30 December 2008

What's the plural of "sweet tooth" ??

"Sweet tooths"? or "Sweet teeth"?

The singular term "sweet tooth" is a phrase that everyone knows, referring to a liking or preference for sweet foods or candies.

While reading The Blind Assassin, I encountered this sentence:
“Young girls have such sweet tooths.” (p. 234)
The knee-jerk response is that it must be wrong, that it should read "sweet teeth," but then the latter sounds equally awkward.

The "sweet tooth" is either a single item in one's mouth, or a condition or perception in one's senses, so one person can't have plural "sweet teeth," which conveys the wrong implication that the teeth themselves are sweet. To my ear, "sweet tooths" does in fact sound more appropriate.

But "tooths" is not offered as a plural of "tooth" in Random House or in the OED. (Though, curiously, "teeths" can sometimes be used).

Perhaps there's a copy editor out there somewhere with a reference book of usage that can clarify this matter...


  1. speaking of plural, do 2 computers have mouses or mice? 'I went to the microcenter mall and saw more mouses than I could count.... or
    I went to the microcenter mall and saw more mice than I could count
    It has me quite confused(he says laffing)

  2. The plural of a compound noun is formed with an S, even if the root of the compound is irregular. Hence (sweet tooth) -> sweet tooths. Examples - the sports team the Maple Leafs, or those nee'r do-wells we refer to as low lifes.

    1. A sweet tooth is not a kind of tooth, just as a Walkman is not a kind of man, so we have sweet tooths and Walkmans. Awkward. I would say 'Young girls have such a sweet tooth'--i.e. a taste for sugar.

    2. But sweet tooth can also mean someone with sweet tooth. Thus, it can be a kind of person. Sweet tooths is acceptable.


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