BURNING QUESTION REVISITED – The true plural of “Gin and Tonic” – POLL

In the Christmas number of the UK’s (and now USA’s) best Catholic weekly, the Catholic Herald, there is a lighthearted feature in which notables are asked about “the perfect Catholic cocktail”.   I sense that they didn’t ask me because my opinion would probably solved the mystery for good.

In any event, they did ask – and this strikes me as blatant journalistic nepotism – Michael Warren Davis, the US editor of the same CH, now being produced on both sides of the pond.

Here is his offering:

I come not to argue the merits of the venerable G&T, so much more than just a great summer drink… or breakfast drink for that matter… but call into question his choice of its plural: “Gin and tonics”.


Some time ago – 2011! – I posted a POLL about this very topic and we had spirited responses.

What is the plural of the drink made from gin and tonic?

One is “a gin and tonic”.

Do we say two “gin and tonics” or “gins and tonic”?

One priest friend said “gins and tonics”, but that has to be wrong.  No?  Hmmm.

As I once posted, this question came to a head years ago on a Sunday when I was preparing supper.  I made a G&T and stuck in a DVD of the great Inspector Morse series, and commenced my mise en place.  Then I heard it.  I couldn’t believe me ears.  I had to go back and listen again.

Woman: I don’t know. I’d had one or two g and t’s by that time.  Or should I say g’s and t?

Inspector Morse: Oh, g’s and t.  Definitely.

That strikes me as fairly definitive.  It is, after, Inspector Endeavour Morse.

We must revisit.  I’ll switch off the old poll so this can be as fresh as the drink.

What is your opinion on this issue of very great importance?

I usually caution voters to be sensitive to each other in the combox.  This time?   Heh… have at.  Make your best arguments for your position on this matter of grave importance.

Vote and defend your choice!

What is the plural of the drink made from gin combined with tonic?

View Results

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From my recent NYC trip, which of these three Gins and Tonic is mine?

And can you tell from the shade of the gin which gin it is?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ChesterFrank says:

    Tenebitur planta multos Tonico

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    Gin and tonics = sounds right

  3. Sawyer says:

    I voted “gin and tonics” under the rationale that the term “gin and tonic” is a noun of compound expression so you add the “s” to the end of the last word in the expression. I think it would be similar for a hook and ladder: you wouldn’t say “there are two hooks and ladder” but “there are two hook and ladders”, adding the “s” to the last word in the noun of compound expression.

  4. benkoca says:

    I vote for a fourth option. I think both “gin” and “tonic” are both non-count nouns. For example, I would say two shots of gin, but not two gins. Same with tonic. If I were to order multiple gin and tonic drinks, I would probably say: “I would like two gin and tonic” or “I would like two drinks of gin and tonic”. The drink can be plural, but the gin/tonic remains uncountable.

  5. Ad Orientem says:

    I believe this may be one of those rare cases in English where the singular and the plural form are identical. I have never in my life heard anyone use any of proposed plural forms.

  6. PCali says:

    I can see this going a few different ways.
    First, we treat ‘Gin and Tonic’ as a type of noun in phrase form, in which case I think the plural would be to say “Gin and Tonics.”
    Second, we avoid the issue entirely and simply request “two orders of gin and tonic.”
    Third, we concede the point to the inspector insofar as one drink may be made with a different gin, but the same tonic, as not many would keep different tonics around, but one might keep different gins.
    Fourth, (for the sake of round numbers, merriment, and with tongue firmly in cheek.) you request “two gins and tonic,” and the bartender proceeds to mix two different brands of gin into the same glass along with some tonic.

  7. TonyO says:

    Shame on you, Father Z! [You know what? That’s a really bad way to start a comment here.] You didn’t include the other viable alternative:

    the plural of gin and tonic is “gin and tonic”.

    There are plenty of English nouns for which the plural is in the same form as the singular. “Sheep”, for one.

