Are you curious about singular and plural forms in English? Want to understand what they are and how to use them? Well, that's great news because that's precisely why we're here today. This article will teach you everything you need to know.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
Only nouns can be singular or plural, so when we talk about singular and plural, we're always referring to nouns. It might be helpful, then, to review the definition of a noun.
A noun is a word that names a person, thing, place, or animal. Most sentences have one in the form of a subject (although subjects can also be pronouns, gerunds, infinitives, and other parts of speech).
A singular noun is a single person, thing, place, or animal. Here are some examples of singular nouns:
Singular nouns usually come paired with the indefinite articles 'a' and 'an,' the definite article 'the,' or possessive adjectives such as 'my' or 'your.' They might also have an adjective associated with them, such as 'cute' or 'large.'
Here are some example sentences that illustrate that:
Look at the cute puppy!
The large table was covered in delicious-looking food.
My tooth is loose.
The word 'plural' means there is more than one. Plural nouns, therefore, are two or more people, things, places, or animals.
Let's take our earlier examples of singular nouns and look at their plural version:
As you can see, making a noun plural often means adding an 's' at the end. Sometimes, it's a little more complicated, like with the word 'tooth,' which changes completely to become 'teeth' or 'puppy' that requires the 'y' changing to, 'i.e.,' before adding the 's.' You'll learn why that is in the following section.
In the meantime, here are some example sentences with these plural nouns:
My neighbor agreed to check on the cats while I'm gone.
His baby teeth are falling out.
I have two moms.
Now that we're clear on singular and plural nouns, let's learn how to make them. Technically, you don't need to learn how to make the singular because that's the base form of a noun. So, in reality, you will learn how to make plural nouns. First, we'll look at the basic rules and, later, the exceptions.
For nouns ending in -s, -ss, -sh, -ch, -x, or -z, add -es to the end to make them plural.
Sometimes, you might need to double the final Z.
Now moving on to nouns that end with O. To pluralize those, you'll need to add -s or -es. You'll need to memorize the spelling of each word, as there is no rule to tell them apart.
If a singular noun ends in -f or -fe, the plural form can be as simple as adding an -s. Other times, you'll need to change the -f to a -v and then add -es.
Here are some examples of both:
Just like with words ending in -o, the only way to know which plural spelling each word takes is to memorize them individually or look them up as and when.
For nouns ending in -y, sometimes you must add an -s. For others, you remove the -y and add -ies.
Let's have a look at some examples:
Proper nouns actually follow the basic rules when pluralized: add -s or -es to the end of the word. So how do you know which of the two to add?
With proper nouns, the rules go as follows:
Here are some examples:
Did you watch the Oscars last night? (Oscar → Oscars)
The Williamses are coming over for dinner. (Williams → Willamses)
How many other Reeses are there in your school? (Reese → Reeses)
Some words don't follow any of the rules; they just kind of do their own thing.
Latin loanwords are a category of their own. Some words borrowed from Latin have still kept their Latin pluralization. Many of these loanwords end in -us or -um, and their ending changes to -i and -a, respectively.
That's not the case for all -us words, though. Many words have Latin-like endings and still follow the usual pluralization rules.
Usually, a noun ending in -just requires the usual -es added to it to make it plural.
But there are some exceptions.
Some singular nouns that end in –is require you to change the -is to –es.
The usual rule for nouns ending in -on is to tack on an -s at the end.
However, at times you're required to switch the -on to a -a, such as in the following examples:
While the above exceptions outline cases where nouns deviate slightly from the rule, irregular nouns take on a whole different form when pluralized.
There's no real reason or rhyme with irregular plural nouns; you just have to memorize them. It would be a little over-the-top to list them all here because there are so many, but I'll list some of the more common ones:
While some nouns change substantially when they switch from their singular to their plural form, as we just saw, others actually remain the same. In other words, their singular and plural forms are identical. These are known as zero plurals.
Did you notice that a lot of those are animal nouns?
Mass nouns, also known as uncountable nouns, name things that can't be counted. If something can't be counted, it means there can't be one or more than one, and therefore, it can't be pluralized.
Here are some examples of mass nouns:
Because they can't be counted, they're neither singular nor plural, which means they don't actually have a plural form. It also means you can't use indefinite articles or numbers or any kind of quantifying modifiers with them.
How many rices are in my bowl? ❌
She has two intelligences. ❌
That cost a lot of moneys. ❌
This makes mass nouns pretty simple to deal with: they remain the same no matter what and don't have a plural form.
Top Tip! Mass nouns aren't to be confused with collective nouns, which refer to groups of things and can be pluralized (i.e., team → teams; group → groups; orchestra → orchestras).
Just like some nouns can't be pluralized, others have a fixed plural form. They're always singular, but they look like plural nouns.
Here are some examples:
Some nouns with fixed plural forms are considered singular, while others are plural. This can complicate things when it comes to noun/verb agreement.
Noun/verb agreement is when you match the verb conjugation to the subject. If the subject is singular, the verb will look different than if it's plural.
The man swims every day.
The men swim every day.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, for the most part, it is. But things can get tricky when dealing with nouns with a fixed plural form.
You'll need to determine whether the noun is singular or plural to decide how to conjugate the verb.
Here are some example sentences that show the impact this will have on the verb:
Please be quiet, the news is on.
My pants are too big for you.
Mathematics is my favorite subject.
My headphones were very expensive.
Shingles is to be taken seriously.
Two grammar concepts that often get confused are plural and possessives, and it's because they're both formed using an 's,' so when you see them in writing, they look very similar. The only difference is that possessive nouns have an apostrophe.
Look at the two following sentences for example:
My kid's backpack is missing. (singular possessive noun)
My kids are five and nine years old. (plural noun)
And to make things extra confusing, singular nouns that are not possessive can also use an apostrophe. It's called a contraction. The apostrophe + 's' stands for 'is.'
My kid's five.
Then, you've got plural possessive nouns, where the plural 's' is added and the possessive apostrophe.
My kids' backpacks are red and blue.
Just remember that if there's an apostrophe, it's likely a possessive noun, and when there's an 's' but no apostrophe, it's probably plural. Never use apostrophes for plurals unless you're describing ownership within the context of a plural noun.
That concludes this article on singular and plural nouns. I hope you found it helpful.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
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