examples of this idea in English, though it is not usually an everyday greeting.

    I have heard it supposed that this is the thinking behind Spanish greetings for "good mornings." Here is a link to one piece that takes this position: http://www.eltiempo.com/vida-de-hoy/educacion/ARTICULO-WEB-NEW_NOTA_INTERIOR-11854662.html . The author (Avila) writes, "Recuerde usted que saludar es dar salud, y aquí, a diferencia de lo que pasa con las aspirinas, no hay problema de sobredosis." ("Remember that to greet [saludar] is to give health [dar salud], and here, unlike what happens with aspirin, there is no problem of overdose.") In other words, it's never a bad thing to pile on extra wishes for health and happiness, and Spanish takes this generous approach.

    While greetings in the plural are still widely used and taught as "correct," it should be pointed out that it is quite commonplace to hear such greetings with singular, e.g., "Buen día," especially in the Americas. In places where the greeting has been shortened (e.g., "¡Buenas!" in place of "¡Buenas tardes!") it is becoming common to hear this abbreviation in the singular as well ("¡Buena!").

    I wish I had more information on the development of this difference between Spanish and other related languages, though, so I will follow comments with interest.

  9. marie-lucie said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    Unlike the Latin greetings, the Good day/night/morning/afternoon/etc pattern, like the Bonne année/Happy new year/Feliz año nuevo, etc one, must be based on the shortening of a phrase expressing a wish, which could have arisen within the Christian community at the time of its formation in the Roman Empire, and later been copied in other languages as the religion spread.

    There are other peculiar uses of the plural in Spanish. One of the major cities in South America is Buenos Aires, lit. 'good airs'. It occurs in some female names: Mercedes 'mercies', Nieves 'snows', Claveles 'carnations', and others. While some such names might be justified as referring to attributes of the Virgin Mary, that is not the case for all of them. A South American friend of mine had a female cat she named Bolitas, lit. 'little balls' because she was quite fat.

    It would seem then that the plural of nouns has or had a slightly hypocoristic function.

    Conversely, while the Spanish equivalent of Good day is the plural Buenos dias, the name of the family that is at the centre of Garcia Marquez's Cien años de soledad is the singular Buendia.

  10. Rod Johnson said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    The hypocoristic idea is a good one. I can think of a few uses of plurals in English that seem hypocoristic (e.g., terms of endearment like homes, babes, sweets, ducks, etc., and informal kin terms like pops, moms). A Google search for "hypocoristic plural" turns up some work on this.

    [(myl) Interestingly, this is more or less the opposite of the "plural = polite" theory suggested in an earlier comment, which would associate polite/formal plural greetings with e.g. polite/formal plural second-person pronouns.

    Both ideas are plausible ones, but I wonder whether the history supports either of them.]

  11. John Lawler said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 9:12 am

    Whatever the source, there is another time-related plural in Spanish that it might well explain, and that's the plurality of hours of the day. E.g,

    ¿Qué hora es? 'What time is it?'

    Son las dos. 'It's 2:00' (lit, '[They] are the-[FemPl] two')

  12. evilado said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    I'll give credit where it's due, Jazzy Foshizz at Yahoo answers seemed close here. The polite forms aren't second-person plural like French and German, but usted/ustedes conjugated like third person singlular/plural. Throwing an s in there makes it sound more intimate and less formal. Cómo está = formal, cómo estás = informal.


  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    Other plurals in Spanish that I find similarly puzzling include a secas 'dry, (of bread) without butter or other spread, (in a very wide variety of situations) plain, without accompaniment', and de veras 'truly, really, for real' (but compare current slang "for reals").

    marie-lucie: The wish you mention may survives in New Mexican Spanish and I think in other dialects: Buenos días le dé Dios 'God give you good days', as Andrew said. At least, I once heard a speaker from Texas address a New Mexican audience that way (with plural les) and a lot of people in the audience said it back with a smile of familiarity.

    I like the suggestion relayed by K.L. that if one good day is good, more are better.

  14. Ellen K. said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 10:08 am

    Jerry, as an adjective, "seco" (seca, secos, secas) agrees in number and gender with the noun it modifies. So I'm puzzled by how it can ever have a puzzling plural. Unless it's being used as something other than an adjective, a nouning. But your English translation is adjectival.