    And, let me be the first to note that there probably shouldn’t be a special plural form for gin and tonic, because the darn thing should never exist in the plural anyway! It’s bad enough that you make ONE of the beastly things, making TWO is just ridiculous. One is enough already! More than enough. What is there about a gin and tonic that can’t be improved upon by substituting a good whiskey instead? Nothing! Or, for that matter, a good bottle of wine?

    So, given that both “gins and tonic” and “gin and tonics” are ugly to the ear and unsavory to the mouth, and have no real excuse for existing anyway, I vote that we all consent to “gin and tonic” being the only valid form, for both singular and plural.

  8. iamlucky13 says:

    Both ingredients are in each of the glasses, are they not? I am tempted to answer that the best choice offered in the poll is “gins and tonics,” unless only one glass contains an actual cocktail of both ingredients.

    However, I would be conceding to the limits of the poll by saying as much. Mercy may suggest I treat the responses proffered as sufficient, but we have specifically been called upon to identify the true plural. If you ask for the truth, justice demands I provide the truth! I am not permitted to refrain from observing that the true plural is absent from the choices.

    Gin and tonic describe the ingredients of the drinks, but it is the drinks that are plural. Said ingredients are referred to generically, and as liquids, it is unconventional to pluralize non-discrete nouns this way. Consider an example like, “the buckets are full of waters.”

    On the other hand, when discussed non-generically, there are contextually appropriate ways to pluralize quantifiable references to these liquids. I might therefore discuss “gallons of water” as well as “bottles of gin.” In another context, we do actually apply the plural ending directly to the word when identifying discrete elements. Hence we properly discuss multiple rivers, lakes, or streams as “waters of the US.” This likewise can apply to multiple different types of gin. In this manner, I can say, “you have a choice of gins for your cocktail,” but this is not the context we are discussing.

    So to get around to my point, I argue the truly correct plural is “gin and tonic cocktails,” just as the truly correct singular form is a “gin and tonic cocktail.”

  9. For what it is worth, Graham Green in the second paragraph of _Brighton Rock_, has the character Hale drinking “gins and tonics.”

    Does anyone know Evelyn Waugh’s usage?

  10. PanOrganista says:

    And yet Sir Humphrey Appleby says “G &Ts”.

  11. hilltop says:

    The way I drink them there are two parts gin to one part tonic. Thus the correct form is Gins and Tonic.

  12. abasham says:

    Good Father, I think it depends on the order or mixing. If I want five gins mixed with tonic, those are gins and tonic. However, if I desire five tonics conveniently mixed with gin, that, of course, would be gin and tonics.

  13. acardnal says:

    Hmm . . . I’m going to have to ponder this. Perhaps I’ll have a pre-prandial gin and tonic to energize my thinking. Maybe two.

  14. Grant M says:

    According to the authoritative Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the form “gin and tonics” is used throughout the Galaxy to indicate some kind of drink (in the singular or plural).

  15. Gab says:

    After one gin and tonic, I no longer care :) However, may I have two gin and tonics sounds better than the alternatives.

    Can the next poll be “Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?” :)

  16. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Given recent perturbations – Gallic and otherwise – you may have missed this, Reverend Father, but the libation about which you ask is now touted as the cure for the common cold. Just to be on the safe side, it’s time for another round.

  17. WmHesch says:

    “Juniperi cum tonico” in Latin, no?

    Thus “Gins and tonic”

  18. Patrick-K says:

    “Gins and tonics” as that is both the most logically consistent and the closest representation of speech patterns thereby invocated (perhaps with the addition of a few more ‘s’s.)

  19. Hidden One says:

    I would–and do–say “two G&T’s”, saying neither the word “gin” nor the word “tonic”, so I think I have to go with None of the Above.

    Of course, Sir Humphrey Appleby, as PanOrganista notes, is a true authority on high culture (and the arts), so I would lean in the direction of his usage if I had to chose.

  20. teomatteo says:

    While in college i learnt me to spend a little more for the Tanqueray which leaves only a minor calverial disturbance in the morn. Plural? You bet.

