Plurals: Spelling Review Study Guide (page 2)
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
By this point in your school career, you probably know that singular nouns show one thing and plural nouns show more than one thing. You've probably known since the first or second grade that the plural of man is men, or the plural of child is children. Most likely, you don't even need to think about what the plural of man or child is; after years of usage, it has become something that's simply there in your mind.
If the only plurals you ever used were common, everyday words like men or children, you'd be just fine right now and we wouldn't need to spend a chapter talking about the rules for pluralizing. As your vocabulary develops, however, you'll learn new words that don't seem to fit into any of the rules you currently know. For example, you might know that data are bits of information, but did you know that the word data is plural? A single bit of data is known as datum. An analysis is a study of something; the plural of analysis is analyses. You probably don't use these words in your everyday life just yet, but you may someday. When you do, it will be helpful to know the rules for pluralizing them; if you go around to your fellow scientists talking about all the datums in your analysises, they might just send you straight back to school!
There are five main rules for turning singular nouns into plural nouns. Luckily, 90% of the words you use on a daily basis will follow the simplest rule, Rule #1.
Plural Rule #1: Add -s or–es
Add -s to most words to make them plural. If a word ends in -s, -x, -z, -sh, or -ch, add -es.
- plane + -s = planes
- tax + -es = taxes
- watch + -es = watches
The reason why -es is added in certain situations is a matter of pronunciation. The consonants s, x, and z all end in a hissing sound. It would be difficult to hear an s at the end of a word like tax, so instead, we add an -es. The same holds true for -ch and -sh endings; it sounds awkward to go from the sh and ch sounds right into an -s, so we add an -es to make pronunciation easier. There are two notable exceptions to this rule. One is the word stomach, the plural of which is stomachs. This is because the ch sound in stomach is pronounced with a hard k sound instead of the soft ch sound, and it is easy to pronounce an s after this sound. The other is the word ox. The plural of ox is oxen. Don't ask us why. It just is.
Plural Rule #2: Words that end in -o
If a word ends in a vowel + -o combination, add -s to make the plural. If a word ends in a consonant + -o combination, add -es.
- duo + -s = duos
- trio + -s = trios
- moo + -s = moos
- tornado + -es = tornadoes
- torpedo + -es = torpedoes
- potato + -es = potatoes
There are a few exceptions to this rule. The following consonant + -o words require only an -s:
albino (albinos), armadillo (armadillos), bronco (broncos), logo (logos), memo (memos), silo (silos). Musical instruments and terms also only take an –s: alto (altos), banjo (banjos), piano (pianos), solo (solos), and soprano (sopranos).
THERE ARE a handful of common words that are used only in the plural form. You can wear a pair of pants, but you can't wear a singular pant. You can use a pair of scissors, but you can't just use a scissor. (You might hear some people referring to "a scissor," particularly if you live on the East Coast … technically, the term is not correct.)
Other words that don't have a singular form include cattle, clothes, eaves, pliers, shorts, and trousers. Interestingly, the words folk and folks are both plurals, without any singular form! The sentences "Many folk like spaghetti" and "Many folks like spaghetti" are both grammatically correct.
Plural Rule #3: Words that end in -y
When a noun ends in a vowel + -y ending, add an -s to form the plural. When a noun ends in a consonant + -y ending, change the -y to an i and add -es.
- tray + -s = trays
- fly + -es = flies
- penny + -es = pennies
- candy + -es = candies
Plural Rule #4: Words that end in -f and -fe
For most words that end in -f or -fe, change the f or -fe to a v, then add -es.
- elf + -es = elves
- life + -es = lives
- shelf + -es = shelves
Notable exceptions to this rule include nouns that end in double f such as sheriffs, cuffs, and plaintiffs, and the words beliefs, briefs, chefs, chiefs, gulfs, roofs, and safes.
IF YOU'RE HAVING trouble remembering the exceptions to the spelling rules, keep in mind that there is strength in numbers. By this, I mean that it is sometimes easier to remember several exceptions with similar patterns than it is to remember each one individually. For example, three words that don't follow the "change the -f to a v" rule are beliefs, briefs, and chiefs. It is more likely you'll remember each of these words if you think of them as a small group of words ending in -iefs than if you picture each word as being completely unique.
Plural Rule #5: Hyphenated Words
When pluralizing hyphenated words, add the -s to the word that is being pluralized.
- ex-husband + -s = ex-husbands
- father-in-law + -s = fathers-in-law
- court-martial + -s = courts-martial
This is also true for certain unhyphenated terms that are used as a single noun. For instance, the plural of attorney general is attorneys general.
Plural Rule #6: Strange plurals—technical words
Some technical words that end in -um or -on change the -um or -on to an a when forming plurals.
- Some words that end in -us change the -us to an i.
- Some words that end in -is change the -is to -es.
- Some words that end in -ex or -ix change the -ex or -ix to -ices.
These are very strange rules, indeed, but there is a small bit of logic beyond them. Some technical words that come directly from Latin or Greek roots make their plurals the same way they would be made in these original languages. Technical words, in this case, are words that are used in the sciences. Examples of these words can be found in the following tables.
Words that end in -um or -on
Words that end in -us
Words that end in -ex or -ix
Words that end in -is
The ending to these words is pronounced with a long e sound, as in (analyses) or ō as in (oases).
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