  15. Stefano Taschini said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    Talking of greetings of the "good day" form in other Romance languages, the earliest occurrence I could find in Italian is "buon dì", in Boccaccio's Decameron (1350). In one instance, Nello runs into Calandrino:

    [Nello] disse: — Buon dì, Calandrino.
    Calandrino gli rispose che Iddio gli desse il buon dì e'l buono anno.

    Note how in the indirect speech reply the full greeting is "May God give [him] a good day and a good year".

  16. marie-lucie said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    evilado: Polite forms = 3rd person (Ud). Throwing an s in there makes it sound more intimate and less formal. Cómo está = formal, cómo estás = informal.

    Your source seems to say that the plural (of nouns) s is "thrown in" as an addition to the singular verb form in order to make the latter less formal, instead of recognizing this s as marking the 2nd person singular. One way of testing that morphologically implausible hypothesis is to try with a different tense:

    Qué dijo Ud? means "What did you (formal) say?". Can you just "throw in" an s and say Qué *dijos? for "What did you (intimate) say?" Isn't it rather Qué diciste?, where the -iste ending limited to that tense indicates 2nd person singular?

  17. Carlos said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 10:32 am

    Good morning! -> In some Latin American countries (eg Uruguay) people usually say ¡Buen día! (singular) which is correct as well.

  18. el organillero-cantante de barcelona said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 10:36 am

    It is a case of eclipsis: God gives us Spanish many good days ("Buenos días te dé Dios" – http://books.google.es/books?id=ZjcLAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA22) while the odd good day rapidly followed by a fiery fate awaits the singular peoples of the world.

  19. Rod Johnson said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    @myl: I see no reason why plural=polite and plural=hypocoristic couldn't coexist in a language. I think there are probably lots of cases where there are opposing tendencies that never quite get resolved, especially when one is as marginal as the putative hypocoristic plurals seem to be.

  20. marie-lucie said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 10:41 am

    Ellen K: a secas, etc. I think that the reason for the feminine plural is that these are shortened noun phrases, with the original noun omitted (probably because it was an all-purpose, predictable one, while the adjective carried the main meaning).

    Could it be that the plural in all those Spanish phrases is used as a kind of indefinite marker?

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    The usual English equivalent of La Virgen de las Mercedes is Our Lady of Mercy, although you can find "Our Lady of Mercies" in English when the context is discussing e.g. the importance of the feast day in the Dominican Republic. In that instance the apparent singular/plural distinction between the alternatives in English is better understood (imho) as a mass-noun/count-noun distinction (where both variants are grammatical and may or may not have some difference of semantic nuance that is meaningful in context), and mass/count distinctions are not always drawn in the same places cross-linguistically. I have no idea if this could potentially explain any of the cross-linguistic variation in greetings, but it might explain some of the other puzzles that have been alluded to in the thread.

  22. Ellen K. said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    Ah, okay, thanks, Marie-Lucie. I'm not familiar with "a secas", and Jerry Friedman did not mark it as a phrase (no italics, nor quotation marks), so I didn't realize he meant a phrase rather than the lone word.

  23. zh said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 11:37 am

    I don't know anything about the historical morphololgy of Spanish, but I would say it could be the remnants of case endings, possibly the accusative or the genitive.

  24. JREL said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    Also in Turkish iyi günler 'hello', lit. 'good days'

  25. Marcus Lira said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    I see people have mentioned Portuguese a couple of times here but, as a native speaker, I can honestly say I've never heard anyone say it in the plural. Ever – at least, not in Brazil. I can see why it could sound humorous if someone did it though.

    By the way, I'm clueless as to why our Spanish-speaking hermanos do it.

  26. marie-lucie said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

    Stefano T:

    [Nello] disse: — Buon dì, Calandrino.
    Calandrino gli rispose che Iddio gli desse il buon dì e'l buono anno.

    Note how in the indirect speech reply the full greeting is "May God give [him] a good day and a good year".

    Literally, "… the good day and the good year"

    Similarly in French there is the (now very old-fashioned) greeting Je vous souhaite le bonjour, lit. "I wish you the good day". On New Year's Day you might have knocked at your neighbours' door pour leur souhaiter la bonne année lit. "to wish them the Happy New Year". In both Italian and French the definite article seems to imply that this sort of greeting is a habitual one, what people wish to each other every day (or year, as the case may be).

  27. arianne said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

    On a related note, when I was in Spain a year ago, I heard many people say "buenas" during all times of the day. Because "good morning" is "buenos días," i.e., masculine, I asked a Spaniard why they don't say "buenos" in the morning instead of "buenas," and he had no explanation. It just "sounded wrong."
    Why might it be that "buenas" as a shortened form is accepted and "buenos" is not?