  21. erick says:

    Gins and tonicses, precious, yessss. We likes gins and tonicses. ;-)

  22. Veritatis Splendor says:

    Gines tonicesque

  23. Cafea Fruor says:

    Seeing as the singular is not “a gin and a tonic, “gin and tonic” is obviously a compound. I would argue that it functions like a compound substantive adjective, as in “gin-and-tonic (drink understood)” Ergo, “gin and tonics” is the plural.

    Similary, as one doesn’t have “a rum and a Coke”, the plural is rum and Cokes. Nor does a woodworker speak of “mortises and tenons”, but rather “mortise and tenons (joints understood)”, and a firefighter refers to multiple trucks as “hook and ladder (trucks understood)”, not “hooks and ladders”.

  24. Cafea Fruor says:

    Make that “hook and ladders (trucks understood)”.

  25. Dismas says:

    I can have plural beers, or brandys, waters, or whiskeys, and dare I say even gins, so I cannot be entirely confident in the non-count property being used in this case. The pluralization of these implies a conventional serving in a glass, mug, shotglass, etc.

    The support for G&T’s is stronger than the previous, as the cocktail’s name, though a phrase, takes on the property of a compound word.

    The use of G’s&T is unusual, though for the sake of exploring how this can even be possible, let us consider its origin. The drink was made to make the vile taste of quinine tonic more potable. As such, the term would be then similar to asking for “three gins with tonic”, and thus we have pluralized drinks that have been mixed with medicine.

    Lastly, the G’s&T’s. I have great difficulty defending this bizarre use. By double pluralization, one effectively demands the two liquids be separate, thus three gins and three tonics, to be consumed apart. As this would be considered blasphemous even in today’s morbid CofE, I shudder to think of the moral implications such a serving would cause when held up to traditional Roman standards.

    So, after exploring the matter, I put my vote to a highly qualified G’s&T as most proper. When referring to these drinks in polite company, this is certainly preferred. When ordering in a working class pub, G&T’s is the better, for the grammarian is more readily perceived than the alluded property. Anyone using G’s&T in Cockney deserves a beating.

  26. Tara Tremuit says:

    Just as we say brothers-in-law as the brothers is more important than the law, I thought we ought to say ‘gins and tonic’ because the gins is more important than the tonics. But I think that erick ^ above had the best of all possible options. I now vote ‘gins and tonicses.’ If there is any disagreement his new translation for gin and tonic pl. amongst my brethren, I will just tell them “It has been so decided,” and they will vote my way. Very good, “Gins and “Tonicses” it is.

  27. Beltway Catholic says:


  28. Patrick-K says:

    I think the real controversy here is periods outside of quotation marks.

  29. Hidden One says:

    That’s only controversial because publications like the Chicago Manual of Style get it wrong now, unlike Fr. Z.

  30. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Here is how it is:

    If there are a plurality of drinks being made, then it matters from what source the drinks arise.

    If a single bottle of gin, then all of the drinks thus made are of the same “gin.” If from a single bottle of tonic, all of the drinks thus made are from the same “tonic.” If a plurality of bottles of gin and/or of tonic, then “gins” or “tonics.”

    So, the source matters, I think, and it could settle the matter entirely.

    One bottle of gin and one bottle of tonic for all drinks, then its “gin and tonic”. Two bottles of gin and one bottle of tonic, then its “gins and tonic”. One bottle of gin but two bottles of tonic, then its “gin and tonics”. Two bottles of gin and two bottles of tonic, then its “gins and tonics.”

    Easy peasy.

    Also, I still think yours was the drink on the right in your previous post…

  31. MrsMacD says:

    I asked the grammarians in my family,”One gin and tonic, two?” They answered,”two gin and tonic.” When presented with the options in the poll they said, ‘two gins and tonic.” An example of a similar problem was highlighted, “Mom and Dad’s house…”

  32. Gregg the Obscure says:

    “Mom and Dad’s house…” — I’m of low birth, it’s “the folks’ house”.

  33. JustaSinner says:

    Same bottle of gin poured into each glass, or two different gins like Bombay Sapphire (saintly) or Seagram’s (gruelish)? Both my opinions…but it does make a difference. Seems the BBC (UK’s version of CNN?) agrees that it is gin and tonics. Unless you had two drinks, one made each of said gins and having two different types of tonic water, then it might possibly be gins and tonics…

  34. Imrahil says:

    One gin-and-tonic, two gin-and-tonic, three gin-and-tonic.

