Plurals of nouns

Most nouns make their plurals by simply adding –s to the end (e.g. cat/cats, book/books, journey/journeys). Some do change their endings, though. The main types of noun that do this are:

Nouns ending in -y

If the noun ends with a consonant plus -y, make the plural by changing -y to -ies:

singular plural
berry berries
activity activities
daisy daisies

 

If the noun ends with -ch, -s, -sh, -x, or -z, add -es to form the plural:

singular plural
church churches
bus buses
fox foxes

 

There’s one exception to this rule. If the -ch ending is pronounced with a ‘k’ sound, you add -s rather than -es:

singular plural
stomach stomachs
epoch epochs

Nouns ending in -f or -fe

With nouns that end in a consonant or a single vowel plus -f or -fe, change the -f or -fe to -ves:

singular plural
knife knives
half halves
scarf scarves

 

Nouns which end in two vowels plus -f usually form plurals in the normal way, with just an -s

singular plural
chief chiefs
spoof spoofs

Nouns ending in -o

Nouns ending in -o can add either -s or -es in the plural, and some can be spelled either way.

  • As a general rule, most nouns ending in -o add -s to make the plural:
singular plural
solo solos
zero zeros
avocado avocados

 

  • Those which have a vowel before the final -o always just add -s:
singular plural
studio studios
zoo zoos
embryo embryos

 

  • Here’s a list of the most common nouns ending in -o that are always spelled with -es in the plural:
singular plural
buffalo buffaloes
domino dominoes
echo echoes
embargo embargoes
hero heroes
mosquito mosquitoes
potato potatoes
tomato tomatoes
torpedo torpedoes
veto vetoes

 

  • Here are some of the common nouns ending in -o that can be spelled with either -s or -es in the plural:
singular plural
banjo banjos or banjoes
cargo cargos or cargoes
flamingo flamingos or flamingoes
fresco frescos or frescoes
ghetto ghettos or ghettoes
halo halos or haloes
mango mangos or mangoes
memento mementos or mementoes
motto mottos or mottoes
tornado tornados or tornadoes
tuxedo tuxedos or tuxedoes
volcano volcanos or volcanoes

Plurals of foreign nouns

The plurals of words which have come into English from a foreign language such as Latin or Greek often have two possible spellings: the foreign plural spelling and an English one. For example, you can spell the plural of aquarium (from Latin) as either aquaria (the Latin plural) or aquariums (the English plural).

Words of Latin origin

Here’s a list of some words that came into English from Latin which can form their plurals in two ways:

Word Latin plural English plural
antenna antennae antennas
appendix appendices appendixes
cactus cacti cactuses
curriculum curricula curriculums
formula formulae formulas
index indices indexes
millennium millennia millenniums
referendum referenda referendums
stadium stadia stadiums
terminus termini terminuses
thesaurus thesauri thesauruses
vortex vortices vortexes

 

Note that there are a few nouns which have come into English from Latin which should always form their plural in the Latin way. Most of these are scientific or technical terms. The most common ones are:

singular plural
alga algae
alumnus

alumni

larva larvae

 

Remember too, that the plural form of octopus should always be octopuses and never octopi. This is because the word came into English from Greek, not Latin, and so the usual rules for Latin plurals don't apply.

Words of Greek origin

Nouns which end in -is usually come from Greek. Their plurals are made by changing the -is to -es:

singular plural
crisis crises
analysis analyses
neurosis neuroses

Words of French origin

Certain words which have come into English from French have two possible plural forms: the original French plural and an English one. These words end in the letters -eau, for example:

Word French plural English plural
bureau bureaux bureaus
chateau chateaux chateaus
gateau gateaux gateaus
trousseau trousseaux trousseaus

Words of Italian origin

Most words which have come into English from Italian form their plurals with an -s, as if they were English words. For example, the Italian plural of cappuccino is cappuccini, but when the word is used in English, its plural form is cappuccinos. Here are some more examples:

Word Italian plural English plural
espresso espressi espressos
pizza pizze pizzas
risotto risotti risottos
fresco freschi frescos or frescoes

 

A notable exception to this is the word paparazzo, which keeps the Italian plural form paparazzi in English.

There's also a group of Italian words which have entered English in their plural forms – these are typically the names for various kinds of pasta. For example:

spaghetti; tagliatelle; tortellini; cannelloni; lasagne.

Although these words are already in their Italian plural forms, they can take an -s to form English plurals in certain contexts. For example:

They ordered three spaghettis and two cannellonis.

Here, the meaning is ‘a dish or serving of spaghetti’ rather than ‘a kind of pasta’.

Note that in British English, you should spell lasagne with an e at the end. In American English it's spelled with an -a at the end, i.e. lasagna (which is the Italian singular form, though this is rarely if ever used in Italian itself).

Words that have come into English from foreign languages are known as loanwords. Some of these loanwords have developed plural (or singular) forms in English that are regarded as grammatically incorrect because they go against the grammar of the original language.

 

Back to spelling.

You may also be interested in

Forming adverbs

Adding endings to words that end in -our

Adding endings to words that end in a double ‘l’


Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove ads and access premium resources

Grammar and usage