COVID-19 has not only come with devastating health, economic, and social effects. Its huge and indescribable impact on language and language use cannot be simplified, let alone sidestepped. This material attempts to tackle an aspect of language and language use as far as COVID-19 is concerned.
As novel as it is, COVID-19 equally leads to coinage of new terms, exhumation of old ones, and bringing into the fore less known ones. Consequently, words and phrases like sanitiser, sanitising, social distancing, nose mask, COVID-19 restrictions and protocols, to mention but few, are not uncommon in the vocabulary of everyone in these days. One of the less known medical terms which gained prominence of late due to COVID-19 is PPE.
As a term, PPE is readily and availably fallen on and used in news reportage both in the print and the electronic media. Of great concern is its pluralisation yielding PPEs as incessantly used in the news. The question, however, is do we have any term as PPEs? In other words, is it grammatical to say PPEs? A brief, yet careful, surgery on it should not be of less importance.
PPE or PPEs?
PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. It is a phrase and largely, if not specifically, a noun phrase. As a phrase, its headword is Equipment and irrefutably the most important element therein. This means Personal and Protective are pre-modifiers of the word Equipment. That is if one is looking at the phrase grammatically.
Hopefully, the preceding paragraph is not too difficult to digest. It is a plus if you in the same boat with the writer.
Equipment is a mass (uncountable or non-count) noun. Technically speaking, non-count nouns DO NOT take ‘s’ or any of the plural indicating morphemes to form their plural. These nouns cannot be made plural (or used with a or an). Consequently, they have the same form (spelling) for the singular as well as the plural. Such nouns are indicated in good or authoritative dictionaries as (U).
From the above, it is evidently and abundantly clear that ‘equipment has only one form for its singular and plural renditions (or physical forms). Thus, it is grammatically wrong, erroneous, suicidal, and unpardonable to say or write PPEs.
Simply say or write PPE for the plural or singular form of the expression. You can indicate plurality by using quantifiers with good examples being some or more. For instance, our schools need some PPE! More PPE were shipped to the country.
Now that you are made aware, never repeat the mistake of saying or writing PPEs. Resist that temptation with all your grammatical might and prowess. Be a disciple!
English grammar is your friend: love it, learn it.
Felix Mawudor Vorvor