The Rules of Plural Nouns with Explanations and Examples
In this guide, I'll explain in a fairly comprehensive and occasionally entertaining way how nouns in English are pluralized in all different kinds of ways. I'll also give concrete and understandable examples for each type of noun. I'll talk about three types of nouns and their plurals: regular, irregular, and uncountable.
They are many exceptions to how words are pluralized in English so I created a downloadable example list of 700 nouns and their plurals as a helpful resource for you to check out.
Plurals are like many other areas in the English language, there are more exceptions than there are rules.
How Many Ways Can a Noun Be Pluralized?
How many ways can a noun be pluralized in English? I'm glad you asked.
Just for fun, let's go over some of the ways this can happen. The methods of modifying a word to create a plural fall into one of the four methods listed below.
- ADDING LETTERS. You can add an S to a noun. You can add an ES. You can add an EN. You can add a REN.
- REPLACING LETTERS. You can replace an AN with an EN. You can replace an EX with an ICES. You can replace an F with a VES. You can replace an IS with an ES. You can replace an OOSE with an EESE. You can replace an OOT with an EET. You can replace an OOTH with an EETH. You can replace an OUSE with an ICE You can replace an X with a CES. You can replace a Y with an IES.
- CREATING NEW WORDS. In the case of something like person and people, you create a new word to handle the plural.
- DO NOTHING. In some cases, the singular form of nouns and the plural forms are spelled the same way. Similarly, some nouns are always in plural form like "pants" and so they remain unaltered.
There are at least sixteen ways a word can be pluralized in the English language.
Now let's go over all these ways plurals are created in lengthy detail until we feel our heads spinning and a nauseous feeling washes over us.
For those of you who might be interested, I've also made an online tool that pluralizes nouns. It checks your word against our database of common plurals to figure out the words plural form.
How to Make Regular Plurals for Nouns
Regular plurals involve nouns that can be pluralized in a fairly predictable way. The majority of words in English are pluralized in the following manner - by simply adding an "S".
Examples of Nouns pluralized by adding an S:
Now let's go over some of the other common types you might encounter in the so-called "regular" plurals category.
First up are nouns that end in CH or SH. The plurals of these words are made by adding ES to them.
Examples of how to pluralize nouns ending with CH or SH:
Some words that end in Z are also pluralized by an ES or ZES ending such as in spritzes and quizzes. "Spritzes and Quizzes" sounds like an arty British murder mystery.
Adding ES to any noun ending in CH or SH is usually a very dependable method with next to no exceptions.
And what about words that end in X? How are they pluralized? You simply add an ES to the noun to make the plural version.
Examples of how to pluralize nouns ending with X:
This is a dependable rule for a few common words, past that it tends to get tricky. Things are actually not so simple here as I led you to believe.
One commonly used exception to this rule is that the plural of ox is oxen. An EN is added to the word to pluralize it. Very few words in English use the EN ending as a means to pluralize a word. Another common word that uses the EN plural is child which uses children as its plural version.
Other words ending in X that are not simply pluralized by adding an ES tend to convert the X into a CES to make the plural form.
Examples of pluralizing words ending in X using the ICES plural form:
- Codices are the plural of a codex.
- Matrices are the plural of a matrix.
- Vertices are the plural of a vertex .
Sometimes words that end in Y are sometimes pluralized by replacing the Y with an IES.
Here are a few quick examples of IES ending plurals.
- Abilities are the plural of an ability.
- Galaxies are the plural of a galaxy.
- Parties are the plural of a party.
However, quite a few words that end in Y are uncountable nouns such as jealousy, obesity, and poverty. For these words, the singular spelling and plural spelling are exactly the same.
The rule of thumb here is if you don't know how to pluralize a word ending in Y then you should immediately panic and do nothing. This strategy gives you a 50/50 chance of being right.
Another set of regular nouns that are sometimes pluralized by substitution are words ending in F. For these nouns, the F is replaced with a VES.
Here are some examples of this behavior:
- Elf becomes elves when plural.
- Shelf becomes shelves when plural.
- Wolf becomes wolves when plural.
But like most pluralization rules, it's not very dependable. There are quite a few words in ending in F that get pluralized simply by adding an S such as in these examples: chefs, chiefs, roofs.
Words ending in O will either by pluralized in one of two ways.
Usually, adding an S will create the correct plural version as in these examples:
The second way is by adding an ES. This is required only in a minority of cases for words ending in O.
Most of these special O ending words are listed below:
There's often a big bag of confusion surrounding our next example. It relates to this often asked question...
How Do You Create Plurals for Words That End in S?
