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English Plural Nouns: Examples and Rules

8 min read
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13 May, 2022
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The English language is famous for not always making sense, and nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to plural nouns. Why does ‘hero’ become ‘heroes’ but ‘piano’ doesn’t become ‘pianoes’? It can be mind-boggling for those learning the language, which is why we’ve created a comprehensive guide on how to pluralize nouns, and the rules (or lack of) surrounding them.

 

What are plural nouns?

Let’s start at the beginning; we know that a noun refers to the name of a thing (such as people, animals, objects), and a plural is when there is more than one of something. The main difference between a singular noun and a plural noun is that the amount of the former is just one, whereas the amount of the latter is more than one.

To signify there being more, we often alter the spelling and sound of the singular noun to create a plural noun.

 

Rules & Examples

The change to plural primarily depends on the spelling of the original word. Whilst there are some exceptions to the rules (irregular nouns), most of them are straightforward:

 

Just add ‘s’

The simplest (and luckily most popular) type of plural noun is when we just add ‘s’ to the end of the word. For example:       

  • Monday becomes Mondays
  • pen becomes pens
  • duck becomes ducks

(NOTE: You do not need to add an apostrophe to signify a plural. Doing so could drastically change the meaning of the sentence!)

But it’s not always this simple; for instance, what if the singular noun already ends in an ‘s’? What then?

 

Add ‘es’

If a noun ends with an ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘x’ or ‘z’, we add ‘es’ at the end instead. For example:    

  • bus becomes buses
  • church becomes churches
  • box becomes boxes

We also often add ‘es’ when the noun ends in a consonant (not a vowel) followed by an ‘o’. For example:    

  • hero becomes heroes
  • echo becomes echoes
  • tomato becomes tomatoes

But this isn’t a set rule. There are some words where this does not apply. For example:

  • piano becomes pianos
  • zero becomes zeros
  • volcano can become either volcanos OR volcanoes, although the latter is more widely used.

There are rumours in the grammar sphere that you should add either an ‘s’ or ‘es’ depending on whether the noun is ‘alive’ or not, but this is a MYTH. The truth is that there is no set rule – it’s just a matter of knowing which one to use. You can do this by learning and memorizing popular words (and using Google or spellcheck if you’re unsure).

 

Drop the ‘y’

If the word ends in a consonant and then a ‘y’, we drop the ‘y’ and replace it with ‘ies’. For example:

  • story becomes stories
  • army becomes armies
  • lady becomes ladies

However, if the noun ends in a vowel and then a ‘y’, you need simply add an ‘s’ to make it plural. For example:      

  • key becomes keys
  • donkey becomes donkeys
  • boy becomes boys

(NOTE: to conquer plurals, it is vital to know which letters are vowels (a, e, i, o, u). All other letters are consonants.)

 

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Nouns ending in ‘f’ or ‘fe

For nouns that end in ‘f’ or ‘fe’, we generally replace it with ‘ves’ instead. For example:

  • wife becomes wives
  • knife becomes knives
  • life becomes lives

But of course, there are some exceptions to the rule. Some nouns ending in ‘f’ or ‘fe’ can be pluralized by simply adding ‘s’. Once again, there is no explicit rule for this, it’s just a matter of knowing. For example: 

  • chef becomes chefs
  • safe becomes safes
  • roof becomes roofs

FUN FACT: The standard plural of ‘dwarf’ is ‘dwarfs’, but you might have seen ‘dwarves’ floating around too. This is partly thanks to The Lord of the Rings writer J.R.R. Tolkien, who popularized the term in his fantasy novels.

 

Irregular plurals

Finally, we have the irregular plurals! These are nouns that don’t follow any rule when pluralized. Generally, they can be split into two categories: those that change and those that stay the same.

Those that change are especially difficult, as the alteration of the spelling isn’t limited to the end of the word, as we have previously seen – instead, it varies. For example:      

  • foot becomes feet
  • child becomes children
  • man becomes men

Most of the nouns that don’t change at all when pluralized refer to animals, but not always. For example:     

  • sheep remain sheep
  • fish remain fish
  • scissors remain scissors

There are no rules for these plurals, and it is once again a matter of simply learning and memorizing them.

But don’t let irregular plurals get you down! Everyone (including native speakers) had to learn them once, and when you do it will become second nature. Use them as often as you can, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – after all, practice makes perfect.

 

Want to learn more about English grammar and improve your writing skills? Check out our General English courses and find out how far you can go with languages.

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