How are nouns made plural?

Plurals of nouns are used to indicate when there is more than one person, place, animal, or thing.

The normal method for making nouns plural is to add an “-s” at the end of the noun.

For example:

  • one boy – two boys
  • one girl – two girls
  • one pen – two pens
  • one pencil – two pencils
  • one prize – two prizes
  • one price – two prices

If a noun ends in “-s,” “-x,” “-z,” or with a cluster of consonants, such as “-sh,” “-ch,” or “-tch” (as in “watch”), we add “-es” to render it plural.

For example:

  • one coach – two coaches
  • one witch – two witches
  • one dish – two dishes
  • one box – two boxes
  • one bus – two buses
  • one kiss – two kisses
  • one waltz – two waltzes

Words ending in “-y”

When the noun ends in a “-y” and it is preceded by a consonant, we change “y” to “i” and add “-es.”

For example:

  • one country – two countries
  • one city – two cities
  • one gallery – two galleries
  • one baby – two babies
  • one lady – two ladies
  • one reality – two realities
  • one fly – two flies
  • one butterfly – two butterflies

However, when a word ends in a “-y” preceded by a vowel, then we simply add an “-s” as usual:

  • one toy – two toys
  • one play – two plays
  • one key – two keys
  • one guy – two guys

Irregular plurals

There are some nouns that are irregular. They do not adhere to spelling rules, and so these need to be memorized.

Here are the most common ones:

  • one man – two men
  • one woman – two women
  • one person – two people*
  • one mouse – two mice
  • one goose – two geese
  • one child – two children
  • one tooth – two teeth
  • one foot – two feet

(*Persons is also a plural form of person, but in modern English it is usually reserved for more formal, bureaucratic, or legal language, as in, “Any such persons found to be guilty of shoplifting will be prosecuted.”)

Be aware that irregular plural nouns cannot be made plural again; that is, you cannot have childrens or feets. However, people is an exception—it can be pluralized as peoples in some cases.

Adding “-ves” vs. “-s”

With some nouns that end in “-f,” “-fe,” or “-lf,” we replace the endings with “-ves” to make them plural. Below is a list of some common examples:

  • one life – two lives
  • one wife – two wives
  • one loaf – two loaves
  • one leaf – two leaves
  • one knife – two knives
  • one thief – two thieves
  • one calf – two calves
  • one half – two halves
  • one wolf – one wolves

However, many other words that end in “-f,” “-fe,” or “-lf” are simply made plural with an “-s” on the end. Here are some common examples:

  • one chief – two chiefs
  • one brief – two briefs
  • one safe – two safes
  • one gulf – two gulfs
  • one belief – two beliefs
  • one roof – two roofs

And yet some other words can receive either “-ves” or “-s,” such as:

  • one handkerchief – two handkerchiefs – two handkerchieves
  • one hoof – two hoofs – two hooves
  • one scarf – two scarfs – two scarves

Unfortunately, there is no steadfast rule for which words will receive a “-ves” ending, an “-s” ending, or both—they are irregular and have to be memorized.

Words ending in “-ff” or “-ffe”

Words ending in “-ff” or “-ffe,” on the other hand, have straightforward plural forms: we simply add “-s” to the end, as in:

  • one cliff – two cliffs
  • one bailiff – two bailiffs
  • one giraffe – two giraffes
  • one gaffe – two gaffes

Words with the same plural and singular forms

We also have some nouns that remain the same in singular and plural.

For example:

  • one fish – two fish*
  • one sheep – two sheep
  • one bison – two bison
  • one aircraft – two aircraft

(*Note that fish can also be pluralized as fishes. However, it is more common for this “-es” form to be used in reference to more than one kind of fish, as opposed to multiple fish in general.)

Uncountable nouns

Although similar in nature to the above nouns, uncountable nouns refer to things that cannot be divided into individual units, and that therefore cannot be made plural at all.

For example:

  • rice
  • butter
  • milk
  • advice
  • news

To quantify them, we need to use a unit of measure, such as one pound of rice, a bottle of milk, a piece of advice, etc.

The rules surrounding these can be quite complex, so see the section on Uncountable Nouns to learn more.

Words from Latin or Greek

There are also nouns taken from Latin or Greek that maintain their original forms in the plural. However, as we’ll see, some of these words have begun shifting towards more conventional plural forms, in addition to their original spellings.

For example:

  • index – indices (indexes is now also acceptable)
  • appendix – appendices (appendixes is now also acceptable)
  • fungus – fungi
  • criterion – criteria
  • nucleus – nuclei
  • syllabus – syllabi
  • focus – foci
  • cactus – cacti (cactuses is now also acceptable)
  • thesis – theses
  • crisis – crises
  • phenomenon – phenomena

Non-Existent Plural Adjectives

In many languages, especially languages deriving from Latin, adjectives become plural when they are used to describe plural nouns. However, in English, adjectives are never made plural.

For example:

  • “Two blue pens.” (correct)
  • “Two blues pens.” (incorrect)
  • Roses are red.” (correct)
  • Roses are reds.” (incorrect)
  • “Several 10-year-old boys.” (correct)
  • “Several 10-years-old boys.” (incorrect) xx
  • “Several 10-year-olds boys.” (incorrect) xx

As you can see, it is always the noun that is pluralized, and never the adjective.

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