Let's start off gently. Words that tend in IS tend to convert the IS to an ES to create the plural version. For example, crisis becomes crises in its plural and the plural of thesis is theses.
But what about the majority of nouns that end in S or SS. How do we pluralize these nouns? In some cases, they are pluralized by simply adding an ES to the end of the word.
Examples of words ending with S or SS that use the ES plural:
Unfortunately with words ending in S, there are numerous exceptions that occur. Mainly they involve words with either Latin roots or words that are considered uncountable (meaning the plural form is the exact same as the singular form).
For instance, the plural of octopus is octopi. In this example, octopus has a Latin root and so is handled differently. Since it's near impossible for the majority of people on this planet to determine if a word has a Latin root or not, this winds up being a fairly useless rule.
Another exception is to imagine that we're talking about reading glasses. It's correct to say something like, "I saw many reading glasses at the optometrist."
Glasses are an uncountable plural. In other words, it's a noun that remains unchanged when pluralized.
However, if you were talking about a drinking glass then the plural of that would be glasses as in "I have a box of drinking glasses packed for my new house."
Ah.... the joys of English.
How to Make Irregular Plurals for Nouns
Irregular plurals are exactly the kinds of things that make new English speakers approach the brink of madness. Irregular in this context really means highly unpredictable.
Who among us, without prior knowledge, would guess that the plural of mouse is mice and the plural of goose is geese?
Who could guess that foot becomes feet and tooth becomes teeth? Or that person becomes people?
No one could make these guesses. You need to have memorized these highly irregular plurals to stand a chance at surviving in this sector of pluralization. Familiarity is the only thing that will save you here.
And now on to the uncountable nouns...
Plural Nouns That Don't Change Spelling
Uncountable plurals are for nouns that stubbornly insist on remaining unchanged even when pluralized. Whether singular or plural, their spelling will remain the same.
A word like "information" is a good example. You would say something like "I received a ton of information". It would be incorrect to say "I received a ton of informations".
Here's another example of an uncountable plural to make it a bit clearer.
You can say "I saw one aircraft today" and you could also say "I saw seven aircraft today." Both are correct because the word "Aircraft" is in the uncountable category. An uncountable noun can signify one of something or many of something using the exact same word.
Here are some more examples of uncountable nouns:
Another type of noun that doesn't change are ones that are always plural like pants. You can try on many pairs of pants but you cannot try on a single pant.
Often nouns that are already in a plural form have a dualistic or multiplistic nature about them like pants, scissors, shears, or tweezers.
Let's finish up this guide to plural nouns with a rousing little FAQ about the basics.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make a plural noun?
Generally, you add an S or ES but there are more than sixteen different ways a word can be changed to become a plural noun in English. Download the plural nouns resource list to see how hundreds of nouns are pluralized.
Which plural noun is spelled correctly?
If you're unsure about the spelling of a plural noun then you should probably use the plural noun generator. This free online tool will check your noun against a list of nouns that are tricky to pluralize like octopus, wolf, and vertex to give you a correct answer.
When to use plural nouns?
In situations where you need to describe more than one of something, changing the word to its plural version will be necessary. Certain words require no changes in a plural context. Those nouns are referred to as uncountable.
What are regular plural nouns?
Regular nouns are how nouns in English are most often pluralized. Usually, this means adding an S or ES to the end of the word but there are many more methods than this to pluralize regular nouns.
What are irregular plural nouns?
Irregular plurals involve rare exceptions in English for words that follow non-standard methods of pluralization. For example mouse and mice, tooth and teeth.
What are uncountable plural nouns?
Uncountable nouns are words that have the same spelling in both their singular and plural forms. In other words, no changes are required to make the word plural. Words like evidence and research are good examples of uncountable nouns.
What's an always plural noun?
Some nouns are always plural and so won't need any changes. A good example is the word "pants". This word will not change in a singular or plural context. Scissors are also another common uncountable noun that you might encounter.
What's the plural noun for a child?
The plural of child is children. It's one of the few English words that use an EN ending for a plural. Another common example is that the plural of ox is oxen.
What is the plural noun for goose?
The plural of goose is geese.
What's the plural noun for moose?
The plural of moose is definitely not meese. The plural of moose is moose. Moose entered into the English language vocabulary at a much later date than goose and so wound being treated as an uncountable noun. Moose is a word where the singular form and the plural form are identical.
More Online Resources for Plurals
Hopefully, this helped clear up some of the mystery surrounding plurals in English. If you're here looking for a specific plural to a specific word then you might want to either:
Thanks for reading this. I hope you found this to be a helpful, educational, and entertaining guide to the sometimes confusing world of plural nouns.
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