When writing, one of the most common mistakes that people tend to make is whether the plural of Zero is Zeros or Zeroes.
The truth is that both are correct, but it depends on the context.
When used as a noun, the plural of “Zero” is “Zeros”.
When used as a verb, the correct term is “Zeroes”.
So you would say, “I wrote down too many zeros” and “He zeroes in on him before shooting”. When talking about the number “Zero” is a noun, to be specific, an improper noun. But when talking about “zeroing in”, “zeroes” is a verb.
Today, I want to talk about the number zero, where this rule comes from, and what the rules of “S vs Oes” in general are.
Hopefully, at the end of this article, you won’t be confused about when (and when not) to as “es” to the end of words that end in o.
The word “Zero” is stolen from old Italian. But how did the word come to be in the first place?
If we were to travel back to Medieval times, go to a country where Latin was the common language, such as Rome (which was its own Kingdom back then), the word would have been “Zephirum”.
“Zephirum” comes from the Arabic “sifr”, pronounced “cipher”. And the Arabs got it from the Sanskrit word “Sunya-m”, meaning empty place or desert.
Zero: The number
What is it?
A philosophical question that you would probably be able to write a whole novel about is “What is zero?”.
Most of us will have a knee-jerk response of “zero is a number”. But that simply isn’t true. The fact of the matter is that “zero” isn’t a number, it’s an absence of numbers. When you have a number of something, you will have at least one of that thing.
But when you have zero of something, you don’t have that thing at all. Zero is nothing.
Zero literally means nothing. There is no such thing as “zero”. It’s kind of a paradox of language.
You can’t get Zeros
Some would say that the word “Zeros” is slightly paradoxical.
Those of you who know basic maths will know that 0 multiplied by any number is always going to be 0. Whether that’s 1 multiplied by 0 or 10000000000000000000 multiplied by zero.
Because of this, the idea of having more than one zero is impossible. If you have no money, and I give you no money, you’re still going to have no money, you won’t have no*2 money.
The very nature of “Zero” is a somewhat confusing one. Perhaps it would be better in a philosophy class than a Math class.
You can get Zeros… kind of
However, the example I gave earlier shows that the previous section is incorrect.
If I were to say “I accidentally wrote down too many zeros”, most people will know what I mean. It would be a grammatically correct sentence.
However, you can’t ever write down numbers, you can only write down symbols that represent them. So when I say “I wrote too many zeros”, what I’m actually saying is, “I wrote down too many symbols that represent zero”.
So when we say “Zeros”, we’re talking about representations of Zeros, not zeros themselves.
Zeroes: What is it?
What does it mean
Zero can be a noun, but it can also be a verb, most commonly found in the phrase “Zeroing in”. For example, a novel might say “The killer always zeroes in before shooting”.
As you can see, in this situation, zero becomes zeroes.
To “zero in” on something means to focus on that one thing. You forget about everything else around you, and your attention is focused on nothing else but your target.
Knowing how to Zero in can be essential for when you have a task that needs doing but plenty of distractions to take your mind away from it.
Where does it come from?
But where does the phrase come from?
For most of us, it’s become such a common phrase that we don’t really think about how or why we started using it in the first place.
But allow me to share some fun facts with you.
The phrase “Zeroing in” comes from the year 1944, and initially, it was a term used by people who enjoyed rifle shooting. When you put your rifle in the setting of zero, that means, you’re laser-focused on whatever it is that you wish to be shooting.
Phrases with “Zero”
There are several phrases in the English language that use the word “Zero”. Here are just a few of them.
To say that something is a “zero sum game” is to say that when one person wins, it automatically means that someone else has to lose.
“Zero tolerance” is an approach to crime that says all crime is terrible, and if you commit it, you will be punished.
“Zero to a hundred” is when you go from being humble and quiet to being loud and extreme within a short amount of time.
And “Zero to hero” is a journey that people go on when they turn from losers into winners.
Os vs Oes
This does, of course, lead onto the question of “How do I know when to use oes and when to use os”. This is one part of grammar that most of our teachers probably didn’t teach us when we were at school.
With most words that end in o, you would add es. For example, I had a potato, now I have two potatoes. He had a tomato, now he has two tomatoes.
However, if a word is related to music, you would simply add an s. For example, I had a piano growing up, but the pianos at my new school are better.
I used to play the cello, so it’s great to see so many cellos being played.
The reason for this rather strange rule is that many words that we use in music (including piano and cello) come from Italian, the same place that we get “zero”.
The music rule is a rule of thumb, not an absolute rule. There may be musical words that end in o that we don’t get from Italian.
And as zero has proved, there are some new musical words that we do get from Italian.
Zeroes or Zeros is an interesting question that has both a short and a long answer. If we’re talking about the symbol that represents a lack of number, we would say “zeros”. But if we’re using it as a verb, we would say “zeroes”.
Martin is the founder of Grammarhow.com. With top grades in English and teaching experience at university level, he is on a mission to share all of his knowledge about the English language. Having written thousands of articles, he is an expert at explaining difficult topics in a simple language.
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