Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

#AtoZ, 2014: J is for Jarfuls of Jam: Another Quirk?

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Oh Heck! Another Quirky Writing Error: Plurals on compound words ending in -ful.

Plurals on words can be tricky, what with words ending in -f, -ff, -fe, -o, s, x, ch, sh, -z, and sometimes -y. Then along come the compound nouns, and not to mention irregular plurals. Uh, oh. I’m starting to hyperventilate again.

Most often you simply add an -s or -es to the end of the noun:

*  birthdays
*  turtles
*  mousetraps
*  eyelashes
*  wineglasses
*  hatboxes

Sometimes you have to change the word ending:

*  quiz/quizzes
*  wife/wives
*  knife/knives
*  copy/copies

But when you come to compound nouns, sometimes you add the -s on the main part of the noun.  (*pant, pant, pant)

*  mothers-in-law
*  ladies-in-waiting
*  rights-of-way
*  editors in chief/editors-in-chief (you see it both ways in style guides)
*  knights-errant (Wait! I hear one knight-errant arriving at my door to rescue me from this flighty wordmongering.)

Then there are the words that end in -ful. For those words, you add the -s at the end of the word.

*  jarful/jarfuls
*  spoonful/spoonfuls


When I was a little girl, I loved coming home from school on days when Mom was making strawberry jam. She would cook up the strawberries with sugar and water and a pink foam would rise to the top of the pot when the berries came to a gentle boil. We kids would beg for a spoonful of the pink foam for a tasty snack. Yummie.

Then she would fill the jars with the delicious sweet jam to save for the winter ahead, but she would always save out a jarful for us for breakfast. The rest of the jars went down into the cool cellar as our hedge against a long strawberry-deprived winter.

Mom would save one fresh jarful of jam for breakfast.

Mom would save one fresh jarful of jam for breakfast.

Mom lined the jarfuls of the jam on the kitchen cabinet. When she heard the lids "pop," she knew the vacuum seal had set.

Mom lined the jars of home-made jam on the kitchen cabinet to cool. When she heard the lids “pop,” she knew the vacuum seal had set.

Now the question is, with nine kids in the family, how many spoonfuls of strawberry pink foam did Mom need?

  • nine spoonfuls of pink foam from the jam?
  • nine spoons full of pink foam from the jam?

Do you see the subtle difference?.

  • Because Mom had nine children, she needed nine spoons full of jam to make them happy. (Nine spoons filled one time each.)
  • On another day, she made strawberry pancakes, and the recipe called for nine spoonfuls of jam. (The same spoon filled nine times with jam.)

We know from Mary Poppins that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, but how many spoonfuls of pink strawberry jam foam does it take to make nine scruffy farm kids happy? A lot!

Here’s the rule:

When a word ends in -ful, make it plural by adding an s to the end of the word.

Garner’s Modern American Usage, by Bryan A. Garner, lists 26 words with a -ful suffix. You can find the majority of these in a good dictionary.  I must admit I had to think for a few minutes to make up some sentences that didn’t sound weird. (I used the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language to check these words.)

*  armful/armfuls
*  bagful/bagfuls
*  barrelful/barrelfuls
*  basketful/basketfuls
*  bottleful/bottlefuls
*  bucketful/bucketfuls
*  cupful/cupfuls
*  eyeful/eyefuls
*  forkful/forkfuls
*  glassful/glassfuls
*  handful/handfuls
*  jarful/jarfuls
*  lapful/lapfuls
*  lungful/lungfuls
*  mouthful/mouthfuls
*  pailful/pailfuls
*  plateful/platefuls
*  pocketful/pocketfuls
*  potful/potfuls
*  roomful/roomfuls
*  scoopful/scoopfuls
*  shovelful/shovelfuls
*  spoonful/spoonfuls
*  tableful/tablefuls
*  tablespoonful/tablespoonfuls
*  teaspoonful/teaspoonfuls
*  tubful/tubfuls

I did find another to add to the list…

*  teacupful/teacupsful

Of course, then I got carried away and started making up non-dictionary words with -ful.

*  bowlful/bowlfuls of kitty Friskies
*  houseful/housefuls of antique furniture
*  lapful/lapfuls of kittens
*  gallipotful/gallipotfuls of medicine
*  sinkful/sinkfuls of dirty dishes
*  garageful/garagefuls of junk
*  stomachful/stomachfuls of tamales
*  casket/casketsful (*snort, snort)

How about a cauldronful of alligators to make a nice stew for the witches? Photo taken at Grounds for Sculpture, Trenton, NJ

How about a cauldronful of alligators to make a nice stew for the witches?
Photo taken at Grounds for Sculpture, Trenton, NJ

Yeech. One could go on and on with these words, though, I admit, some seem a bit far-fetched.

Take a deep breath now. We’re done! *sigh

Janice Hall Heck, retired educator and now nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ, is quite possibly a grammar geek.

Oh Heck! Another Quirky Writing Error, theme for the 2014 A to Z Challenge, suggests ways to improve our writing by avoiding and/or eliminating troublesome bug-a-boos that stifle our writing.







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7 thoughts on “#AtoZ, 2014: J is for Jarfuls of Jam: Another Quirk?

  1. I must admit, I never even considered adding “-ful” to the end of most of those words, but now I am brainful of ideas.


  2. This is gold dust for writers. I think plurals are a minefield to most people and I know that when in the mood to get the paragraph or chapter completed, I’m in the habit of changing the colour of the text to remind me to check it out later.
    Thank you for these.

    • Tom, I appreciate your comments. I like gold dust. It’s amazing how detail oriented you have to be in writing/editing. I find I get caught in editing as I write along, but I remember your advice to get it all out before edit. I’m trying!

  3. Language is such a bundle of fun…
    In Dutch the plural rules are entirely different. Sometimes it’s quite a challenge for me not to slip and write an English plural the Dutch way.
    🙂 Good post, thank you!

  4. Pingback: #AtoZ: K is for Knights-Errant, Kit and Caboodle, and Kitty-cornered | JaniceHeck

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