    But that may be an “in case of a doubt do it the German way.” After all, we will say in a bar: “for me and my friends, three beer [sic!] please”.

    (By the way, he is quite right: gin-and-tonic is a drink that both tastes really fine and, most of the time, allows you to experience the good effects of alcohol without, setting aside car-driving and very-far-in-the-future health issues, really so much of the bad ones.)

  35. Imrahil says:

    Dear TonyO,

    so you would spoil the good whiskey with tonic water, or some other lemonade?

  36. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Based on the language of the sacraments with a nod to the Catholicity of G&T, Love and Marriage go together like a horse and carriage. Therefore two loves and two marriages go together like two horses and carriages. Or two gins and tonics.

    Furthermore, you cannot apply the no-plural-for-liquids theory because in this case gin is a unit. If, like my late father, you preferred your gin neat, you might ask the barman for a gin or even two gins.

  37. Fr Richard Duncan CO says:

    I prefer my gin and tonics to be “musical”, i.e. the tonic shouldn’t be too dominant. (You have to be a musician to understand this).

  38. Ms. M-S says:

    Look at, or rather listen to, the stress and intonation contour of the phrase. A set phrase will have one major peak—a scotch and SOda or two scotch and SOdas—and the plural marker will be at the end of the phrase. Two gin and TONics would be two drinks of that set mixture. But not to worry: few waiters would have so little sense as to bring you a bottle of tonic water and two glasses of gin if you ordered two gins and tonic.

  39. Man-o-words says:

    This was a painful vote to cast. I went with Gin and Tonics, but that would suggest a watering down of this fine coctail as the number consumed increases – i.e., singular gin with multiple tonics. While that approach would be rather prudent, I tend to err in the other direction as the evening progresses, much to my regret the following morning.

  40. GM Thobe says:

    Another vote for the singular and the plural being the same. Owing, no doubt, to its original [and surely continuing] medicinal use.

  41. GM Thobe says:

    Fr. Z, what is your take on the perfect Christmas cocktail? Eggnog, perhaps?

  42. GrumpyYoungMan says:

    I’m voting for the plural being the same as the singular.

    “Gins and tonic” to me sounds like one is mixing two different gins (St. George Botanivore and North Shore No. 6, for example) in the glass and adding a bit of tonic.

    Likewise, “Gin and Tonics” implies two different quinine potions (perhaps Fever tree and Q) are being used.

  43. Archlaic says:

    I do think that considerable weight ought to be given to Sir Humphrey’s usage…

  44. Bev says:

    I’m disappointed, the CORRECT answer is not in the poll. Like deer, singular or plural the same, so is gin & tonic.

  45. I would ask for two gin and tonic drinks. Or say. “I had two gin and tonic drinks”. Speaking of which, my step dad is 93 and for over half his life had two gin and tonic drinks nightly. He has Malaria and the tonic has quinine in it, which is a treatment for Malaria. May the gin and tonic drinks have helped him to have a long life? lol

  46. that should read “maybe the gin”

  47. The Masked Chicken says:

    Sigh. I don’t drink, so I have no dog in this fight, but I would like to take this moment to explain my evil plan to educate others about science by using everyday objects – more sneaky than evil, I guess.

    You will be educated – you have been warned – turn back now or be spoiled with knowledge…

    There is NO correct plural of gin and tonic, because the plural is dependent on how the final product is made. First, some definitions: a gin and tonic is a mixture of two liquids. We call such a two-liquid mixture a solution. All solutions are mixtures, but not all mixtures are solutions (example: mixing salt and pepper). It is customary to call the thing being dissolved the solute and the thing doing the dissolving the solvent. Usually, the solute is present in less than 50% by volume and the solvent more than 50%. The volumetric ratio of the typical gin and tonic (GT, hereafter) is between 50%/50% to 25%/75%. As such, gin is the solute and the tonic water is the solvent.

