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I am a visitor from Electronics.SE, where we often discuss the schematics for various devices. Mostly asking a user to post the schematics, because it is impossible to follow someone's thoughts without it.

Since English is not my native language, I have had a hard time understanding the difference between schematic and schematics. Initially I assumed that schematics is the plural form of schematic, but it did not take long to realize that schematics is being used even when there's only one page or circuit.

What are the rules governing the usage of this word? Does it belong to a specific type of words with a fancy name that I can search for?

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    This might be a semantic issue where schematic is a reference to the diagram itself and schematics is a step-by-step breakdown of said diagram. – lurker Dec 25 '15 at 22:29
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    This plural is a common use in fields where illustration and documentation ordinarily requires many related documents. The schematics typically include many schematic diagrams--perhaps a separate diagram for each layer or subsystem--just as the blueprints for a building typically include many floor plans and detailed drawings, and the elevations for a stage set typically include many illustrations and color renderings. – StoneyB Dec 25 '15 at 23:13
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    Could you link an example where "schematics" is used for a single item? A single item (meaning one "diagram" only) should be schematic (as a noun) or schematic diagram (as an adjective). – user3169 Dec 25 '15 at 23:19
  • These comments are great, thanks! @user3169 A cursory search on American/English websites did not give me any example of this, leading me to wonder if I am mistaken, and that all examples I have seen has been from non-natives like me. I did however find the opposite: sparkfun.com/products/12857 has a link called Schematic, pointing to a multi-page document. – pipe Dec 25 '15 at 23:44
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Your question actually puzzled me too for a while. When writing academic papers, I usually employ the longer term schematic diagram. Sometimes, however, I prefer to employ the shorter form schematic to save space. And sometimes schematic diagram is shortened into schematic directly by the copy editors.

Up to a couple of months ago, when a coauthor of mine questioned my beliefs, I was convinced that schematics was a singular noun ending in s, just like physics, mathematics etc. But it's not: the singular noun is schematic, without the s.

From the Oxford dictionary:

Schematic noun
(In technical contexts) a schematic diagram, in particular of an electric or electronic circuit

From Cambridge dictionary:

Schematic noun [C]
a ​drawing or ​plan that ​shows the ​details of how something ​operates or is put together

From Merriam-Webster:

Schematic noun
a schematic drawing or diagram

Google Ngram Viewer, too, shows a prevalence of schematic for the singular form:

Ngram for "the schematic(s) of a"

I suspect, thus, that the usage of schematics for a single diagram is just a common mistake.

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Most nouns ending in -ics look like a plural form but they are normally singular.

  • Physics is a special branch of science.

Other examples: mathematics, acoustics, mechanics, optics, statistics, dynamics, therapeutics etc.

There are also nouns with the ending -ics that don't denote scientific branches such as lyrics.

Occasionally there is also a plural, often with a slight change of meaning as rhetoric x rhetorics.

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