Singular and Plural Nouns

Making Plural Nouns in English:

It’s more than just adding s!

You surely know that in order to change a singular noun to its plural form in English, you usually add s. But there are many cases where this is not the case. This review will lead you through the more important grammar rules you should know in order to improve your English writing and avoid mistakes in turning singular nouns to their plural form.

Remember that only count-nouns actually have plural forms. Count-nouns represent items that exist in separated units you can count, such as apples, songs, or children. Non-count nouns represent items existing as a mass, such as powders and liquids ( sand, water) or concepts ( honesty, economics). In addition, unlike a singular count-noun that must have at least a/an as a determiner ( This is an apple), plural count nouns can appear without a determiner ( I like apples).

There may be accepted alternative spellings to the general rules presented below, so when in doubt, consult a
dictionary. If a noun adds anything but a simple s to make the plural, then most dictionaries will show the special/ alternative plural forms. For example, a mango – mangos/ mangoes, and a scarf – scarfs/ scarves.

Spelling Rules for Adding the Plural S to Singular Nouns

The general plurals rule: Usually add the letter s to the end of a singular noun to make it plural.
I’ll take this book; you can use those books over there.
We have one bedroom on the first floor and three more bedrooms on the second.

• In compound nouns, add s only to the main noun.
This family uses one air- conditioner and one washing machine . Their neighbors use three air- conditioners and two washing machines .

I have one son-in-law; my friend Frieda has three sons-in-law.

• Add es to a noun ending with a whistling sound ( s,sh,ch,x,z) to make it plural.
one bus – three buses, a church – many churches, a box – boxes, a buzz buzzes

• If the singular noun ends with a consonant + y, drop the y, replace with an i and add es. Don’t drop the y, if the y is preceded by a vowel.
Yes: one city – two cities, a baby – babies, a country – countries
No: a toy – toys, a day – days

Note: If the noun ending with a y represents a person or a country, add only s in any case.
John F. Kennedy was the most famous of the Kennedys. In 1963, he didn’t visit the two Germanys after giving his speech in West-Berlin.

• If the singular noun ends with a consonant + o, add es. If the o is preceded by a vowel, only add s to make the plural form.
Yes: a potato – five potatoes, a hero – heroes, an echo echoes
No: a radio – radios, a studio – studios, a kangaroo kangaroos

Irregular Noun Plurals

1. Singular Nouns Ending with f/fe

• Some nouns ending with f, fe, drop this ending and add ves to make the plural form. There may be alternative spelling.
Yes : a knife – knives, one half – two halves, my life – their lives, a wolf – wolves.
No : one roof – roofs, a cliff – many cliffs, a safe – safes
Both : a dwarf – the seven dwarfs/ dwarves, one wharf – a few wharfs/ wharves

2. Unique Old English Plural Nouns

• These nouns have unique plural forms that survived from Old English. Learn them well according to the following groups, as they are in common use.
a man – men
a woman – women
(Plural pronounced /wimen/)
a person -- people
a foot – feet
a goose – geese
a tooth – teeth
a child – children
an ox – oxen (castrated bulls)
a brother – brethren (in church orders), brothers (in a family)
a mouse – mice
a louse – lice
a die – dice (for playing games)

3. One Form for Singular & Plural

• Many nouns have identical forms for both singular and plural.
a sheep – sheep, a deer – deer, a moose – moose
a fish – fish (fishes, if used for different species of fish)
a dozen – two dozen roses, a hundred – several hundred men
( but: dozens of roses, hundreds of people)

Special Singular - Plural Cases

1. Plural-Only Nouns

• Some nouns only have a plural form, ending with s or without.
The police are looking for the robbers.
I like these pants / jeans / shorts.
Use either scissors or nail clippers.
Binoculars ar stronger than any glasses.

• Other nouns ending with s only have a plural form only with certain meanings.
customs (at the airport, not practices), guts (courage, not intestines)
quarters (lodgings, not 1/4s), clothes (garments, not fabrics)
goods (merchandise, not the opposite of bad), arms (weapons, not limb)

2. Singular Nouns with an S Ending

Watch out!
• Some nouns end with s but are usually singular. They take a singular verb with an s ending in the Present Simple.
diseases: measles, rabies.
fields of study and occupation: economics, ethics, linguistics, politics, physics, gymnastics.
games: dominoes, darts, cards

I study mathematics, which is very difficult. Dominoes is my favorite pastime.

• Some nouns have an identical form for singular and plural that both end with s.
barracks, means, headquarters, crossroads,
a TV series – many TV series,
Money is a means to an end.
Newspapers and TV are means of mass-communication.
There is one species of humans but many species of cats.

3. Plural Nouns from Other Languages

As English has constantly borrowed words from other languages throughout its history, there are many nouns with plural endings taken from the source language. Some of these, notably Latin and classical Greek nouns, have been anglicized and may also have an English plural s ending.

Others have both forms, where the original is used in formal language or by specialists, while the anglicized is for more common use. Some of these are now almost only known or used in the plural form, which is treated as singular for subject-verb agreement (third person verb with s in the Present Simple). In the table below, the more common forms are underlined.
Endings Singular Plural
um – ia
  • One bacterium can multiply into millions.
  • one datum
  • The Internet is the newest medium.
  • Each school should have a curriculum.
  • Bacteria multiply rapidly.
  • Use this data for your calculations.
  • The media is everywhere.
  • curricula.
on – a
  • one criterion
  • a natural phenomenon
  • several criteria
  • natural phenomena
is – es
  • psychological analysis
  • the oil crisis
  • the basis for the hypothesis
  • financial analyses
  • many life crises
  • the bases of the hypotheses
a – ae
  • the TV antenna
  • sea alga
  • TV antennas, insect antennae
  • sea algae
us – i
  • a circle’s radius
  • a fungus
  • an alumnus
  • the circles’ radii
  • fungi
  • alumni
ex/ix – ices
  • an index
  • The matrix
  • appendix
  • Indices, indexes
  • matrices
  • Book appendices, appendixes in the abdomen
o – i
  • graffito
  • concerto
  • virtuoso
  • graffiti
  • concerti
  • virtuosi

This has been a general review of singular and plural nouns in English. There are many more unique cases and usages. Whenever in doubt, use the dictionary for more specific information.

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