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Launchpad Help > Translations > Plural Forms

Plural forms information for languages

When you ask that a new language be added to Launchpad or you see that the information Launchpad has about a language is incomplete, you will need to provide plural form information. As many are not familiar with the term, here are some explanations.

The gettext manual also provides some information about plural forms.

Which information is needed?

Plural forms information for translation purposes consists of two values:

  1. A number that denotes how many plural forms the language uses, e.g. "2" for English.
  2. A logical expression (C style) that calculates which plural form is used for which number of items (n) being named, e.g. "n != 1" for English.

Information about how plurals are constructed grammatically (e.g. "in English you need to append an 's' to form the plural except when ...") is completely irrelevant for the translation system and please don't try to explain them. Of course, you will need to know and use these rules when you are doing the translations but Launchpad does not need to know them.

If you are still unsure what this plural form information is about, read on.

Many languages, predominantly western languages like English, only know two plural forms of a noun: singular and plural. The singular is used for one item while the plural is used for more than one item. If you now find yourself thinking "Yes sure, that's what 'plural' means, what else should there be?" then your native language is most likely of that basic type. Don't be confused when we talk about "two" plural forms because the system considers the singular as "form 0" and the plural as "form 1", thus adding up to two forms.

Languages with two plural forms

If your language works like explained above, similar to English, then you already found the first piece of information. The number of plural forms is "2". Now all you need to find out is the correct plural expression for your language. We are only aware of two different expressions for these languages and they depend on how you treat "Zero".

In English as it is used in computer software, plural is used for "Zero". A program might output messages like:

The plural expression for English is "n != 1", meaning "Use the plural when the number of items is not equal to 1". If your language works the same way, you have found your plural expression. You are done.

The other treatment of "Zero" is to use the singular form for it, i.e. in French "0 fichier, 1 fichier, 2 fichiers, etc." If your language works like this, then your plural expression is "n > 1", meaning "Use the plural form if the number of items is larger than 1". You are done.

Treatment of Zero

Please be aware that normal grammatical plural rules may not include a rule for zero items because the language uses the equivalent of "nothing" in this case. Some have argued that this case may actually be a third plural form. Considering English as an example, though, you'll find that speaking a language is different to reading it on the computer screen. Nobody will actually say "I bought zero apples." but rather "I bought no apples." or even "I didn't buy any apples." Still, when reading a message like "0 messages in your mailbox" on your computer screen, nobody thinks it sounds funny. Please find out how "Zero" is treated in computer software in your language before you start treating it as a separate case which will only add complications later.

Languages with one plural form

Some languages, e.g. Japanese, use the same plural form for any number of items. In this case the number of plural forms is "1" and the expression is "0", meaning "Always use form 0". If your language works like that, you are done.

Languages with more than two plural forms

These languages use different plural forms depending on the number of items. The gettext manual shows an example for Polish which uses three plural forms. The greatest number of plural forms we are aware of is six, which is used by Arabic.

The plural form expression is expected to return a number in the range 0 to nplurals-1 (nplurals being the number of plural forms) that picks the right plural form with "0" usually being the singular form. It is important that this expression and the numbering of plural forms remain consistent throughout Launchpad so you should research which expression may already be in use for your language outside of Launchpad. It is likely that this expression has already been defined elsewhere.

Translations/PluralForms (last edited 2011-08-15 11:17:47 by henninge)