  28. Eric said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 1:14 pm


    Isn't it rather ¿Qué diciste?

    Dijiste, but who's counting.

  29. Jonathan said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    There are numerous plural idioms without a necessarily plural meaning in Spanish. "A secas" [which has been mentioned], "entre burlas y veras," "a estas alturas," "tener ganas…" "tener celos." They seem unremarkable when you see them as simply idiomatic language. Do we have to explain each one individually, or is there a general principles involved? I don't know. It would seem like there's a pattern.

  30. Brett said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    I wonder how much (if at all) speakers of various languages are thinking of these Good morning phrases as being short for a longer form. In English, one can (very formally) say, "I wish you a good morning," but that sounds to me more like a speech act than an actual wish that the recipient have a good morning. It's almost as opaque as saying, "I wish you bon voyage," which somebody could say even if they had no idea what "bon voyage" means in French. Like "Good morning," it's a fixed phrase, which one simply says at appropriate times.*

    At the beginning of The Hobbit, Gandalf teases Bilbo for saying, "Good morning," without considering what exactly that was supposed to mean. The wizard suggests four possible meanings, which leaves Bilbo rather flustered.

    * I found that I had to capitalize "Good morning" to make the fixed phrase look right, but not "bon voyage."

  31. John Ross said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

    I think "buenos días" has a more traditional feel to it than the singular. The young lady who sells me my daily newspaper here in Madrid says 'que tengas (un) buen día,' i.e., it's youthful, and the fact that this singular form is extended in Latin America suggests to me that the difference between the two is a bit analogous to the British "good day/morning" as against the American "have a nice day."

    I'm surprised no-one has mentioned "gracias" as an example of this Spanish affinity for the plural. That's a bit simpler to relate to English, because "gracias" is also a kind of ellipsis, from "dar gracias" (e.g., to God) and so is more or less parallel to "give thanks" (and just as you can't have a single "thank", you can't give just one "gracia").

  32. JR said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    @John Ross: In SOME Latin American countries it may be common, but in the largest Spanish speaking country in the world, Mexico, the plural forms are the norm (though the singular forms exist as well.) Also, the formal/informal difference you seem to be suggesting would have to account for the common greeting of strangers with "hola!" in Spain, which to me and my Mexican-Spanish ears sounds rude. (I got used to it, though.)

    Another Spanish plural: "a solas." Probably lots more like that.

  33. Olga said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

    The German forms (Guten Morgen, Guten Tag) are in the accusative case, presumably because they're shortened from something like (Ich wünsche Ihnen einen) Guten Morgen" 'I wish a good morning to you', just like Marie-Lucie described for French, and quite possibly similar to what went on in the other Romance languages.

    I'm going out on a limb here, but I find it interesting that of all the languages mentioned here, Turkish is the only one that also uses the plural. Anyone know about Arabic? If the first Italian token is from the 14th century, then it could be that the plural is some kind of remnant from the Moors in Spain… And what do they say in Basque? Anyone speak Basque here?

  34. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    In Yiddish, the reply to "good morning" , gut morgn, trumps all of these mere plural days: a gut yor, "a good year!"

    So there.

  35. Peter Erwin said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

    There are other peculiar uses of the plural in Spanish. One of the major cities in South America is Buenos Aires, lit. 'good airs'. It occurs in some female names: Mercedes 'mercies', Nieves 'snows', Claveles 'carnations', and others. While some such names might be justified as referring to attributes of the Virgin Mary, that is not the case for all of them.

    I think "attributes of the Virgin Mary" (or titles of the Virgin Mary) is the probable origin for most of those names. Certainly Mercedes and Nieves come from that, and Buenos Aries was originally Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires (just as Los Angeles was originally El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, if I'm remembering the whole thing correctly). It wouldn't surprise me if this pattern suggested plural forms as plausible names for women in more recent times.

    (There are, of course, singular versions of this pattern as well: Maria de la Paz –> Paz, Maria del Pilar –> Pilar, etc.)

  36. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 3:05 pm


    "Good morning" is singular in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, at any rate: sabaah ilxeer (sorry, can't do IPA or Arabic on this gadget.)

    Maghribi Arabic is pretty much a different language though. Don't know about that.

