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For Better English, Learn Plural Nouns

Updated: Feb 21



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Introduction - How to aim for better English by learning plural nouns


Many people appear to have problems when it comes to pluralising nouns.


In this article, I'll be answering the question: How do we make nouns plural?


Some plural forms are easy and follow simple rules, but as I will explain, others can be rather tricky. And others, you need to memorise.



So, let's begin.


We use plurals of nouns to show when there is more than one person, animal, place, or thing.


The usual (and simple) way to make nouns plural is to add an '-s' to the end of the noun.


Here are some examples of making plural nouns:


one girl – two girls


one boy – two boys, three boys


one bag – five bags


one pencil – four pencils


one price – three prices


one prize – fifteen prizes


one zoo - twenty zoos


Other plural noun endings


If a noun ends in '-s','-x', '-z', or a cluster of consonants, such as '-sh', '-ch', or


'-tch' (as in 'catch'), we add '-es' to render it plural.


one dish – four dishes


one box – two boxes


one bus – six buses


For example:


one cockroach – two coockroaches


one witch – three witches


one miss – two misses


one waltz – two waltzes



Words ending in '-y'


When the noun ends in a '-y' and a consonant comes before it, we change the 'y' to an 'i' and add '-es'.


For example:


one country – three countries


one city – two cities


one battery – four batteries


one lady – five ladies


one reality – two realities


one butterfly – ten butterflies


one fly – a million flies


But, when a word ends in a '-y' preceded by a vowel, all we do is add an '-s' as usual:


one toy – two toys


one replay – two replays


one monkey – ten monkeys


one guy – two guys


Irregular plurals


There are some nouns that are irregular. They do not adhere to spelling rules, and so these, unfortunately, you need to memorise them.


Here are the more common ones:


one man – two men


one woman – four women


one person – two people*


one goose – two geese


one mouse – two mice


one child – five children


one tooth – three teeth


one foot – six feet


(*Persons is also a plural form of person. In modern English it is usually reserved for more formal, or legal language.


For example: “Any such persons found to be guilty of trespassing will be prosecuted.”)


Be aware that irregular plural nouns cannot be made plural again.


That is, you cannot have 'childrens' or 'feets'.


'People' is an exception. It can be 'peoples' in some cases.


Many different peoples make up Australia.


Also, be careful when pluralising words such as 'moose' to 'meese' (rhymes with goose and geese). The plural of 'moose' remains 'moose'.



Adding '-ves' versus adding '-s'


With some nouns that end in '-f,' '-fe', or '-lf', we replace the endings with '-ves' to make them plural.


Here is a list of some common examples:


one life – two lives


one wife – three wives


one loaf – five loaves


one leaf – sixteen leaves


one knife – two knives


one thief – forty thieves


one half – two halves


one wolf – three wolves



Words that end in '-f,” '-fe,' or '-lf'


Many other words that end in '-f,' '-fe,' or '-lf' become plural with an '-s' on the end.


Below 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



Words ending in either '-ves' or '-s'.


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


one handkerchief – two handkerchiefs or two handkerchieves


one hoof – two hoofs – four hooves


one scarf – two scarfs – three scarves


Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for which words will receive a “-ves” ending, an “-s” ending, or both. They are irregular and you must memorise them.



Words ending in '-ff' or '-ffe'


Words ending in '-ff' or '-ffe' have straightforward plural forms: all we do is 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


Some nouns stay the same in both singular and plural forms.


For example:


one fish – a hundred fish*


one sheep – twenty sheep


one bison – two bison


one aircraft – three aircraft


one moose - five moose (as explained above)


*Note that the plural of fish can also be'fishes'. But, it is more common to use this “-es” form when we refer to more than one kind of fish.


'All the fishes of the sea' as opposed to many fish in general.



Countable and Uncountable nouns


When we can count the numbers of things, we call them countable nouns.


For example: one horse, three oranges, fourteen pieces of paper.


We cannot divide uncountable nouns into individual units.


Unless you want to count each grain of sand on the beach!


So they do not have a plural form at all.


Here are some examples:


cash


money


flour


rice


butter


bread


milk


advice


news


wheat


To count them, we need to use a unit of measure.


Such as: one kilogram of rice, a carton of milk, a wad of cash, lots of money, a piece of advice, etc.


Let me qualify that earlier statement by saying that there are many kinds of:


  • rice (long grain, Basmati, short grain etc)

  • butter (butters: salted, unsalted etc)

  • milk (goats' milk, cows' milk, camels' milk, almond milk, etc.)

  • breads (Turkish, wholemeal, white, garlic etc.)



Words that come from Latin or Greek


There are also nouns taken from Latin or Greek that keep their original forms in the plural.


Some of these words have begun shifting towards more conventional plural forms. They have also shifted to their original spellings.


For example:


singular form -> plural form


index – indices (indexes now is also acceptable)


appendix – appendices (appendixes is also acceptable)


fungus – fungi (pronounced 'fun guy')


criterion – criteria (pronounced 'cry-tee-re-a')


nucleus – nuclei (pronounced 'new-clee-i')


radius - radii (pronounced 'ray-dee-i')


syllabus – syllabi (syllabuses is also used sometimes)


focus – foci (ponounced 'fo-kai')


cactus – cacti (pronounced 'cack-tie' - but many people say 'cactuses' now)


crisis – crises (pronounced 'cry-sees')


thesis – theses (pronounced 'thee-sees' - 'th' as in 'three')


basis - bases (pronounced 'bay-seas' not 'bayse-ezz', that's the plural of base)


phenomenon - phenomena



Plural adjectives that do not exist


In Latin languages, people pluralise adjectives to describe plural nouns.


In contrast, in English, ADJECTIVES are NEVER made plural.


For example:


'Two blue birds.'


NOT


'Two blues birds.'


'Roses are red.'


NOT


'Roses are reds.'


'Many are 10-year-old houses.'


NOT


'Many are 10-years-old houses.'


NOR


'Many are 10-year-olds houses.'


So, the rule is that we always pluralise the NOUN, and NEVER the ADJECTIVE.


Exceptions


But, there are always exceptions.


When shouting out support for your team: "Come on the Reds!" (the Red Team) or "Go Blues!" are acceptable.


But, while colours are usually adjectives, sometimes they can be nouns too.


And, in the example above: There can be two Blues (or Reds) players.




Conclusion


In this article, I have taught you the art (or craft) of the pluralisation of nouns.


I have explained countable and uncountable nouns.


And irregular forms too, and I set out some general rules for you to follow.


I hope you strive for better English by learning plural nouns.



Further Reading


For more articles on grammar, you can find them here.


Having good grammar should be an essential skill to getting good English. Read this article to learn why having good grammar is very important.





© Apex English Tutoring Jan 2023 - Updated January 2024




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About Me


Hello and welcome!


My name is Michael Finemore and I am the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring.


As an experienced English Teacher, I'm passionate about helping people turn their 'poor' English into great English, with easy and effective ways to practice.






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