    Now, gin is a spirit liquor derived from the juniper berry, with the addition of multiple smaller fractions of other botanicals, such as coriander, cinnamon, licorice, and bitter almond, along with ethanol, usually, in the form of vodka. This is a multi-component liquid, with pectins, arabinoids, small amounts of proteins, amino acids, and lipids.

    Tonic water is water infused with up to 83 ppm (83 mg/liter) of quinine, which is an alkaloid, a basic amine, coupled to methanol. It is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree and first isolated in 1820. It was first introduced by the British in India in 1858 to treat malaria. The exact mechanism of its antiparasitic action is unknown, but it is suspected that it interferes with hemoglobin absorption by the parasite. The taste of the alkoloid is bitter, the therapeutic range being about 500 ppm. British officers mixed quinine with carbonated water to cut the taste. Eventually, sugar and other flavorings were added. Mixological tonic water uses no more than the FDA recommended 83ppm amount.

    Quinine, being an alcohol, an amine, and an alkaloid, contains regions of variable interaction with water, but the methanol and to a lesser extent the amine, render quinine a slightly polar molecule and, therefore, soluable in water. Mixed with the gin, all of the gin components are soluable in the quinolated water, since tonic water has polar and nonpolar regions.

    Thus, the situation is analogous to preparing a solution of hydrochloric acid and water. Hydrochloric acid is the solute; water is the solvent. A student may be presented with the solution in one of three ways – pre-mixed, with a solvent reservoir, and unmixed.

    If the student in a lab is given two beakers of water and two beakers of HCl and interacts to produce two standalone beakers each of an HCl/H2O mixture, the correct expression is two Hydrochloric acids and waters.

    If the student is given two beakers of HCl and a water faucet, the final two beakers are Hydrochloric acids and water.

    If the student is given two beakers of previously prepared HCl/H2O mixtures, then he has two Hydrochloric acid and waters.

    So, if the bar pre-mixed the gin and tonic, it is correctly referred to as gin and tonics; if the bar give the patron two portions of gin and two portions of tonics and let’s him mix his own to taste, it is correctly referred to as gins and tonics; if the bar gives the patron two gins and a bottle of tonic water (a reservoir), it is correctly referred to as gins and tonic.

    As the method of preparation varies across the UK and USA and their associated countries, one should adapt the name to the method. There is no single plural.

    Well, I did warn you. The more difficult plural to decide is after you have had you two or more gin mixes, will you be seeing double or doubles?

    The Chicken

  48. rtjl says:

    I think you can side step the issue by replacing “and” with “with” and order two “gins with tonic”. Maybe.

  49. Semper Gumby says:

    Maybe, in countries that have “Sergeants Major” it’s Gins and Tonic, likewise “Sergeant Majors” and Gin and Tonics. “Gins and Tonics” was condemned by the Council of Trent.

    Pius XII wrote about gin and tonic in his encyclical “Laetamur admodum” (“We are most pleased”).

    “Of all the gin and tonic joints in all the towns, in all the world…” Er, no.

    I think commenter erick may have spent too much time in the Misty Mountains at high altitude. Well done.

  50. TonyO says:

    Dear TonyO,

    so you would spoil the good whiskey with tonic water, or some other lemonade?

    Never! The good whiskey should not be sullied. (Bad whiskey may be treated with whatever you wish, including a rag if using as a solvent.)

    Dear Fr. Z, I was merely trying to enter into the spirit of the discussion (no puns unintended): I usually caution voters to be sensitive to each other in the combox. This time? Heh… have at. However, I apologize for starting off my comment that way, it was a tad boorish. Mea culpa.

    I am gratified that so many of the erudite readers here are afficionados of the Sir Humphrey Appleby school, though I should have known that well-schooled classicists would be familiar with his works. I have argued that his opera should be required material for our civil servant class. However, since (I believe) his standard G&T is actually a double, in a single glass, I still contend that in that case the proper usage for his mixture is a plural disguised as the same form as the singular: “gin and tonic”. Making yourself one gin and tonic, and then going back to make a second (as seems inevitable among those who imbibe the stuff), is a waste of effort and energy and ought to be suppressed: just make a double to start. Hence the standard should still be “gin and tonic” for the double. And as brilliant as the Chicken is, he should know never to combine science with grammar, a practice to which the heaviest users of G&T would never succumb.

