Prius Drivers Don't Know Their Latin

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The question “what is the plural of Prius?” had been discussed at some length here at at TTAC well before Toyota’s marketing team picked up on the idea and held a contest soliciting votes on the correct answer. And, as it turns out, etymological corectness doesn’t resonate withe masses quite like a nice, short name… which, incidentally, brings the debate full circle. TTAC started out calling multiples of the hybrid hatch Prii, before New Years Eve when we found out that Priora was the more accurate term because

Prius is the neuter nominative/accusative singular of the adjective prior, but the plural forms of the word – which means ‘earlier, better, more important’- would be Priora

Then, on New Years Day two years later, we corrected once again when we were informed that

Actually prius is an adverb, so it can’t have a plural. But the related noun form is prior, prioris, 3rd declension. According to my Bennett’s New Latin Grammar (CR:1956), the plural of liquid stem (ending in -l or -r) 3rd declension nouns is -es (that’s a long e, with a bar over it). So it should be Priores.

But it turns out that our attempts to unite the twin disciplines of auto enthusiasm and Latin grammar fell on deaf ears. Automotive News [sub] reports that Toyota’s month-long survey is complete and that fans have determined that the name should be Prii. According to Toyota’s presser on the matter

Prii becomes the word not only endorsed by the public who chose it, but also as the term recognized by Toyota

Debate over.

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4 of 14 comments
  • Mharrell Mharrell on Feb 21, 2011

    Toyota can, of course, coin whatever plural they want for their own product. (Prii, though? Really? Sigh.) For the independent question of the plural of prius in Latin, however, the only correct answer is still priora. In Latin, prius is either an adverb (which, as noted, has no plural) or, with that same spelling, it is an adjective (plural priora), as properly explained earlier. The subsequent discussion of priores is for a different word which is never spelled prius in any of its forms, and therefore has no bearing on this.

  • ClutchCarGo ClutchCarGo on Feb 21, 2011
    Debate over. Except we still need to decide how to pronounce Prii. Pree? Pree-eye?

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Feb 21, 2011

    I'm sticking with Priuses.

  • Bob12 Bob12 on Feb 21, 2011

    "Prius" is a brand name, so therefore the plural term is "Priuses." Toyota's "Prii" is simply marketing. In the same vein, I didn't pry off and throw away the "L" and "Y" keys on my keyboard when Apple launched its "Think Different" marketing campaign. See the first few paragraphs of this Grammar Girl article for more: