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What’s the Plural of Bison? Bisons or Bison?

The American bison, (not to be confused with the buffalo, which hails from Africa) stays the same in both its singular and plural noun forms, both are bison.

An American bison. Photo credit: Dan Dzurisin.

American bison. Photo credit: Dan Dzurisin



What’s the plural of “bison”?

What’s the plural of bison? Let’s not beat around the bison beard hair and cut to the chase on this large land-dwelling mammal, the bison.


  • Bison is the same singular and plural; both are just bison.


  • Bisons with an “s” is accepted, though it’s less common than bison without the “s”. Some sources say bisons is nonstandard, and to avoid its use.


Examples: “bison” used in sentences
singularThe bison charged as the man took photos from a few feet away.
pluralDefenders supports bison conservation on both public and tribal lands.



What are “bison”? Are they the same as buffalo or oxen?

Bison belong to the bovine family, which includes buffaloes and oxen. Bison are the largest land-dwelling mammal in North America, and though they are related, there are clear difference between the buffalo and bison. According to Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the differences between bison and buffalo includes:

Bison have large humps at their shoulders and bigger heads than buffalo. They also have beards, as well as thick coats which they shed in the spring and early summer.

—Smithsonian National Zoo, bison.

While both the bison and buffalo belong to the bovidae family, they are not so closely related, despite appearing similar. The “truebuffalo hail from Africa and Asia, and primarily include the water buffalo and the Cape buffalo. Bison, on the other hand, are indigenous to North American and Europe.

Nouns that stay the same singular and plural

Bison is an irregular plural noun since it omits the “s” that most plural nouns take. This is why the plural of bison is often mistaken for bisons, since typical plurals end in -s or -es. Still, bison are not the only animal and noun to show no change between its singular and plural forms. Each of the nouns in the chart below stay the same as both a singular and plural.

SingularPlural
shrimpshrimp
deerdeer
moosemoose
elkelk

Like bison, beer, deer, moose, shrimp, all stay the same in both their singular and plural noun forms. This sounds confusing, but in most cases, it’s straightforward to figure out whether the noun referenced is plural or singular.

For example, in the case of bison: bison are a herd animal that travel in groups; similarly, fish, salmon, shrimp, trout, and moose (which are all irregular plural nouns that stay the same in singular and plural) often travel in groups (maybe with the exception of moose.) Though it sounds unnerving that a noun should include no change whatsoever in both plural and singular forms, once you learn the correct use and rules of plural noun forms, it’s less complicated and starts to make sense.


Examples of bison as (singular), in sentences

Bison are the most unpredictable and dangerous animals in Yellowstone (apart from the nuts that hold the steering wheels).

Bison numbering in the tens of millions once roamed the High Plains.

Of the two surviving species, the American bison, found only in North America, is the more numerous.

While bison species have been traditionally classified in their own genus, modern genetics indicates that they are nested within the genus Bos, which includes, among others, cattle, yaks and gaur, being most closely related to yaks.

Bison are sometimes bred with domestic cattle and produce offspring called beefalo or zubron.

Origin of the word bison

c. 1600 from the French bison, meaning:

“European wild ox.”  This was brought down from the Latin, bison “wild ox.” Bison was brought down from the Germanic languages, (see wisand- “aurochs”) and has Proto-Indo-European roots.

In review: the plural of “bison”

The plural and singular of bison are the same; both are just bison.

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Read about other topics in grammar

Sources

  1. Wikipedia: bison.
  2. Origin of bison
  3. Bison facts
  4. Smithsonian zoo on bison
  5. Wikipedia contributors. “Bovinae.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Oct. 2023. Web. 18 Dec. 2023.


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