  51. iPadre says:

    May I throw another in the mix?

    We would like two, three, four… Gin and Tonic.

  52. Sportsfan says:

    This seems to be an important issue since having just one would be highly irregular.

    I have little to offer on the subject of English grammar, however, as to the original question of “the perfect Catholic cocktail, ” I, being from whiskey territory, do have opinions on that subject.

    I sent my oldest son to (what I thought was) a very Catholic College in Front Royal Virginia. The first time he came home after his 21rst birthday he ordered a “singular” (of this thread topic) at which point I immediately second guessed my approval of his college choice. It later turned into a “plural.” (His drink selection, not my guessing)

    However, upon further reflection, the key word is “cocktail. The concept of which I find troubling.
    If one has to “mix” a drink, this one would be as Catholic, if not more so, than any other.

  53. teomatteo says:

    I am no Chicken but after that read: i’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy

  54. Bob B. says:

    My favorite, I don’t drink anything else and prefer Beefeaters. Noch einmal, bitte.

  55. youngcatholicgirl says:

    I have the solution. There’s a joke about a zoo keeper who was writing an classified for the newspaper: “Wanted: Two mongooses.” That sounding wrong, he changed it to, “Wanted: Two mongeese.” It still sounded wrong, so he changed it one last time: “Wanted: One mongoose, and while you’re at it, make it two.”
    So, we can say the same of gin and tonic!

  56. jaykay says:

    I think it all depends on how the tonic is being dispensed. For many years now, in bars etc., it means each gin order will have its own tonic, in those little (highly over-priced, at least over here on this side of the Pond) bottles. But the older usage was to have a syphon of tonic that was shared, so it would probably have been “two gins and tonic”? But who has seen one of those lo these many years?

    But anyway, in a bar, I’d say “two gin and tonic”. No plural, it would be understood that two separate mixers will be given. “Two gins and tonic” would also be interpreted in the same way. I don’t think any bar person these days would think just one tonic was wanted.

    I’ve never heard “two gins and tonics”.

  57. JabbaPapa says:

    The proper plural is of course “gin’n’tonics”.

  58. Grabski says:

    Both gin and tonic are discrete things, with proper plurals

    G&T is a neologism for a cocktail and as a neologism can be pluralized G&Ts

    Logically the “s” carries to “tonics”,though G&T is preferred


  59. rollingrj says:

    Fr. Duncan, as a musician, all I can do is grown at your comment.
    Like the Masked Chicken, since I am also a non-drinker, I have no opinion on this topic.

  60. Blaise says:

    “Gins and tonic”, by analogy with “courts martial” and “protonotaries apostolic”. Unless you are mixing your tonics.

  61. KateD says:

    I voted “gin and tonics”. As in “I asked the bartender to deliver five gin and tonics to the table. Believe me, I had earned every last one of them…”

    But, don’t take my word for it…I’ve obviously had a few too many!

    In sincerity, it makes sense to me that if in the singular the drink is “a gin and tonic”, then the plural would logically be “gin and tonics”. “Gins and tonic” does sound correct to the ear, though. So….

    And thank you, Father, for this lovely Christmas gift that will keep on giving….Now, every time I refer to “that drink” in the back of my head I will immediately worry, ‘Oh, crud! Did I say that right?” And end up missing pertinent conversation.

    It will henceforth be banished to the list of words and phrases to circumvent, along with “good/well”.

    “Bartender, make that four gimlets.”

    Problem solved. :D

  62. KateD says:

    But what I’d really order if I ever got a chance to be free from family and responsibility for an evening would be the much less sophisticated blended 747….

    It tastes like a chocolate milkshake.

    It’s a B52 made with Frangelico instead of Gran Marnier.

    The perfect synthesis of comfort food and booze.

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