Rules for Making Nouns Plural

12

This is a decidedly practical post. Here you’ll find all the rules (and non-rules) for making nouns plural. This is an area of some complexity in English, and I hope you find this article helpful reference. If you would like a hard copy of this material, click here to download a PDF version, including a linked table of contents:       Spelling Rules for Plurals

Normal Nouns

Normal nouns are made plural simply by adding an s. Because normal nouns are very numerous, this is a very limited list.

Singular

Plural

artichoke artichokes
bubble bubbles
chart charts
drum drum
egg eggs

Nouns ending in s, x, z, ch, or sh

Nouns that end in s, x, z, ch, or sh are made plural by adding es. The list below includes only a small sampling.

Singular

Plural

boss bosses
bus buses
class classes
fox foxes
box boxes
ax axes
buzz buzzes
fizz fizzes
witch witches
stitch stitches
rash rashes
dish dishes
marsh marshes

Nouns ending in y, preceded by a consonant

Nouns that end in y, preceded by a consonant, are made plural by replacing the y with ies.

 Singular

Plural

ability abilities
battery batteries
candy candies
city cities
daisy daisies
energy energies
fairy fairies

Nouns ending in y, preceded by a vowel

Nouns that end in y, preceded by a vowel, are treated like normal nouns: just add s.

Singular

Plural

day days
play plays
toy toys
valley valleys

 

Nouns ending in o, preceded by a consonant

Some nouns that end in o, preceded by a consonant, are made plural by adding es.

 Singular

Plural

echo echoes
hero heroes
potato potatoes
tomato tomatoes
tomato tomatoes
zero zeroes

 

Other nouns that end in o and are preceded by a consonant are made plural by just adding s. If in doubt, check a dictionary.

Singular

Plural

casino casinos
disco discos
egos egos
Intro intros
inferno infernos
photo photos
promo promos
ratio ratios

 

Still other nouns ending in o and preceded by a consonant have both recognized plural forms: add either s or es. If in doubt, check a dictionary.

 Singular

Plural

buffalo buffalos or buffaloes
halo halos or haloes
mosquito mosquitos or mosquitoes
gazebo gazebos or  gazeboes
tornado tornados or tornadoes
embargo embargos or embargoes

Nouns ending in f or fe

Some nouns that end in f or fe become plural by changing the f or fe to ves.

 Singular

Plural

calf calves
elf elves
half halves
knife knives
leaf leaves
life lives
shelf shelves
wife wives

 

Other nouns that end in f or fe are treated as normal nouns: just add s.

 Singular

Plural

belief beliefs
brief briefs
chef chefs
chief chiefs
cliff cliffs
gulf gulfs
proof proofs
safe safes

 

A small group of nouns that end in f can be made plural either way:

 Singular

Plural

hoof hoofs or hooves
dwarf dwarfs or dwarves
scarf scarfs or scarves
loaf loafs or loaves
staff staffs or staves
wharf wharfs or wharves

Irregular Plurals

Many nouns are just, well, different. There’s nothing to do but learn which these are. If in doubt, consult a dictionary.

Some nouns ending in us are made plural by changing the us to i.

 Singular Plural
alumnus alumni
cactus cacti
focus focuses or foci
fungus funguses or fungi
octopus octopuses or octopi
nucleus nuclei
radius radii
stimulus stimuli

 

Some nouns ending in is are made plural by changing the is to es.

Singular

Plural

axis axes
analysis analyses
basis bases
crisis crises
diagnosis diagnoses
ellipsis ellipses
hypothesis hypotheses
oasis oases
paralysis paralyses
synthesis syntheses
synopsis synopses
thesis theses

 

Some nouns ending in ix or ex are made plural by changing the ix to ices.

 Singular

Plural

appendix appendices
index indices
matrix matrices
vertex vertices

 

Some nouns ending in eau are made plural by changing the eau to eaux.

Singular

Plural

beau beaux
bureau bureaus or bureaux
chateau chateaux
tableau tableaux or tableaus

 

Some nouns become plural by changing the ending to en.

