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友達 is kind of an odd case - it's a word in the process of fossilisation. 友 on its own is a valid word, albeit one with a distinctly archaic flavour. -たち was then added to make a collective plural (as Thomas Gross says, not a true 'more than one' plural, but instead a 'group described by this term' plural). Modern speakers, though, would always use 友達 in all ...


Your final question is different from the one in the title. First, ~たち is not built-in. The noun 友 can appear on its own. See here for more information. Therefore, the answer to your last question is no. I want to mention though that ~たち, or suffixes such as ~ら, ~ども, etc. do not mark the plural in the strict sense, but rather an associative. An ...

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