All about plural nouns in English

All about plural nouns in English

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 10, 2022

If you tell me that a frog is attacking you, I’d probably shrug it off and laugh about it. But if you tell me that frogs are attacking you, I’ll get ready for an heroic rescue mission. That’s how important it is to know the difference between singular and plural nouns – it can seriously save your life!

Plural nouns indicate there is more than one of that noun, but they don’t specify how many, just that there are at least two. For example “apple” refers to a single apple, whereas “apples” could be 2, 5, or 100 apples.

If you feel like you want to brush up on your skills for your next interaction with an English-speaking person, this article teaches you the ins and outs of plurals.

A complete overview of plural nouns in English

English plurals follow a precise set of rules, but (of course) there are also plurals that you must learn by heart, because they are irregular. 

While the number of rules might feel intimidating, they become second nature after you practice them consistently enough. So, let me guide you through this essential element of English grammar.

How to construct plurals in English

Start by taking the singular form of the word, look at its ending, and then construct the plural accordingly. For most words, this means simply adding an -s to the singular form, for example:

car → cars

dog → dogs

kid → kids

You’ll notice that adding -s to certain words looks and sounds weird, as they’d become hard or even impossible to pronounce. Take the word “box”, you can’t add an -s without it sounding weird (“boxs” is definitely not a word). This is a clue you have run into a word that might require a different plural, where here the plural form of “box” is “boxes”. Nonetheless, some words randomly do sound funny though. English is weird like that.

Furthermore, some words don’t follow any rule and have a completely different plural. These you basically just have to memorise.

Let’s let’s go over all of the plural grammar rules case by case.

Words ending in -ch, -sh, -s, -x, -z

When a word ends in -ch, -sh, -s, -x, or z, you add -es to make its plural.  

church → churches

bush → bushes

bias → biases

fox → foxes

buzz → buzzes

There is a subset of words ending in -s or -z where you need to double the last consonant before adding -es, like: 

quiz → quizzes 

whiz → whizzes

These words are so rare that you’re better off learning them by heart rather than trying to remember the rule, because it is quite obscure.

In addition, doubling the s at the end of words like: 

bus → busses 

yes → yesses 

plus → plusses

is technically correct, but outdated. You might find these forms in the dictionary, but everyday language prefers the versions with a single “s” at the end.

Words ending in -f or -fe

There are 21 words ending in -f or -fe where you have to switch “f” with “v” and add -es or -s to make the plural. Here are the most common ones:

knife → knives

calf → calves

shelf → shelves

hoof → hooves

life → lives

self → selves

wolf → wolves

scarf → scarves

To construct the plural of every other word ending in -f or -fe, simply add -s at the end:

cafe → cafes 

belief → beliefs

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Words ending in y

When a word ends in -y, take into account the letter before -y.

When -y is preceded by a vowel, simply add -s to make the plural:

abbey → abbeys

decoy → decoys

When -y is preceded by a consonant, you make the plural by turning -y into -i and then adding -es:

sky → skies

county → counties

Words ending in -o

When a word ends in -o, take into account the letter before -y.

When -o is preceded by a vowel, add -s to make the plural:

studio → studios

radio → radios

When -o is preceded by a consonant, you add -es to construct the plural:

potato → potatoes

hero → heroes

Latin & Greek loan words ending in -um or -on

A significant chunk of the English language comes from romance languages, which are derived from Latin and Greek. 

The plurals of loan words ending in -um or -on is constructed by replacing the ending with -a:

phenomenon  → phenomena

bacterium → bacteria

millennium → millennia

criterion → criteria

Note that adding an -s to some of these is becoming common, and not necessarily wrong.

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Words ending in -us

You construct the plural of words ending in -us by replacing -us with -i:

octopus → octopi

alumnus → alumni

nucleus → nuclei

It’s becoming progressively common to add -es to these words to create their plural, for example, “octopuses” and “nucleuses”. 

Plurals that you have to learn by heart

There are words in the English language that don’t follow any rule whatsoever when it comes to plurals. There’s no shortcut and you simply just have to memorise them.

Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns, as the name suggests, are nouns of things you can’t count. For example “salt” or “water”, or abstract ideas like “safety” and “knowledge”, “news” and “information”. 

Sheep is also an uncountable noun for some strange reason that no one understands. Some words like “sheep” simply don’t have a plural form, so you can’t have “two sheeps”, but instead have “two sheep”, and you can’t have “a water” or “three salts”.

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Irregular plurals

Some completely irregular plurals don’t follow any rule and differ completely from their singular form. Here are some of them:

man → men

woman → women

person → people

child → children

foot → feet

tooth → teeth

goose  → geese

As with any language learning process (or really anything in life), practice makes perfect! So the more you use them, the easier it will become to use the correct plural without a second thought or hesitation.

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