Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

One of my students asked me in passing today, "Why don't we say that physics ARE my favorite subject? Why is it physics IS my favorite? If it ends with an <-s>, doesn't that mean it's plural?"

So, of course, I told her that she should investigate that, and I hope she will (I don't see her class again until next week). But in the meantime, of course, I had to look it up myself. Here's what EtymOnline says:

-ics: in the names of sciences or disciplines (acoustics, aerobics, economics, etc.) it represents a 16c. revival of the classical custom of using the neuter plural of adjectives with -ikos (see -ic) to mean "matters relevant to" and also as the titles of treatises about them. Subject matters that acquired their names in English before c.1500, however, tend to remain in singular (e.g. arithmetic, logic).

So, does that mean words ending with <-ics> don't follow the convention of adding a plural-avoiding <-e> after a final <-s>? Or is it that these words are not considered English words, and so don't belong to that convention?

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