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Singularia and pluralia tantum

A noun is a singulare tantum if it only has a singular form. A plurale tantum noun, by contrast, only appears in the plural form. Singularia tantum nouns typically occur in specific semantic classes. For example, proper names and material nouns often lack plurals. Depending on context, speakers can construct plural forms that are normally missing. Substituting absent singular forms, by contrast, is very unusual.

[+]Singularia tantum

In Dutch, singularia tantum can be found in the following semantic classes:

Example 1

a. Proper names
      de Dordogne
      Maart March
      Nederlands Dutch
b. Material nouns
      goud gold
      zand sand
      zeep soap
      rijst rice
      melk milk
c. Abstract and collective nouns
      aandacht attention
      arbeid work
      genade grace
      kou cold
      letterkunde literary studies
      muziek music
      heelal universe
      hockey hockey
      have possessions
      nageslacht offspring
      kleding clothes
      politie police
      vee lifestock

The availability of the plural correlates with the countability of a noun, which in turn correlates with the option to combine the noun with a numeral or the indefinite determiner, which is derived from the numeral één one (*een/ één goud a gold, *twee gouden two golds).

[+]Pluralia tantum

Pluralia tantum are harder to classify. They occur, for example, in the following semantic fields:

Example 2

a. Proper names, especially geographical names
      de Tropen the tropics
      de Azoren the Azores
      de Alpen the Alps
      de Dolomieten the Dolomites
b. Organs (of the body)
      hersenen brain
      ingewanden intestines, bowels
c. Illness
      mazelen easles
      pokken smallpox
d. Finance and business
      financiën finances
      (on)kosten costs
      paperassen papers, paperwork
      notulen minutes (notes at a meeting)
e. Other
      letteren humanities
      medicijnen medicine (as a subject or profession)
      kapsones irs (as in 'putting on airs')
      troebelen troubles, riots
      personalia personal details
      watten cotton wool
      consorten confederates

Some pluralia tantum only exist in particular expressions, such as:

Example 3

aanstalten maken get ready to do sth.
op de hurken zitten squat (on ones haunches / down), crouch (down), sit on ones heels)
iemand bij de lurven pakken get / have someone by the short hairs
iemand in de luren leggen outsmart somebody .

Some nouns may be regarded as pluralia tantum despite having what is historically a corresponding singular. However, singular and plural may fail to match semantically. An example is kleren clothes, which cannot be singularized in a way that preserves its meaning. Its etymological singular kleed means carpet, rug, table cloth, or gown, robe, as well as dress or frock (the latter two are more common in Belgium than in the Netherlands). This particular case is especially interesting because kleed has another plural, kleden, which does match the singular in meaning ( carpets, rugs, gowns).