    I think as various people have suggested all these expressions are basically shortened for "[I wish you a] good day" or "[God grant you a] good day", so the plurals make sense as just upping the goodwill.

    Japanese lets you make up your own mind about the day: Konnichi wa "As for today …"

  37. RolyH said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

    Here in the Azores in informal speech "boa tarde" is frequently replaced by the single plural adjective "boas", even when addressing just one person (but I have never heard "boas tardes").

  38. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

    I wonder if one could make anything of a parallel with "thanks"?

    As a noun form it's used as plural in English and Spanish and Italian, (but not French usually or Arabic or Yiddish) despite the occasion being usually one single episode of thankfulness.

    Possibly this could be
    (a) upping the ante of politeness by adding even more thankings
    (b) pluralising to make it more vague: I'm not just grateful to you for that, but grateful to you in general (along the lines of "buenas dias" being maybe a wish that God will grant many a good day, not just this one.)
    (c) both of the above
    (d) none of the above ….

  39. Eric said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

    An interesting aside is that dijistes is in fact a common nonstandard form, with a final -s "thrown in" for 2sg. pret. (though it may actually be a vestige from an older form that simply wasn't recogida in the prestige variety), which does effectively make the "informal" conjugation less formal.

  40. Rubrick said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

    Because my brain is what it is, I found myself wondering how this phenomenon may have affected Spanish translations of this Gandalf quote from early in The Hobbit:

    "What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"

    Seems this wouldn't work very well at all with plural mornings. I don't speak Spanish, though.

  41. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

    This is further evidence, of course, that Gandalf (properly, Gandarufu) is in fact Japanese. The clues are all there in the text, people …

  42. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    Ellen K.: Sorry, I meant to italicize a secas.

    I was just reminded of the plural natillas 'custard'. But I think English food vocabulary has examples like that and I just can't think of them right now.

  43. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

    Rubrick: Someone must immediately tell us how that was handled.

    I have a copy of El Señor de los Anillos, and the Proudfoots-Proudfeet bit is one of the great translation failures of all time.

  44. Naveed Chowdhury said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

    Could you share that translation failure with us?

  45. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    Having got sufficiently aroused by the question of plural "thanks" to actually pick up a book and look stuff up, I see that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by R Huddleston and a certain G K Pullum, whose name seems somehow familiar, has a whole section on these plural-only nouns, and puts "thanks" in with a number of other words expressing recompenses like "wages", and associated wishes and greetings, like "regrets", "congratulations", and the like. French and Spanish et al do this too, of course. Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées …

    Not sure if that helps my proposed parallel with "buenas dias" or not; is it plausible to think of the good day(s) as a recompense of some sort?

  46. Peter Taylor said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

    There is one aspect of Spanish morphology which seems to uniquely use plural nouns, and that's the formation of a noun from a verb and a noun which describe its function. A windscreen is a parabrisas; an umbrella is a paraguas, a dishwasher is a lavavajillas, a firewall is a cortafuegos, etc. (A windscreen wiper, limpiaparabrisas, may at first appear to be an exception, but parabrisas is invariant in the plural).

  47. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

    That's very interesting, and I guess it could be relevant too: if Spanish has dishes-washers and winds-screens for dishwashers and windscreens, maybe that betokens a tendency to use formal plurals in an abstract general sense.

    I've just noticed that it's odd, when you think about it, that we wish people *a* good day, when presumably its the very particular day in question that one has in mind. Same in French and German and Yiddish … so there is a common thread of *generality* in all these greetings, and if Spanish has a tendency to use plurals where another language might use an indefinite singular … voilà!
    Of course, that just pushes the problem further back and makes *all* our greeting formulae incomprehensible …

  48. Peter Erwin said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

    As it happens, one of the very few books in Spanish that I own is a translation of The Hobbit (El hobbit). So I can tell you that Gandalf's reply (to Bilbo's greeting of "¡Buenos días!") is basically just as it is in the original, except that "day" (dia, in the singular) replaces "morning":

    ¿Me deseas un buen día, o quieres decir que es un buen día, lo quiero o no; o que hoy te sientes bien; o que es un día en que conviene ser bueno?

    (The translation is by Manuel Figueroa.)

  49. Eric said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 5:36 pm


    It’s funny you mention that, because I was just last night wondering about the Spanish rendering of elevenses. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me then to google the opening sentence, which I somehow know by heart, but here’s the passage in question (using the singular, fwiw)

    —¿Qué quieres decir? —preguntó—. ¿Me deseas un buen día, o quieres decir que es un buen día, lo quiera yo o no; o que hoy te sientes bien; o que es un día en que conviene ser bueno?

