Singular and Plural

The idea of singular and plural is about a property of nouns. That property is called grammatical number or simply number.

Outside the world of English grammar (or any grammar), when we think of number, we think of counting 1,2,3,...etc. In English grammar too it is the same. Number is about counting.

What is Number in Grammar?

Number is a form of the noun, by which we know whether the name (noun) refers to one of something or more than one of that thing.

  • When the thing named is one, we say that the noun has a Singular number.

    The word pen is a name given to a writing instrument—just a single one of it.


  • If the thing named is more than one, we say that the noun has a Plural number.

    In our example, suppose we have more than one of that writing instrument, say two of them, then we have to give the two together a different name—the name pen will not suffice. We therefore give it a different name, i.e. pens.

Pen and pens are not identical names; they are different names. Through those different names, the language community clearly differentiates between the one and the many.

Since mass nouns cannot be counted, they have no plural.

Plural Looks Similar to Singular...Mostly

The Singular and the Plural forms of the noun are usually similar.

They are similar implies...

  • They are not identical (i.e. they are not the same in every respect). If they were the same, we would have difficulty in distinguishing the singular and plural forms. In row number 12 in the table below, we have such a case.

  • They are not completely different. Had the singular and plural forms been totally different, then English language would have been burdened with too many forms and it would have made learning difficult.

The forms are similar because a plural is formed out of a singular. In most cases this is done by making a small change in the spelling or sound.

Pattern of Singular and Plural in English

Singular Plural Method
1 chair, girl, goat, computer, stone, table, uncle, teacher chairs, girls, goats, computers, stones, tables, uncles, teachers Adding 's'. This is the most common way of forming the plural.
2 mango, tomato, box, tax, match, watch, catch, stitch, lash, crash mangoes, tomatoes, boxes, taxes, matches, watches, catches, stitches, lashes, crashes Add 'es' for words ending in 'o', 'x', 'ch' or 'sh'.
3 photo, dynamo, piano, stomach photos, dynamos, pianos, stomachs Exceptions to no. 2 above.
Add only 's'. The first three words are commonly used short forms for photograph, dynamoelectric, pianoforte. In the word stomach, the 'ch' is pronounced as 'k'
4 bamboo, igloo, cuckoo bamboos, igloos, cuckoos Add 's' for words ending in 'oo'
5 boy, donkey, day, key, bay, way, toy, boys, donkeys, days, keys, bays, ways, toys Add 's' to words ending in 'y' before which comes a vowel letter.
6 lady, lorry, body, berry,  story ladies, lorries, bodies, berries, stories Add 'es' after changing the 'y' into 'i'. This is for words which end in 'y' and have a consonant letter coming before the 'y'.
7 leaf, wife, life, thief, sheaf leaves, wives, lives, thieves, sheaves Change the 'f' or 'fe' ending of these words into 'v' and then add 'es'.
8 brief, chief, roof, belief briefs, chiefs, roofs, beliefs These words are exceptions to the ones given in 7 above.
9 scarf, hoof scarves or scarfs, hooves or hoofs Both forms of plural (nos. 7 and 8 above) can be used for these words.
10 man, tooth, goose, foot men, teeth, geese, feet The vowel sound (between two consonant sounds) is changed to form the plural.
11 louse, mouse lice, mice The same rule as in 10 above, except that the last consonant (sound) has also its spelling changed.
12 deer, sheep deer, sheep The plural is the same as the singular.
13 hundred, thousand, million (two) hundred,
(five) thousand, (seven) million
OR
hundreds  (of trees),
thousands (of people),
millions (of stars).
When a number comes before these words, the plural is the same as the singular.
At other times, we can have the plural form with an 's'.
14 No singular scissors, pants, pliers, tongs, pincers, tweezers These words have no singular form
15 measles, diabetes, mumps, aerobics, gymnastics, economics, mathematics, politics No plural These words appear to be plural, but they are singular always.
16 child, ox children, oxen by adding 'ren' or 'en'
17 son-in-law, commander-in-chief,
grand-parent,
step-daughter,
man-servant
sons-in-law,
commanders-in-chief,
BUT
grand-parents,
step-daughters,
AND
men-servants
In compound words:
The change may be in the first part of the word, or in the last. Sometimes both parts change. These changes depend mostly on the meaning of the word.

Important to Learn These Forms

The Singular and Plural forms of nouns are important not only because we need to talk about one and many. They are important also because of subject-verb agreement, where the verb in a sentence depends on the grammatical number of the noun in the subject of the sentence.

For Further Reading and Study


Related Pages

What is a Noun?

Kinds of Nouns

Common Nouns

Proper Nouns

Collective Nouns

Concrete and Abstract Nouns

Countable Nouns

Forms and Functions

Number

Gender

Case