Q&A: Show me the money! Or monies? Or moneys?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre (AWC), we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, it’s all about the money…

Q: Hi AWC, another reader question this week.
A: Long time reader, first time caller…
Q: It’s from Sue and she wants to know why we need a plural “monies” in the collective/mass noun “money”.
A: Nice question Sue. Of course, the issue here is that mass nouns are already referring to a collection of something – in this case, an amount of money. So why slap on another plural, right?
Q: Right.
A: It all comes down to a subtle distinction between seeing something as one big sum or the sum of its parts. Which word you use depends on where your focus is – on the collective itself or on the items that make up that collective.
Q: Wow okay. English getting all fancy.
A: It has its moments.
Q: Okay, so… show me the money!
A: Right. So, if you went into a bank, you might say, “Hello, I’d like some money please.” Then you’d get more specific and discuss a set amount.
Q: Well not if you were robbing the bank. In that case you’d probably say, “Give me ALL your money! And everyone else, STAY DOWN and don’t even TRY and be a hero…”
A: Disturbing, but true. Shall we return to the lesson?
Q: You had me at hello.
A: Very clever, that’s two Jerry Maguire quotes now. Nice work.
Q: What’s Jerry Maguire?
A: Never mind. So the reason people say “monies” is usually in a financial or legal sense, if they’re dealing with discrete amounts of money.
Q: Must be a Swiss bank account – they’re very discrete.
A: No, that’s “discreet” – and we discussed the difference in another Q&A. What WE are saying is that the money may have come from separate sources or even different currencies. An example would be “the lawyers requested the monies be transferred from the Cayman Islands to the trust account”.
Q: Doesn’t using “money” work just as well?
A: Many agree with you, but this more subtle distinction is nevertheless preferred for these formal dealings. They just seem to like the small difference that indicates or allows for the existence of individual sums of money.
Q: Okay, so why “monies”. Shouldn’t it be “moneys”?
A: You can actually use either “moneys” or “monies” for this job. In fact, up until around 40 years ago, “moneys” was favoured – but since then “monies” has given it a run for its money. In modern usage, despite style guides suggesting otherwise, “monies” is the preferred option, both in American and British English.
Q: So, to recap, money is already a collective noun (i.e. there is no such thing as “a money”), but there may be occasions when referring to collected individual sums as “monies” makes more sense.
A: Yes, that’s right on the money.
Q: Or as the crossword said to Jerry Maguire, “you complete me”.
A: Thought you’d never seen that film?
Q: I googled it while you were talking about trust accounts. Hmm, I’m not sure I got my money’s worth out of this Q&A.
A: True, it was a fairly straightforward one. But don’t worry, you’ll still get paid regardless.
Q: Wait, you get PAID for doing these?
A: Oh, um. Hashtag awkward. Is that the time? Gotta go.

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