Dwarfs or dwarves? Which form is correct?

Dwarfs or dwarves? What is the plural form of the word dwarf? Everyone knows the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, if you are a fan of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, you are certainly familiar with dwarves. Does it mean that dwarf has two plural forms? Or could it be possible that one of the famous authors has made a mistake? Read this article to find out.

Dwarfs or dwarves? Which form is correct meaning definition difference correct form examples Correctme.org

Dwarfs or dwarves? Which form is correct?

The answer is that nowadays both of these plurals are correct, however, dwarfs is the more common form of the two! Why is that? Carry on reading to find out.

Dwarfs or dwarves? What is the difference?

Most nouns ending in f or fe replace the f or fe with ves, as in

calf – calves,
knife – knives.

There are exceptions to this rule, and dwarfs used to be one of them. However, in Modern English dwarves is also appropriate, but not in any sense. This form was popularized by English author J.R.R. Tolkien in his fantasy fiction books, including the famous The Lord of the Rings.

So the answer to the question from the introduction of this article is that it was Tolkien who has made a mistake! In a letter to the publisher of The Hobbit, he admitted himself that the spelling dwarves has started off as an error. However, due to the enormous success of his works, other fantasy authors have begun to adopt the spelling as well.

So nowadays the Tolkien spelling dwarves is used when referring to little people in fantasy worlds, while dwarfs is used in other contexts.

Read the following section to see if you are familiar with all definitions of the word dwarf.

Dwarfs or dwarves – the meaning

In stories, dwarf is a creature like a little man with magical powers, as in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Dwarf also refers to a person who is much shorter than average because of the medical condition called dwarfism. However, it should be noted that in this context dwarf is considered an offensive word and people who suffer from dwarfism prefer the term “little person” or “person of short stature”.

Dwarf is also short for dwarf planet which is a round object in space that goes around the sun but is not as large as a planet.

Dwarf can also be an adjective meaning very small.

Finally, as a verb dwarf means to make something appear small by comparison and in the third person singular present tense it is inflected dwarfs, not dwarves.

Dwarfs or dwarves? The correct form – a quick remainder

Dwarves was popularised by Tolkien and is now considered the standard spelling of the plural when referring to the meaning related to fantasy.

Dwarfs is the correct traditional spelling of the plural of dwarf and is used everywhere else.

Dwarfs or dwarves? Now it’s all clear! Examples from literature and press

‘I do not doubt it,’ said Legolas. ‘But you are a dwarf, and dwarves are strange folk.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

The fat man was lucky, as was the bearded lady and a handful of dwarves.

Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants

Stars come in many varieties including simmering dwarfs and brilliant hypergiants.

New York Times, Aug 19, 2022

Written by

After graduating with a MA in English Philology, Kasia lived for almost five years in the UK facing the challenge of trying to master the intricacies of English language, which is her consuming passion. Other things she enjoys doing in her spare time are singing in a local parish band, embroidery, reading, cycling, and enjoying the outdoors with her family and friends.