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CHAPTER 13.  NOUNS: THE FORMATION OF PLURALS

A noun is a word used as the name of a person or a thing. In the following examples, the nouns are underlined.
      He opened the parcel.
      She is a student.
      The weather is warm.
      A cat is sitting on the steps.

1. Proper nouns


Names of individual persons or things are referred to as proper nouns. In English, proper nouns must begin with a capital letter. The underlined words in the following sentences are proper nouns.
e.g. The capital of England is London.
      My friend, George, is an American.

 

2. Countable nouns


Countable nouns are nouns which can form a plural, and which can be preceded by a, an, or a number. In the following examples, the countable nouns are underlined.
e.g. A bus is coming.
      You may need an umbrella.
      Here are two books.
      Twenty students are present.

 

3. The formation of plurals


In general, when a countable noun refers to two or more things, it must be put into the plural. In English, the plural of most countable nouns is formed by adding s. For example:

SingularPlural
  hat  hats
  letter  letters
  pencil  pencils
  student  students

It has already been explained that a verb must agree with its subject. When the subject of a verb is a singular noun, the verb must be in the third person singular. The third person singular is the form of the verb used with the personal pronouns he, she, and it.

When the subject of a verb is a plural noun, the verb must be in the third person plural. The third person plural is the form of the verb used with the personal pronoun they. In the following examples, the verbs are printed in bold type and their subjects are underlined.

Singular Subject: The book is interesting.
Plural Subject: The books are interesting.

Singular Subject: A duck was flying overhead.
Plural Subject: Two ducks were flying overhead.

Singular Subject: One student lives here.
Plural Subject: Three students live here.

See Exercise 1.

a. Nouns ending in ch, s, sh, x or z
For nouns ending in ch, s, sh, x or z, the plural is formed by adding es. The reason for this is that these words would be difficult to pronounce if only s were added. The ending es is pronounced as a separate syllable. For example:

SingularPlural
  branch  branches
  match  matches
  bus  buses
  pass  passes
  dish  dishes
  marsh  marshes
  ax  axes
  fox  foxes
  buzz  buzzes


It should be noted that when a plural is formed by adding s to words ending in ce, ge, se or ze, the final es is pronounced as a separate syllable. For example:

SingularPlural
  place  places
  voice  voices
  change  changes
  page  pages
  house  houses
  phrase  phrases
  size  sizes

In each of the preceding examples, the singular noun consists of one syllable, whereas the plural noun consists two syllables.

See Exercise 2.

b. Nouns ending in y
Nouns ending in y preceded by a consonant usually form the plural by changing the y to i and adding es. For example:

SingularPlural
  candy  candies
  city  cities
  lady  ladies
  story  stories


Nouns ending in y preceded by a vowel usually form the plural simply by adding s. For example:

SingularPlural
  boy  boys
  day  days
  key  keys
  toy  toys


See Exercise 3.

c. Plurals of proper nouns
Proper nouns form plurals following the rules given above, except that proper nouns ending in y always form the plural simply by adding s, even when the y is preceded by a consonant. For example:

SingularPlural
  Jill  Jills
  Tom  Toms
  George  Georges
  Grace  Graces
  Jones  Joneses
  Max  Maxes
  May  Mays
  Nancy  Nancys
  Sally  Sallys


See Exercise 4.

d. Nouns ending in f or fe
Some English nouns ending in f or fe change the f to v when forming the plural. For instance, the following nouns ending in f form the plural by changing the f to v and adding es:

SingularPlural
  calf  calves
  elf  elves
  half  halves
  leaf  leaves
  loaf  loaves
  self  selves
  sheaf  sheaves
  shelf  shelves
  thief  thieves
  wolf  wolves

In addition, the following nouns ending in fe form the plural by changing the f to v and adding s:

SingularPlural
  knife  knives
  life  lives
  wife  wives

There are also a few nouns ending in f which can form the plural in two different ways. For example:

SingularPlural
  hoof  hoofs or hooves
  scarf  scarfs or scarves
  staff  staffs or staves
  wharf  wharfs or wharves

Most other nouns ending in f or fe form the plural simply by adding s.

See Exercise 5.

e. Nouns ending in o
Some English nouns ending in o form the plural by adding s, some form the plural by adding es, and some can form the plural by adding either s or es. The following fairly commonly used nouns form the plural by adding es:

SingularPlural
  archipelago  archipelagoes
  cargo  cargoes
  echo  echoes
  hero  heroes
  innuendo  innuendoes
  mosquito  mosquitoes
  potato  potatoes
  tomato  tomatoes
  tornado  tornadoes
  torpedo  torpedoes
  veto  vetoes
  volcano  volcanoes

Most other nouns ending in o, particularly those of Spanish or Italian origin, can form the plural simply by adding s; however a good dictionary should be consulted in cases of doubt. For example:

SingularPlural
  albino  albinos
  alto  altos
  casino  casinos
  piano  pianos
  radio  radios
  ratio  ratios
  silo  silos
  solo  solos
  sombrero  sombreros
  soprano  sopranos
  studio  studios


See Exercise 6.

f. Foreign words
Many words from other languages have been adopted into the English language. Most of these form the plural by adding s or es, but some, particularly Greek and Latin words used for scientific purposes, form the plural in the same way that they do in the original language. For example:

SingularPlural
  analysis  analyses
  axis  axes
  basis  bases
  crisis  crises
  criterion  criteria
  honorarium  honoraria
  hypothesis  hypotheses
  medium  media
  nebula  nebulae
  nucleus  nuclei
  oasis  oases
  parenthesis  parentheses
  phenomenon  phenomena
  spectrum  spectra
  stimulus  stimuli
  stratum  strata
  synopsis  synopses
  synthesis  syntheses
  thesis  theses
  vertebra  vertebrae


See Exercise 7.

g. Hyphenated nouns
In the case of nouns formed from two or more words joined by hyphens, usually only the last word forms a plural. However, there are a few cases in which only the first word forms a plural. For example:

SingularPlural
  brother-in-law  brothers-in-law
  daughter-in-law  daughters-in-law
  father-in-law  fathers-in-law
  mother-in-law  mothers-in-law
  runner-up  runners-up
  sister-in-law  sisters-in-law
  son-in-law  sons-in-law


h. Numbers and letters
Numbers, letters, and other symbols can form plurals by adding 's. For example:

SingularPlural
  3  3's
  b  b's
  %  %'s


i. Irregular plurals
The English language has not always used s to form plurals. There are still a few words surviving from Old English, which do not use s to form the plural. For example:

SingularPlural
  child  children
  foot  feet
  goose  geese
  tooth  teeth
  louse  lice
  mouse  mice
  ox  oxen
  man  men
  woman  women

Nouns ending in man usually form the plural by changing man to men. For example:

SingularPlural
  gentleman  gentlemen
  policeman  policemen
  policewoman  policewomen


A few nouns do not change in the plural. For example:

SingularPlural
  deer  deer
  sheep  sheep
  salmon  salmon


See Exercise 8.

 

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