Isn't "Sierra" Already Plural?

Here is a rather pedantic question to the EA contingent of this reflector:

Isn’t the word “sierra” already plural?

When people say “the sierras” it always grates on my ears. …and I’ve seen some very literate people use this expression. Most recently David Gessner in his otherwise excellent book All The Wild That Remains. This makes me tend to suspect that maybe I am wrong. To me it always seemed like if you used the word “sierras” you should be referring to the Sierra Madre and the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra Pelona… etc.

Or perhaps it is like “begs the question” or “irregardless” in that these expressions have been used, or misused so often they have grudgingly become accepted. These are the things I wonder as I wander along.

Or, then again maybe I just need to get a life… :wink:



While you may be technically correct, Eric, you are not speaking Spanish, you are speaking English, a language that has both a magpie-like facility for adopting foreign words and a propensity for condensing words so that much can be said with few words. Take the word “alp”, to the Swiss it is a high pasture, but we have transferred it to the mountains towering over those pastures, and our mistake has become the accepted meaning! Alp is now the mountain on which there are alps! So yes, there is a sierra, but there is more than one sierra, so in English “sierras” make perfect sense whereas a correct description acceptable in other languages would be a sentance, not a word, and this is how our stupidly brilliant language works!


Acceptable use is a moving target.
Ain’t it the truth?



Well, we don’t speak USAian (too many non-English speaking people are "American:), so I must defer to your take on English. It just seems to me that if “sierras” was correct then we should have “The Sierras Nevada” etc. Ugh.

Ken K6HPX is right that English is an ever-changing set of norms. I suppose that could be good but it’s just the curmudgeon in me that fears the whole mess will be eventually reduced to “really,” “you know,” “cool,” and “awesome.”


Plurals in borrowed words in English are often not as the original language. For example insects have antennae but hams have antennas. You just have to learn which is what :wink:


You are not the first to comment on this. Ansel Adams also held the same opinion.

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Often when a name is shortened like that, an ‘s’ gets stuck on the end, whereas when you say the whole name, the final word carries the plural. For instance, the Rocky Mountains becomes the Rockies.



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“Rockies” works for me as “rocky” is a singular attribute. Sierra AFAIK is akin to “serrations.” Serrationses. Sounds like Smegol.

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Analogous to hams saying “73s” which translates to “best wisheses”


Fingernails on a chalkboard. I really do need to get a life.

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Yes, but that’s the established pattern so that’s what people follow. Particularly if they don’t really know what the word ‘sierra’ means.


Wow, I’m in good company.

I found “Sierras” in Anne Fadiman’s book Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. Fadiman is from a quirky family of bibliophiles that loved, among other oddities, to write in the margins of their books - especially correcting errors. When I came across the offending word, I promptly uncapped my pen and underlined it and wrote “NO!” in the margin. i got a perverse thrill out of that.

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“Cool” and “awesome” are slowly dropping out of use, being replaced by other neologisms, that in their turn will be replaced, a prospect that I find “groovy”! Meanwhile the process of assimilating new words continues - I have heard white kids swearing in Hindi and Arabic, and that’s “swell” or even “sick”! The only constant is change.

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“Las sierras” is used in Spanish. My understanding is “Sierra” is not plural as it means a single mountain range. There will be many mountains making up the range but only one range. Sierras would be used to describe a number of ranges, for example : “Sierras de Córdoba”.

But if you are visiting just one range then you cannot say you are visiting “the sierras”, which I think was the point the OP was making.





We have lots of fun language anomalies in California.

Took me years to realize that freeways are referred to as “the” in SoCal and simply a number in NoCal. It was so obscure and I wondered how did that happen in a place where regional accents etc are so not the norm?

To get from San Francisco to Mountain View, you are instructed to take 101 and onwards to LA, take 5. In LA, it’s take “the 101” to get to Ventura and take “the 5” to get to SF.

SoCal has also produced some wonderfully West Coast words such as “grody” and “tubular”. Say them and you are 1960s to the core and clearly have :surfing_woman: creds.

So pluralizing the Sierra Nevadas seems the least of our innocent sins. I do but I grew up in the land were Spanish words might just be created by adding an ‘o’ to the English word. Cost in Spanish is simply Costo…



As in “Oh, my god, your toenails are, like, so grody” :slight_smile:

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Precisely as in “grody to the max!!”



True enough. Both my parents were born in South Central Los Angeles. I can claim to have actually used the word “Boss” when our parents had no idea what that meant beyond an employer.


I’ve been waiting for a native speaker of spanish/castellano to come back to this, but nothing …

I’d question the statement in the title. La sierra … (to me at least) means ‘range’, singular. As does ‘la cordillera’.

So whilst you should use it in the singular to refer to a single range of mountains (‘la sierra blanca’) you should use it in the plural to refer to multiple ranges of mountains (Las sierras de Ancash’).

To any native speaker: please correct me - I’m happy to be wrong.


From my even poorer knowledge of te reo (again, feel free to correct me), we have a similar issue here in ZL where ranges named in te reo Maori get the plural-prefix truncated off them and an English ‘s’ added. So nga Kaweka appears on maps as ‘Kaweka Range’ and then gets bastardised to ‘the Kawekas’.