Singular

Plural

child children
man men
ox oxen
woman women

 

Some nouns become plural by changing the ending to a.

 Singular

Plural

bacterium bacteria
corpus corpora
criterion criteria
curriculum curricula
datum data
genus genera
medium media
memorandum memoranda
phenomenon phenomena
stratum strata

 

Some nouns become plural by changing oo to ee.

Singular

Plural

foot feet
goose geese
tooth teeth

 

Some nouns become plural by changing the ending a to ae.

Singular

Plural

antenna antennae or antennas
formula formulae or formulas
nebula nebulae or nebulas
vertebra vertebrae

 

Some nouns become plural by replacing ouse with ice.

 Singular

Plural

louse lice
mouse mice

 

Some nouns don’t change at all between singular and plural forms.

 Singular

Plural

aircraft aircraft
deer deer
means means
moose moose
offspring offspring
series series
sheep sheep
species species

 

Some nouns only have a plural form.

 Plural

dregs pliers
grits scissors
mumps shorts
news victuals

 

Some nouns have only a singular form in ordinary usage (some of these, like money, cotton, and sugar can be plural when talking about particular kinds).

Singular

coffee money
corn silver
cotton sugar
gold wheat

 

Some nouns naming animals have two plural forms.

Singular

Plural

antelope antelope or antelopes
cod cod or cods
elk elk or elks
fish fish or fishes
flounder flounder or flounders
grouse grouse or grouses
herring herring or herrings
quail quail or quails
reindeer reindeer or reindeers
salmon salmon or salmons
shrimp shrimp or shrimps
trout trout or trouts

 

Compound nouns are usually made plural by making the first noun part plural.

Singular

Plural

attorney-general attorneys-general
brother-in-law brothers-in-law
father-in-law fathers-in-law
mother-in-law mothers-in-law
run batted in runs batted in
sister-in-law sisters-in-law

 

*****

Like this article? Please consider sharing it or subscribing to our weekly email update! Post any comments and questions below. Remember: bloggers love comments.

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Saima Ayub
    Saima Ayub01-12-2017

    Hi!
    Its v good.
    Thnx 4 sharing.

  2. hasti
    hasti12-06-2016

    Thanks for this post .

  3. Tiffany
    Tiffany12-06-2016

    Hello Brian!
    Could you please help with this one?

    “It came straight from the horses mouth!”

    The question is; What is the correct usage of punctuation in the word “horses” to show ownership?

    I was using an apostrophe AFTER the “s” but, people are saying it’s BEFORE the “s” and, to me, that is making it plural.

    Thank you so much!
    Tiffany

  4. Melissa
    Melissa12-08-2015

    Hi. What are some plural nouns that make a new word:man/men

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko12-15-2015

      That’s an unusual way of putting it. Men isn’t a new word. It’s just the plural form of the same word. I guess you mean nouns that have nonstandard plural forms? A large number of them are listed in this article.

  5. ryan evans
    ryan evans07-29-2015

    OMG Brian just replied to me!!! (so cool)

  6. ryan evans
    ryan evans07-22-2015

    i totally agree with brian…

  7. David C
    David C02-06-2014

    Consider the word “do”. Normally, a verb, but could be a noun. Most specifically, which is correct;
    1) Dos and don’ts
    2) Do’s and don’ts
    My own thinking is that 1) above is correct, but unsightly. Any thoughts?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko02-06-2014

      Good question.

      The ONLY time apostrophes may be used to create a plural is in unusual situations that would cause confusion in the reader:

      Mind your p’s and q’s.

      He is learning his abc’s (or ABCs).

      You have kind of situation here. “Dos” looks like the word for old computer code. I’d go with 2).

      A Google N-gram shows that it is the preferred option in print publications: http://bit.ly/1c7MkGA

Leave a Reply

If you like a post, please take a second to click "like," and comment as often as you like.
We promise not to correct your grammar!