Monday Morning Grammar: Nouns Part II—Plurals

This week, Monday Morning Grammar continues our discussion on that most basic part of speech, the noun. Last week, we established what a noun is, common versus proper nouns, and count versus noncount nouns. Today, let’s look at plural nouns.

In most cases, plural nouns are formed by adding s or es to the end of the word. If a noun ends with a letter that lends itself to the s sound, use s to make it plural:

book→books
stapler→staplers
bottle→bottles

If a noun ends with a letter that would make it awkward to end with s, such as s, sh, x, z, or a soft ch, then use es.

bus→buses
box→boxes
church→churches

Nouns That End in o

Some nouns that end with the letter o use s to make it plural; others use es. There is no firm rules on when to use s or es with words that end in o, so your best bet is always to consult a dictionary. However, there are some guidelines that can help:

1) Nouns that are used in plural form as often as they are in singular form often use es to form the plural:

hero→heroes

An exception to this rule is the word zero:

zero→zeros

2) Nouns that end in o usually use s to for the plural if

a) the word has been borrowed from another language:

bravo→bravos

b) the word is a proper noun:

Del Toro→Del Toros

c) the word is rarely used as a plural:

bravado→bravados

d) the o is preceded by a vowel:

folio→folios

e) the word is a shortened version of another:

photo→photos

Nouns That End in y

If a noun ends with the letter y, which is preceded by qu or by a consonant, change the y to i and add es to make it plural:

jelly→jellies
query→queries
soliloquy→soliloquies

If a noun ends with the letter y and is proper, or the y is preceded by a vowel, use s to make it plural:

boy→boys
play→plays
Freddy→Freddys

Nouns That End in f or fe

Some nouns that end in f or fe use s to become plural:

cuff→cuffs
roof→roofs

Others change the f to v and add es:

thief→thieves
self→selves

When in doubt, consult a dictionary.

Compound Nouns

For nouns made up of separate words, with or without a hyphen, form the plural by adding the appropriate ending to the noun, or, if there is more than one noun, to the main noun:

brother-in-law→brothers-in-law
passer-by→passers-by
driver license→driver licenses

Irregular Plurals

Unfortunately, some nouns don’t follow any of these rules:

man→men
mouse→mice

And some nouns, especially those referring to game, fish, or livestock, are spelled the same in both the singular and the plural:

elk→elk
fish→fish
sheep→sheep

Again, when in doubt, consult a dictionary.

Plurals with a Singular Sense

Finally, some nouns are plural in form but are used in sentences as if they are singular:

The economic news hasn’t been good lately.
Politics is taking much of the blame.

Next week on Monday Morning Grammar, we’ll talk about the cases and properties of nouns.

Resources

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Caught in the ’Net

Him or her gets cumbersome. They is grammatically incorrect. Why English still lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun.

When you need inspiration, dream.

Place your bets now on the Tournament of Books.

Elaine Showalter assembles a survey of American women writers.

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