As languages evolve, spellings can change and some words may even develop more than one version. Hoofs and hooves, for instance, are two versions of the same noun. Both versions have been in use for many years, but today, one is much more common than the other. It’s unclear why this shift in preferences happened—roofs, a similar word, doesn’t have a commonly used rooves variant. Still, if you are writing for professional or academic reasons, you will need to choose the words you use carefully. While it is unlikely that your manuscript will be rejected on the basis of hooves vs. hoofs, it can’t hurt to be sure.
Hoof as noun:
Use of hoofs:
Hoofs is the older, traditional plural form hoof. Its singular form is hoof, which means the hardened feet of certain animals. Most such animals have four legs, with a hoof on each one, so the plural form of this noun is more common than its singular counterpart.
For a good 250 years, hoofs was the primary plural form of hoof—analogized with the word roof, which has roofs as a plural form. It wasn’t until the last 40-50 years that hooves began to pick up steam.
He will take custom-made stilts, prosthetic hoofs and a foam-latex mask to transform his brother, Alec, into a 7-foot-tall, half-goat, half-human wizard named the Oracle, he said. (The Wall Street Journal)
Use of hooves:
Hooves is the newer, and now more common, plural form of the hoof. As mentioned above, hooves didn’t really pick up steam until the 20th century, and didn’t eclipse hoofs in usage until the 1970s. Today, however, hooves is much more common in print sources.
Del Mar’s first run on its new dirt for real could not have gone any better as the seaside track kicked off its 76th racing season with the traditional beach party mix of wild hats, pounding hooves and booze and even Caitlyn Jenner and her entourage. (The San Diego Union-Tribune)
She took a dramatic tumble when horse Let It Bee’s front hooves grazed the second jump at Will O’ Wind Farm in Mono, which has been dubbed the Pan Am Cross-Country Centre for the competition’s duration. (The Cambridge Times)
Hoofs or hooves:
Hoofs and hooves are variants of a plural noun that refers to part of the feet of some mammals. Both spellings are legitimate. Today, hooves is the predominant form. To conclude, use hooves unless an editor or publisher recommends hoofs instead. If you need a reminder that hooves is the modern standard form of this word, remember that hooves has a slant rhyme with the word shoes, and shoes go on hooves.