    ("Elevenses" is just las once.)

  50. Y said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

    This topic often comes up on the internet, but no one has a definite explanation. Some guesses are better than others. One of the more thorough reviews is here, based on articles by the Real Academia Española, Corominas' etymological dictionary, and other sources. Some ideas are:
    Buenos días is general, and buen día is specific, meaning merely that today is a nice day. In a like vein, buena noche means 'good night', wishing someone a sound sleep, while buenas noches is a greeting, like the English 'good evening'. There are other examples, like a la mitad del año/a mediados del año 'in/about the middle of the month', etc., where the plural has a less specific meaning.
    — Or, the plural salutations are built on the model of the respectful plural used for the canonical hours (maitines, laudes, vísperas). This one seems fanciful to me.
    These last two are from an article ascribed to the Real Academia Española.
    — Or, the plural is an 'intensifier', cf. saludos, gracias.

    Some of these are plausible, but there's no proof one rather than the others. Turning to the diachronic wallow that is the Corpus del Español at BYU, we find that:
    — The plural has always been the common form of the isolated greeting, going back to the 1500s. Buen día in some Latin American countries, as noted here, is apparently a late development.
    — The embedded form using the singular is also rare, appearing once ( Pascuala Dios os dé, señor, buen día., 1499). The embedded form with the plural (e.g. Vosotras tenéis los buenos días y habéis las buenas noches!, 1510) is far commoner. That argues against the embedded form being the source of the isolated plural form.
    buenas noches as in English 'good night', rather than 'good evening', goes as far back as the 1300s.

    There are some interesting examples there of non-greeting buenos días, but my Spanish is not good enough to comment about their meaning.

  51. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

    Introspecting (never a good way of trying to solve language questions, I know) about why one says "have *a* nice day" during the very day in question, I'm still confused. It's not because the part of the day one is wishing to be nice hasn't yet happened: you can just as well say "I had *a* terrible morning."

    Is it just that our languages reflect a concept of time more basic than the Newtonian one, measured in seconds and the same for all, where instead I have my day and you have yours, and it just so happens than both of them can be labelled April 29th 2013? So I can wish you a good day just as I can wish you a good lunch, without sharing your lunch?

    I think that's it – I haven't been paying enough attention to what "day" means … in this context, the total subjective experience during the time period in question.

    Time for bed, evidently …
    I hope everyone has a pleasant subjective experience of the coming night period.

  52. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 12:06 am

    Naveed Chowdhury: Now that I'm home, I'll start with the English:

    They all could see him standing, waving one hand in the air, the other was in his trouser-pocket.

    My dear Bagginses and Boffins, he began again; and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses, and Proudfoots. 'ProudFEET!' shouted an elderly hobbit from the back of the pavilion. His name, of course, was Proudfoot, and well merited; his feet were large, especially furry, and both were on the table.

    Proudfoots, repeated Bilbo. Also my good Sackville-Bagginses that I welcome back at last to Bag End. Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday: I am eleventy-one today!

    Now the Spanish:

    Todos podían verlo de pie, agitando una mano en el aire y la otra metida en el bolsillo del pantalón.

    Mis queridos Bolsón y Boffin, comenzó nuevamente y mis queridos Tuk y Bolger y Brandigamo y Cavada y Redondo y Madriguera y Corneta y Ciñatiesa, Tallabuena, Tejonera y Ganapié.

    -¡Ganapié! -gritó un viejo hobbit desde el fondo del pabellón. Tenía en verdad el nombre que merecía. Los pies, que había puesto sobre la mesa, eran grandes y excepcionalmente velludos.

    Ganapié, repitió Bilbo. También mis buenos Sacovilla-Bolsón, a quienes doy por fin la bienvenida a Bolsón Cerrado. Hoy es mi cumpleaños centésimo decimoprimero: ¡tengo ciento once años!

    As you can see, Bilbo's version is the same as Odo Proudfoot's, making the byplay perfectly pointless. Of course since in standard Spanish, surnames don't change in the plural, the translation is not straightforward at all, but the translators could have at least supplied a, valga el juego de palabras, footnote. I would have gone for "Ganapieses".

    (Also, I think nombre should have been apellido, and "eleventy" could have become oncenta, but those here who know more Spanish than I do may correct me on those or find other problems. On the other hand, given that the translator hispanicized surnames, I'm impressed with Tejonera.)

