Making Plural Nouns in English:
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.
• 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
• 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
• 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.
• 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)
• 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)
• 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.
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.
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.
Grammar Guide Index
Parts of Speech - General Overview
Singular and Plural Nouns
English Adjectives - Basic Terms
English Verbs (Part 1) - Basic Terms
English Verbs (Part 2) - More Terms
The Verb To Be
Negative Sentences and Question Formation
The Irregular Verbs in English (Part 1)
The Irregular Verbs in English (Part 2)
The Verb Tenses in English
Spelling Rules for the Verb Tenses
The Past Simple Tense
The Past Progressive Tense
Sentence Structure (Part 1) - Basic Clause Structure
Sentence Structure (Part 2) - Phrases
Sentence Structure (Part 3) - Clauses
Sentence Structure (Part 4) - Sentence Types