Tolkein popularised “dwarves” as the plural of “dwarf” to differentiate his fantasy dwarves from humans with dwarfism, for whom the correct plural was “dwarfs”. The dwarf trope became so entrenched that “dwarves” is now widely recognised as the standard plural of “dwarf” even for humans

Dwarfs vs. dwarves

Usage

Dwarfs is the standard plural of the noun dwarf. Dwarves is a newer variant popularized (though not invented) by English author J.R.R. Tolkien in his fantasy fiction works, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Tolkien spelling is appropriate when referring to little people in fantasy worlds. Dwarfs is better everywhere else. (There is controversy over whether dwarf is ever a polite term for real-life people, but we won’t go into that here.)

Dwarf also works as a verb meaning to cause to appear small in size. In this sense, dwarf is inflected dwarfs, not dwarves, in the third-person singular present tense.

The below ngram graphs the occurrence of the dwarfs and the dwarves (with the definite article to remove… Continue Reading (2 minute read)

12 thoughts on “Tolkein popularised “dwarves” as the plural of “dwarf” to differentiate his fantasy dwarves from humans with dwarfism, for whom the correct plural was “dwarfs”. The dwarf trope became so entrenched that “dwarves” is now widely recognised as the standard plural of “dwarf” even for humans”

  1. Gemmabeta

    And he used *elves* instead of elfs to distinguish then from Christmas/Midsummer’s Night Dream-style pixies.

  2. TheGrandEpop

    This type of spelling actually reflects Tolkien’s background in philology and goes all the way back to Old English.

    In Old English the middle “f” consonant is pronounced like the modern “v” which we can see in the Old English word: “Lufode” which is pronounced “Lu – vo – de” Can you guess what that means in modern English? It’s the word: Loved.

    In deciding to use the middle “V” sounds in place of the “f” sounds Tolkien was invoking that same archaic and historical sound structure to give his own use of language historical authenticity.

    His work is full of these kinds of references and derivatives from Old English, the dude really knew his stuff.

  3. SmoothIdiot

    That’s going in the Book of Grudges.

  4. Missus_Missiles

    I wonder if being a little person would be easier in middle earth. Where small statured people are kind of a norm.

    Or if elves and humans would still be dicks to everyone else.

  5. ZWass777

    It’s Dawi you damned Ungi!

  6. gooseyob

    Tolkein, Tolkzwei, Tolkdrei!

  7. Pun-Nisher

    That’s the long and short of it.

  8. jarvis84

    Someones been watching factfiend

  9. ShinyPoipolePain

    *Flashbacks to Fact Fiend a few weeks ago*

  10. fellowspecies

    I thought it was ‘Dwarrows’?

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