  53. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 12:11 am

    Peter Erwin and Eric: Thanks! (Many of them.) Are those two different translations? If so, I'm delighted that Spanish speakers can disagree on whether to use the indicative or subjunctive.

  54. Eric said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 2:41 am

    Should be the same, it's from the book + as far as I know there's only one Spanish translation of El hobbit; just I started posting before Peter Erwin's appeared, and didn't hit "Submit Comment" until after it already had (unbeknownst to me, of course).

  55. Alon Lischinsky said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 4:22 am


    Turning to the diachronic wallow that is the Corpus del Español at BYU

    We also have CORDE, which has examples going back to Old Spanish. This is from the Cuento de don Tristán de Leonis, ca. 1350:

    el rrey se leuanto E fue ver
    a tristan & dixo (ç)auallero dios vos
    de buenos dias & señor dios vos
    de buena vida dixo tristan

    I wish I could look at a Medieval Latin corpus, but my hunch is that the plural echoes the language of the Bible (e.g., Psalm 33:13-15: quis est homo qui vult vitam cupit videre dies bonos).

    @Jerry Friedman: what edition do you have? I haven't seen a Spanish one in years, but I seem to recall that the version I read as a child made a different joke, with Bilbo's version being Ganapata ‘Proudpaw’.

  56. Pancho said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 4:24 am

    Regarding plurals in female names, pretty much all the ones I'm aware of stem from titles of the Virgin Mary. Others include "Dolores" (from Our Lady of Sorrows) and "Remedios" (from Our Lady of the Remedies). The only one I'm not familiar with up above is "Claveles" (Carnations). I haven't come across that one before.

    Regarding a possible link to the canonical hours, maybe it's not such a fanciful theory. People's lives in the Middle Ages would've revolved around the church calendar with the local monks and clergy praying the Divine Office and the local peasantry would've easily been aware of it with the ringing of bells for lauds, vespers, and the other Hours. Maybe a connection with plural days and nights isn't so far fetched (of course the question would still remain, why Spain and not the rest of Europe?).

    It's interesting that "Las Mañanitas", the traditional Mexican morning song sung on saint's days and birthdays is also plural. For another use of the plural, I once heard my grandfather, in describing a visit to celebrate a relatives birthday, say that he had gone "a darle los días", literally "to give him the days". I wonder how old that expression is. (For what it's worth, my grandfather would also sometimes say things like "vide" instead of "vi" for "I saw").

    If I was going to attempt to translate "elevensies" I might try "las oncecitas", making it both diminutive and plural.

  57. jih said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    Perhaps by some sort of echo-analogy with adiós, which just happens to look like a plural: adiós, buena noche >adiós, buenas noches.

  58. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    'Nieves' and 'Dolores' derive from titles of the Virgin Mary which are also plural in Latin and in other languages; but 'Mercedes' derives from the singular 'Sancta Maria de Mercede'. It looks as if once some names of this form had become established others were assimilated to them (This does not apply to every name derived from a title of Mary, though: 'Rosario' and 'Pilar', for instance , remain singular.)

  59. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 9:31 am

    Eric: I just noticed that your version has lo quiera yo o no and Peter Erwin's has lo quiero o no. Maybe one was a typo or thinko.

    Pancho: Good point about "Las Mañanitas", but on the other hand there are two of them (that I know of).

    (Just kidding.)

    More later, I hope.

  60. Eric said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 11:25 am

    Well, mine was copypasted, so if it was, non mea culpa fuit.

  61. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    Alon Lischinsky: I have to admit I have an illegal pdf copied from the Web, which lacks front matter. I can't find any information anywhere on any Spanish translation except the one by "Luis Domènech" and Matilde "Horne". The Spanish Wikipedia article has some details. A fan site, El fenómeno (note first three letters), mentions only that translation and has a short article on Odo Ganapié. A Google search for "Ganapata hobbit" turns up nothing, though. So I think I have the usual translation, and I can't guess what you read as a child.

    By the way, how does "Ganapié" correspond to "Proudfoot"?

  62. Peter Erwin said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    Jerry Friedman,

    Indeed, there was a typo in my posting; Eric's is the correct wording.

  63. Chandra said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    @John Lawler – The usage of singular and plural in Spanish hours of the day seems quite self-explanatory to me; it simply goes according to the number of the hour(s):

    Qué hora es? = What is the hour?
    Es la una = It is the one (hour).
    Son las dos = They are the two (hours).

