Dice is the plural of die? What gives?

I understand that the English language is a complicated one in many respects. Most of our grammatical rules do make sense, however, and almost every question I have asked about word formations or sentence structure has always been answered. This question seems to be the exception to the rule.

My point of contention is this: Most plurals are formed by simply adding “s”. There are some exceptions like mice to mouse, or ox to oxen. I can find other words that are made plural in this same manner (lice to louse, or child to children). What I can’t find is another word that is made plural by inserting a letter between two existing letters.

Die is made plural by inserting the “c” inbetween “i” and “e”. Why is this so? I would appreciate an explanation, or another word that follows this same reasoning.


Because “douse” would sound silly for one of a pair of dice.

It wasn’t originally an inserted letter:


I would add that their slang attribution sounds, well, dicey. I would have guessed a good bit earlier than the 1940’s.

Thanks for your help, my life is feeling more complete now.

The beauty of irregularly inflected words is that they are, well, irregular–they follow their own rules. I have just checked several references and can’t find one that explains why die forms its plural as dice, nor can I find any other example of a word ending in -ie forming its plural as -ice. But while some irregular plurals share their irregularity with other words (for example, man > men and woman > * women*), many do not. For example, I can’t think of an analog for cow > kine, foot > feet, goose > geese, sow > swine, or tooth > teeth.

Perhaps nobody knows what foreign or ancient rule of forming plurals die follows, but it was not necessarily “made plural by inserting a letter between two existing letters.” The rule may have been that the singular ending -ie forms the plural -ice, not unlike mouse > mice. Or perhaps, when the regular plural -s was forming several centuries ago, die followed the pattern but dice was some copyist’s idiosyncratic spelling of a word that you and I would have spelled as dies.
P.S. Louse > lice, not “lice to louse.” Interestingly, “when louse refers to a scoundrel or cad, the plural is louses.” Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage 504 (1998), s.v. plurals.

D’oh! Preview, preview! Good work, yabob.

I’m not sure how this fits in the thread but The American Heritage® Dictionary says the plural of “pie” is “pis” or “pies”. So, “pie” seems to be subject to yet some other ‘rule’ or explanation.

Linguistically, it important to not worry so much about spelling as to actual sounds. Orthography (writing systems) are always the slowest to change and therefore make the least sense.

Orthographically there seems to be a letter “inserted”, but


die [dai] vs. dice [dais]


Having looked in the Oxford English Dictionary, I come up with the following interesting tidbit under “die”:

Originally, in Middle English, the plural was dés or dees. The OED notes that the word de had passed from one class of nouns (the ‘e’-class) to another (the ‘i’-class) by 1500, which presumably means that the spelling of the plural changed to reflect the change in pronunciation. So, as I understand it, ‘dice’ actually follows the plural formations observed by ‘lice’ and ‘mice’ rather than being something completely unique in the English language.

The word ‘nice’, according to the OED, has an obsolete meaning of “wanton or lascivious”. And you thought your mother didn’t have your best interests in mind when she wanted you to meet a nice girl.

“Die (n): The singular of Dice. Rarely heard nowadays because there is a prohibitary proverb: ‘Never say Die.’
A Cube of Cheese no bigger than a die
May bait a trap to catch a straggling mie.”
– Ambrose Bierce The Devil’s Dictionary