Plurals

Lesson Content

Inquire: Parties of Two or More

Overview

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

~William Shakespeare

How could we even begin to comprehend life – a life depicted famously by William Shakespeare and lived by each of us – if we could not think in terms of plurality? Nouns can be singular and nouns can be plural. The challenge is knowing how to transform each singular noun into its plural counterpart. There are several ways to pluralize a noun, and the correct method depends on the noun itself.

In this lesson, we will explore the different rules of pluralization and take a look at some tricky exceptions you may encounter.

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Big Question

How do we turn singular nouns into plurals?

Watch: Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd

Read: Plural Forms of Singular Nouns

Overview

There are several rules on pluralization in the English language. For each rule we explain, a few examples will be listed below, but, Decorativeif ever in doubt, please be sure to consult your dictionary.

Nouns That End With…

To pluralize most singular nouns, you simply add an s to the end of the word.

dog = dogs
airplane = airplanes
television = televisions
Smith = Smiths

If the singular noun ends in an s, ch, or x, then you will add an es to the end.

glass = glasses
match = matches
tax = taxes
Davis = Davises

An exception to this rule applies if the ch ending produces a “k” sound, in which case you add only an s.

stomach = stomachs
monarch = monarchs

If the singular noun ends with y preceded by a consonant, you drop the y and add ies.

accessory = accessories
baby = babies
responsibility = responsibilities
theory = theories

If the singular noun ends with a y preceded by a vowel, then you simply add s.

ray = rays
toy = toys
runway = runways
week = weeks

Keep in mind that this rule applies to both common and proper nouns.

Kennedy = Kennedys
Murphy = Murphys

If the singular noun ends in an –f or –fe, drop the ending (-f or -fe) and add –ves.

calf = calves
knife = knives
loaf = loaves
wife = wives

There are exceptions to this rule.

chief = chiefs
cliff = cliffs
roof = roofs

DecorativeBreaking the Rules

There are several nouns in the English language that don’t follow any clear set rules when transitioning from singular to plural.

child = children
woman = women
tooth = teeth
person = people
ox = oxen

Further, there are a few instances of nouns not changing at all when they become plural.

deer
barracks
moose
salmon

Reflect: Your Personal Opinion on Irregular Plurals

Poll

What do you think would be the best way to make plurals in English easier (choose one of the possibilities below that makes most sense to you)?

Expand: More Rules for Pluralization

Ending in O

When a singular noun ends with the letter o, there isn’t a set formula to make the word plural. Some words require adding only an –s.

mango = mangos
piano = pianos
videos = videos

However, there are other words ending in –o that require adding an –es.

echo = echoes
hero = heroes
tomato = tomatoes

If uncertain, be sure to consult your dictionary.

Borrowed Words

The English language has taken several words from Latin or Greek. Thus, when these singular nouns are pluralized, they revert to their original languages.

alumnus = alumni
focus = foci
datum = data
larva = larvae
stimulus = stimuli

However, it has become acceptable for some Latin or Greek terms to take on an English format when transitioning to plural.

cactus = cacti or cactuses
index = indices or indexes

Singular or Plural

Some nouns may appear to be plural but are actually singular. You can tell by the verb conjugation required for a sentence to work.

DecorativeBilliards is an example of a noun that appears plural, but is singular.

For example, in the following sentences, billiards and news may appear plural, but their subsequent verbs (is) clearly indicate they are singular.

Billiards is a fun game to play.
The good news is I get an extra day off.

On the other hand, be sure to watch out for plural terms that represent a singular object. They are to be treated as plurals.

My pants are too small.
These scissors are not sharp.

Singular or Plural with Proper Nouns

A similar rule also applies to proper nouns, such as a film title or a corporation. Since the movie or company is a singular entity, it will be treated as singular even if the name implies that it’s plural.

Star Wars is my favorite movie.
General Motors is releasing its earnings report.

An exception to this rule applies when referring to sports teams, which are always to be treated as plurals, even if their common-noun name is singular.

This week’s heat is unbearable.
The Miami Heat are going to win the championship.

Interestingly, this same line of thinking does not apply to band names. The rule states that even though a band is a singular entity, if their name is plural, their subsequent verb will reflect as such.

The Beatles are the greatest band ever.

If the band name is singular, the verb tense should match.

Led Zeppelin is reuniting for one show.

Apostrophes

While it is rare that an apostrophe is used to form a plural, there are a few exceptions where this takes place.

In the case of single letters, use an apostrophe before the –s to make it plural.

Robert received three A’s and two B’s on his report card.

Remember to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

Another area where the apostrophe is used for plural forms is with abbreviations. If the abbreviation requires periods, then you would use an apostrophe to pluralize.

The conference featured some of the top C.P.A.’s in the country.

I’m working toward two B.A.’s — one in English, and one in Art History.

However, if the abbreviation does not have periods, no apostrophe is needed.

The store is having a sale on TVs and DVDs.

Lesson Resources

Lesson Toolbox

Additional Resources and Readings

Plural Nouns: Rules and Examples

An overview of plural nouns

Plural Noun Forms

A good overview of rules for plural nouns, along with examples of forms, and practice exercises

The plural of nouns in English

Further guidelines and exercises for plural nouns

Lesson Glossary

Terms


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License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Oliver Shelton for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA

Media Sources

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