    This in fact makes more sense than the English "It is two o'clock", with a singular subject and verb referring to a plural number.

  64. Rod Johnson said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

    Not sure how that verb is "referring to" a plural number, but I don't think "two" is plural there–it's not acting as a cardinal number at all, any more than it is in "two is the the integer after one." (*"two are the integer after one")

  65. Steffen L said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

    Quote: “While greetings in the plural are still widely used and taught as "correct," it should be pointed out that it is quite commonplace to hear such greetings with singular, e.g., "Buen día," especially in the Americas. In places where the greeting has been shortened (e.g., "¡Buenas!" in place of "¡Buenas tardes!") it is becoming common to hear this abbreviation in the singular as well ("¡Buena!").”

    SL: People who say “Buena” in Spanish might still be using a plural form. Aspiration or elision of the “s-sound” is common in many Spanish speaking areas. What they are saying is actually “Buena(s)” (plural), but the is not pronounced.

    Quote: “I wonder if one could make anything of a parallel with "thanks"?”

    SL: One can say “gracia” in Spanish, but as far as I know it is only common in places where you encounter aspiration of the /s/ (in syllable final position).

  66. Pancho said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

    @Jerry Friedman – re: Las Mañanitas, you're right. There are at least two of them (that I know of). :-)

    @Andrew (not the same one) – the thing about "Mercedes" is that it doesn't derive directly from the Latin "Sancta Maria de Mercede" but by way of the Spanish version which contains a plural "Santa Maria de las Mercedes". Why the Latin singular title became plural in Spanish I don't know.

    Another place where one will find Spanish plurals are in the names of a number of song and dance forms in flamenco such as: "alegrías", "cantiñas", "tangos" (distinct from Argentine Tango), "fandangos", "sevillanas", etc. For a couple of these forms the names exist both as singular and plural: siguirilla/siguiriya can be "siguirillas" and "soleá" is sometimes called "soleares".

    In my neck of the Mexican Spanish woods one sometimes hears someone say "buen día" but it's uncommon. One normally hears "buenos días" or sometimes "buenas" if the person is being very casual or familiar.

  67. Mr. Motz said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

    Turkish has «iyi günler», «iyi akçamlar» and «iyi geceler», and all of them are plural too. Maybe some connection there?

  68. Mr. Motz said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 8:23 pm

    Sorry, an awful typo in «iyi akşamlar».

  69. Juanma Barranquero said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    @Rod Johnson:

    In "Dos es el entero que sigue a uno", "dos" is not the plural of anything. But in "Son las dos", there's implicitly something like "Son las dos [horas después de mediodía/medianoche]" (It's two [hours after noon/midnight]). It would make sense to use singular if we said "Es la segunda" (It's the second [hour after noon/midnight]), but we just don't say that.

    What it is interesting, however, is that the question is always singular: "¿Qué hora es?", never "¿Qué horas son?", because when asking "hora" means "time" and not "hour".

  70. K.L. said,

    May 4, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    Quote1:"There is one aspect of Spanish morphology which seems to uniquely use plural nouns, and that's the formation of a noun from a verb and a noun which describe its function. A windscreen is a parabrisas; an umbrella is a paraguas, a dishwasher is a lavavajillas, a firewall is a cortafuegos, etc. (A windscreen wiper, limpiaparabrisas, may at first appear to be an exception, but parabrisas is invariant in the plural)."

    Quote2: "That's very interesting, and I guess it could be relevant too: if Spanish has dishes-washers and winds-screens for dishwashers and windscreens, maybe that betokens a tendency to use formal plurals in an abstract general sense."

    –This is an interesting train of thought. I have always considered these words not as plurals themselves but rather having been formed from plurals. In these examples, "paraguas" = "stops waters" (i.e., the ones which fall from above), "parabrisas" = "stops breezes." "Limpiaparabrisas" is an interesting formation with an added verb. "Limpia"="cleans". So the windshield-wiper "cleans [the thing which] stops the breezes." To my way of thinking, these objects are useful for all breezes and all waters falling on my head, not just one. Perhaps this is why "parasol" uses the singular "sol," because our planet only has one sun?

    Quote3: "SL: People who say “Buena” in Spanish might still be using a plural form. Aspiration or elision of the “s-sound” is common in many Spanish speaking areas. What they are saying is actually “Buena(s)” (plural), but the is not pronounced."

