Often singular word is used in Spanish where plural would be used in English.

I would like to know the opposite, i.e. when should the plural be used in Spanish where we would use singular in English.

For example, I saw in the Internet "una copa de bodas" vs "una copa de boda" for "a wedding cup".

What is the grammar rule on this (Castilian Spanish)? Does the rule vary according to the Spanish dialect?

  • 1
    Where did you see the two examples you give? – Traveller Jun 8 '20 at 9:32

There's no general rule about plural nouns in Spanish being translated as singular nouns in English or vice versa.

With the particular example copa de bodas, what's happening is that, for some reason, the names of some ceremonies are often pluralized, so you have bodas "wedding", funerales "funeral", etc., though that's a bit old-fashioned. (The well-known opera "The Marriage of Figaro" is known as Las bodas de Fígaro in Spanish. Gabriel García Márquez's story colection Los funerales de la Mamá Grande is translated as "Big Mama's Funeral"; it's just one funeral!)

Loose compounds of the type of "wedding cup" cannot be used to infer a rule, because in the vast majority of cases the first noun is always singular even though the meaning implies plurality. A "bear hunter" doesn't stop at one bear; a "fish tank" can and usually does contain more than one fish; an "office building" is by definition made up of many offices. This has to do with the way in which English treats nouns when they act as modifiers, not with the nouns themselves or their grammatical number.

There are comparable rules in Spanish for when a noun forms a compound. For example, boca "mouth" becomes boqui- in boquiabierto "open-mouthed", and punta "[pencil] point" becomes -puntas in sacapuntas "pencil sharpener". The latter of these can be an example of nouns becoming plural in Spanish when in English their translation would be singular (or rather, would look like a singular noun). Other examples are lavarropas "washing machine" (from ropa "clothing") and mondadientes "toothpick". But these, again, are not examples of a hypothetical rule that would let you know how to translate a noun between Spanish and English (as you can see from the examples themselves).


Just as native English do not always speak or write grammatically correct (for example, ending sentences with prepositions), the same goes for native Spanish speakers, even highly educated ones. "una copa de bodas" is grammatically incorrect. It should be "unas copas de boda". Go to Google translate and enter "wedding cups" and you'll see. Without going into detail, it's a compound word. "copa" is the noun, "de boda" is an adjective. In Spanish, only the noun is modified in the plural form of a compound word. I recently earned a BA degree in Spanish and have lived in Mexico and Central America for over 10 years. I'm always seeing and hearing spelling and grammar errors, even on giant billboards along the highways. While earning my degree, I lived with a family while studying advanced Spanish at a university in Costa Rica. The wife was a Spanish language arts teacher at a local high school. One day, she said something to me in Spanish using the present tense when she should have used the subjunctive. I proved to her that I was correct using one of her own textbooks!

  • We do actually use the plural bodas in some expressions such as noche de bodas (wedding night) or pastel de bodas (wedding cake) where it has a singular meaning. I don't know what is a copa de bodas, but it is not grammatically incorrect. – Gorpik Jun 11 '20 at 9:25
  • Off topic, but I believe that the whole "ending sentences with prepositions" thing is bogus with respect to English. My understanding is that it is a Latin grammar rule that has somehow made it into the minds of English speakers as being applicable to that language as well, when in fact it doesn't apply. See this for example – Peter M Jun 11 '20 at 13:15

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