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What’s the Singular of Dice?

All or nothing! Roll the dice! Lucky sevens! A casino can be vibrant with the noise of slot machines, dealers, and gamblers using the language of luck. Many games, such as craps, use dice rolls to determine the winners and losers. But have you ever wondered what the singular form of dice is?

First, what exactly are dice? Most dice are small cubes; on each of their six sides, they have dots that correspond to the numbers one through six. Many games require players to toss (or roll) dice. Depending on the game, players may add the sum of the numbers on the sides facing up when the dice land, or they may try to get doubles (the same number on both pieces.)

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Die is the singular form of dice. It comes from the French word des, a plural word for the same objects. In English, the most common way to make nouns plural is to add an S. If die followed that rule, its plural form would be dies. However, English is full of irregular plurals. Along with wolf, cactus, and appendix, die does not follow the normal pattern. The plural form is dice. If you roll dice, you are rolling two or more game pieces. If you roll a die, you are only using one piece.

What’s the Singular of Dice? Image

You will find plenty of references to one die as “a dice” in print. Why? One reason is that people refer to dice in pairs so often that they don’t realize it has a separate singular form. Can you figure out the second reason from the following example from the Mirror news journal?:

“Mr Boparai wasn’t interested in hearing Cameron’s scare stories. He simply didn’t believe the Prime Minister when he claimed that leaving the EU was like rolling a dice.” ―David Davis

If you are familiar with the Mirror, you know it is a news journal from the United Kingdom. If you look up dice in the Oxford Dictionary, you will learn that dice is an acceptable singular and plural form of die. According to this source, dice was once the plural of die, “but in modern standard English dice is both the singular and the plural: ‘throw the dice’ could mean a reference to either one or more than one dice.”

Interestingly, this evolution did not extend to the cutting device known as a die. The plural of that device is always dies. Dies is also a form of the verb to die, as in to cease living.

Many fun idioms highlight dice. Here are some of the most popular, along with examples from literature:

The die is cast. (A situation is certain to happen in a particular way because of previous events and it cannot be altered or prevented.)

No dice! (Something is impossible.) The dice are loaded. (Literally, to load the dice is to cheat by tampering with the dice in order to increase your chances of winning. The idiom refers to making an outcome more or less probable.) This expression is often followed by “against”: The dice were loaded against the candidate; no one was going to vote for an official with a record like hers. A die is one game piece. Dice are two or more game pieces.

Do you feel well-informed about die and dice? There’s quite a bit more to be learned about the etymology of these terms. The story of how dice acquired its -ice ending is fascinating. If you’d like to learn more, check out “No Dice!”, an article written by Jonathan Owen.

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