If someone asked you what a noun is, you’d probably say it’s a person, place, or thing. Pretty simple, right? But what about plural nouns? For example, what is the plural form for cat? If you said cats, you’re right! What about the plural for foot? If you said foots, you’re incorrect. The correct form is feet. Simply adding an s at the end works for some nouns – but not all.
Plural nouns can be confusing for many English learners. Most students struggle with regular versus irregular plurals as well as apostrophe usage with some plurals. Nevertheless, understanding plural nouns is important for effective communication. After all, you’ll encounter them in many contexts!
If you find plural nouns confusing, read on! This blog will provide essential grammar tips for using plural nouns correctly in written and spoken English. We’ll discuss pluralization rules as well as irregular and tricky plural noun forms. By the time you finish reading, you’ll feel confident using plural nouns effectively in any context. And understanding plural nouns can go a long way to improving your English grammar.
What Are Plural Nouns?
Plural nouns refer to more than one person, place, or thing. You can easily recognize most of them by their s or es ending:
I have one apple; you have two apples.
There’s not much to pluralizing such nouns. However, things get tricky with irregular plurals, as they have their own unique forms. For example:
Paul and Maria have one child; we have three children.
As we stated above, you can make most singular nouns plural by adding s or es to the end of the word, depending on the word’s ending. Likewise, collective nouns (nouns that represent groups) can be made plural by adding s or es. For example:
Regular Plural Nouns
Nouns such as bottle, toy, bike, and chair are the easiest to pluralize, as you simply add s to the end. However, some nouns require the es ending:
Watch → watches
Boss → bosses
Tomato → tomatoes
The rules for forming these plurals are different from the rules for forming regular plurals, and interestingly enough, there are multiple ways to form irregular plurals. Examples of nouns that have irregular plurals include mouse, man, goose, wolf, and wife. Their pluralization looks like this:
Mouse → mice
Man → men
Goose → geese
Wolf → wolves
Wife → wives
Pluralizing these is usually a matter of knowing the rules regarding certain noun endings. If a noun ends in f or fe, you change the ending to ve before adding an s to form the plural:
Half → halves
The only exceptions to this rule are roof, belief, chef, chief, and café, which take the s ending. For nouns such as goose, foot, and tooth, you change the double o into a double e to make the plural. So the plural forms are geese, feet, and teeth, respectively.
Booth and book are exceptions: their plurals use the s ending. Therefore, changing the double o to a double e is incorrect. And for nouns such as man and woman, you only need to change the a to e to make the plural.
How to Pluralize the Word Mouse
The word mouse has a unique plural form. You simply change mouse to mice:
I saw a mouse in the garden.
I saw several mice in the garden.
However, you wouldn’t apply this rule to other words ending in ouse, such as house. You would simply add the s ending for those.
More Rules for Plural Nouns
The final letter of a noun often dictates the correct spelling of the pluralized form. But just as we saw with irregular plurals, you must be aware of special rules.
Singular Nouns Ending in Y
If a singular noun ends in y and the letter before the y is a consonant, you change the ending to ies to make the plural:
City → cities
Puppy → puppies
Pony → ponies
If a singular noun ends in y and the letter before the y is a vowel, just add an s to make the plural:
Ray → rays
Boy → boys
Singular Nouns Ending in O
If a singular noun ends in o, add es to make the plural:
Tomato → tomatoes
Potato → potatoes
Volcano → volcanoes
However, you would not apply this rule to nouns such as piano, halo, and photo, which take the s ending for the plural.
Which Nouns Take the es Ending?
We know you’ve probably been asking this question from the beginning. The simple answer is that the es ending applies to nouns that end in s, ss, sh, ch, x, and z. For example:
Bus → buses
Business → businesses
Dish → dishes
Lunch → lunches
Box → boxes
Blitz → blitzes
Plural Noun Exceptions
While we’ve already mentioned a few exceptions, more exist. If a singular noun ends in us, the plural ending is i. For example:
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Cactus → cacti
Stimulus → stimuli
Focus → foci
If a singular noun ends in is, the plural ending is es:
Analysis → analyses
Ellipsis → ellipses
If a singular noun ends in on, the plural ending is a:
Phenomenon → phenomena
Criterion → criteria
Believe it or not, some nouns don’t change at all when you pluralize them. Such nouns include sheep, fish, deer, series, aircraft, and species. They can be singular or plural:
I caught one fish, but my sister caught four fish.
Plural Nouns Versus Possessive Nouns
Possessive nouns demonstrate ownership, generally with the ’s ending. Let’s say your cousin Bill owns a boat (lucky Bill!). You would indicate it like this:
Let’s take a ride on Bill’s boat.
Most students confuse plural nouns with possessive nouns because of the s endings. Understanding how to use apostrophes with plurals and possessives can be tricky. Plural nouns don’t have apostrophes unless they’re also possessive. Let’s consider the following examples:
The teacher’s book was stolen from the cafeteria. (singular possessive)
Several teachers’ books were stolen from the cafeteria. (plural possessive)
The teachers searched for their stolen books. (plural)
Common Mistakes When Using Plural Nouns
1. Adding s or es endings to irregular nouns (e.g., goose, man, child, foot)
2. Adding an apostrophe to a plural noun when it’s not possessive
3. Adding s endings with nouns that actually need the es ending
4. Adding pluralizing endings to nouns that don’t change at all (e.g., deer, fish, series)
5. Adding the wrong ending to nouns that end in us, is, and on
Tips for Avoiding Errors in Writing and Speaking
1. Remember that plural nouns don’t use apostrophes unless they’re also possessive.
2. You cannot pluralize all nouns simply by using s or es endings.
3. Remember which letters need to be changed to form irregular plurals (which all have unique forms).
4. Know which nouns use the s and es endings.
5. Know which nouns are singular and plural in sentences.
Tips for Identifying Singular and Plural Nouns in Sentences
Looking at how much of something a noun is referring to can tell you whether that noun is singular or plural. It’s singular if it refers to one person or thing. It’s plural if it refers to more than one person or thing.
When reading a sentence, look for any nouns with s or es endings. If so, they’re likely plural. Furthermore, by understanding how much of something the noun refers to, you can recognize the tricky irregular plural nouns we’ve covered.
Incorrect Plural Nouns Lead to Different Meanings
It’s important to use the correct forms of plural and possessive nouns, as incorrect plurals can change the meaning of a sentence. Take these examples:
The teachers book is on the table. ✘ (Is the book about teachers?)
The teacher’s book is on the table. ✔ (Now we can see that a teacher owns the book.)
We encourage you to practice using plural nouns correctly. One way to do this is by trying a worksheet on singular and plural nouns. The more practice you have, the more comfortable you’ll be. For our visual learners, we recommend this video on how to form plural nouns. Finally, we encourage you to proofread your written work for correct plural noun usage.
If you’re currently working on an essay or a paper, you might be interested in letting our proofreading experts review your writing. They can check for grammar and punctuation errors and make sure the spelling is perfect. They’ll also ensure the correct use of plural nouns! Consider submitting a 500-word document for free today.