    –This is a valid point. However, I have also personally heard this shortened form "buena" spoken in areas where final -s is not dropped.

    I am interested in the hypothesis that connects these phrases to the services for The Hours. Something to look into!

  71. Mark Mandel said,

    May 4, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

    Chandra: "two o'clock" isn't Num+N and never was. "o'clock" < "of clock". OED (o'clock adv., sense 1.a) has 4 quotations, 1419 – 1647, including
    • 1597   Shakespeare Richard III v. v. 2   It is sixe of clocke, full supper time.
    So "It is two o'clock" means something like "the value of the clock is two".

    Eric: I couldn't tell whether you knew or not that "elevenses" is not a Tolkienian coinage (Tolkoinage? Tolkoin? Tolkoine? Tolkoinē?). OED quotes it from 1887 thru 1951, defined as
    • Chiefly with sing. concord. Elevens; light refreshment about 11 a.m.
    ("This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1972).")

    You say
    • ("Elevenses" is just las once.)
    So they're translating it as "eleven o'clock"? Hm.

  72. Andii said,

    May 4, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

    I think that ZH may be right: it goes back to accusative forms when these were marked. The reason would be that the phrase would be eliptical for "I wish you good day" etc.

  73. K.L. said,

    May 4, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    I don't have time to cut/paste/translate right now, but there is some interesting information here for anyone who reads Spanish:


    Will look at more in the next few days.

  74. Vasco said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 3:19 am

    As Miguel Monteiro said you could use the plural in Portugal but it isn't common: you would expect to hear it from someone less educated, from a rural background (still not very frequent) or jokingly, likely parodying a country bumpkin type. But, contrary to what Lipman suggests, the choice of whether or not to use plural is unrelated to the size of your audience.

  75. Jose Luis Guijarro said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 4:30 am

    Why so much fuss about plurals?
    The original form was: "Dios nos dé (los) buenos días (or whatever)", and it got shortened by laziness and waning religiosity.

    In the case of address, the process was as follows:

    1s. Yo voy
    2s. Tú vas
    3s. El / ella (VueSTra mercED–> Vst-ed –> usted) va
    1pl. Nos(otros) vamos
    2pl. Vosotros vais
    3pl. Ellos /ellas (VueSTras mercEDES–> vst-edes –> ustedes) van

    In English (I think!) you also may also address someone with one such title as "your honour", "your mercy"(?), etc, using also the third person singular or plural:

    Your Honour IS right
    Your Mercy ARRIVES too early

    Why we changed from second person to third is a matter of sociology; probably we wanted to show more respect by using third person. The TÚ was considered too familiar; and the VOS(otros) had different developments (in Argentina VOS is used as second person … singular!; and in Andalucía there are people who say USTEDES (3rd person) VAIS (2nd person) a Cádiz.

  76. Jose Luis Guijarro said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 4:36 am

    I forgot about the hours:

    ES LA una (hora)
    SON LAS dos, tres, cuatro, etc.) (horas)

    I have heard in Andalucía:

    SON LAS una

    But everybody made fun of it.

  77. K.L. said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    Re: telling time, In some parts it is common to hear "¿Qué horas son?" and it is not considered unusual. Still, the singular is more common on the whole.

    I fail to see what Person has to do with the pluralization of the noun.

    I do think the connection to Turkish might be worth investigating. There is still much Moorish influence in Spanish language and culture that is somewhat unique compared to other countries in Western Europe.

  78. Jose Luis Guijarro said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    There surely is Arab influence in Spanish language. But I fail to see how Turkish enters the picture.
    Is it because their common religion?


  79. Jose Luis Guijarro said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 11:15 am

    In some parts of Spain (Andalucía is one of them) you may hear:

    "¿Que horaS SON?

    And nobody thinks it's strange. If someone does, (s)he is not Andalusian!

  80. Jose Luis Guijarro said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    As to the disappearance of the final [s] in plurals, let me tell you that the phoneme /s/ stays all the time. We, in Andalucía can hear the phonological difference between "¿Me da una /s/ervilleta/s/?" and "¿Me da una servilleta?" , in the following phonetic way: "¿Me da una[h] servilleta[h]?" vs "¿Me da una servilleta?". But, granted, we run into trouble as soon as we pass de Sierra Morena and head up North. Nobody, but us, seem able to hear the slight aspiration and consequent elongation of the final [a].

    However, IT EXISTS!

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