Staff is singular. Staves is plural.

Grammar nerd out.

This is a Britain vs US thing (though, sure, stave is a back-formation from staves).

If it were as clear cut as you’re suggesting, Elaine Gould wouldn’t get it “wrong”, would she?


Some very prominent public figures used the ‘nucular’ construction instead of the more correct ‘nuclear.’ That doesn’t make it right, for grammar nerds, at least. Language changes with popular usage, and there’s a place for sticking to the linguistic roots of technical terms. Carry on.

Sure. I guess my point is that in the U.K., the “staff” ship has sailed. The textbooks and syllabuses that we use to teach children exclusively use “stave”, and have done for many decades (though don’t ask me how many; I’m not sure). The staff grew up with “stave”, so that’s what they teach.

It’s a little bit like when Google reCAPTCHA asks me to identify a “crosswalk”. Of course I can figure out what it means, but the word isn’t in common use here.

Busby’s Complete Dictionary of Music, published in 1786, uses ‘stave’, and not staff.
In 1842, the Westmoreland Review notes " There is a schism among musicians, whether this should be staff or stave , pronounced by some staaf . Authorities are mostly in favour of ‘stave’ but custom may be pleaded for ‘staff’ and ‘staves’ in the plural."

‘Stave’ has been used as a singular word for ‘a piece of wood’ since the 14th century, at least.

Which linguistic roots are you thinking of?

@benwiggy You and @pianoleo have done your homework. Your arguments are persuasive. I will reconsider and stand down (while still clinging to my preference). Thanks for your insights!


There are a fair few slight differences between British English and US English, and I would humbly suggest that in general it’s a delightful example of the fun that can be had with language.

Writing the Dorico manual in US English as a very British person has its quirks but it’s turned out fine :slight_smile: (writing “labeling” instead of “labelling” is still a challenge, though, and there may in fact be some inconsistencies in the area of double Ls - given the spelling of my name though perhaps I can be excused :wink: )

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And for heaven’s sake, British people, drop the superfluous U in colour, favour, etc! :smirk:

I lost a spelling bee in 7th grade for spelling a-m-p-h-i-t-h-e-a-t-r-e… so I’m still a little salty about that one. :laughing:


On a tangentially related topic, one “standard” that amuses me is the gallon. We don’t use gallons for much apart from alcoholic beverages (in the U.K.), but we standardised the Imperial Gallon (roughly the same as the Ale Gallon) in 1824 and the US continues to use the Wine Gallon.

It doesn’t really matter in real life, but Quora’s car pages (for instance) often feature complaints that “my American version of that European car doesn’t get anywhere x miles per gallon. The graph must be wrong”. It’s actually just that the gallons are smaller.

I will discuss this with our grammar professors (even though it’s actually a word-use question, not grammar) when we next gather in the stave room.

Lillie, the consonant-doubling word that intrigues me is program/programming. Even though (in the U.S.) the traditional rule is “in a single syllable word, or a word accented on the last syllable, if the word ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel, double the final consonant before adding a suffix beginning with a vowel,” I have never seen programming spelled with only one m. Apparently the UK spelling of the root word programme has influences even here across the pond.

Actually I’ve observed this in Gould the other day. Not being a native English speaker, I had assumed that the correct word was staff, and didn’t think of an US/UK language difference, until I was searching for the word in the kindle version of the book. Incidentally, there’s an occurrence of staff, in page 666, in the index:

On page 666 ? Curious.


Exactly! no more, no less! I thought the same.


On the fluid tangent, an American visiting orchestra member staying with me said
“A pint’s a pound the whole world round”.
I replied, No
“A pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter”
The US pint has 16 fluid ounces, the imperial pint 20, which explains the smaller gallon in the US.

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In Portugal one has to be careful with the word bilhão (billion). If the speaker is Brazilian, it means the same as in English (one thousand millions). But in Portuguese from Portugal, it’s actually a million millions!

While we’re on the subject of linguistic pet-peeves, I’m often bothered by the use of ‘orientate’ as a verb. Sure, it probably started as a back-formation from orientation and perhaps it’s now officially accepted as a correct word, but the verb really should be ‘orient’, and ‘orientate’ shouldn’t be any more correct than ‘transportate’.

Normalcy (instead of normality) drives me nuts (especially as often as folks use it during the current health crisis). Normalcy was either an intellectual faux pas or an intentional corruption used during Warren G. Harding’s presidential campaign. I’m sorry it stuck.

I blame Shakespeare for introducing a lot of nonsense into the English language. I mean, he used window as a verb, for pity’s sake!

We dropped “gotten” in favour of “got” about 300 years ago, and I’m pretty sure we’ve never had anything that “harkened” or “hearkened” back - always “harked”. As to getting off of the bus…

I tell you what: if we drop our redundant “u” from colour, favour and vigour, will you drop your redundant syllables? :rofl:

:metal::smiling_imp: :metal: