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:

singularplural
berryberries
activityactivities
daisydaisies

 

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

singularplural
churchchurches
busbuses
foxfoxes

 

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

singularplural
stomachstomachs
epochepochs

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:

singularplural
knifeknives
halfhalves
scarfscarves

 

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

singularplural
chiefchiefs
spoofspoofs

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:
singularplural
solosolos
zerozeros
avocadoavocados

 

  • Those which have a vowel before the final -o always just add -s:
singularplural
studiostudios
zoozoos
embryoembryos

 

  • Here’s a list of the most common nouns ending in -o that are always spelled with -es in the plural:
singularplural
buffalobuffaloes
dominodominoes
echoechoes
embargoembargoes
heroheroes
mosquitomosquitoes
potatopotatoes
tomatotomatoes
torpedotorpedoes
vetovetoes

 

  • Here are some of the common nouns ending in -o that can be spelled with either -s or -es in the plural:
singularplural
banjobanjos or banjoes
cargocargos or cargoes
flamingoflamingos or flamingoes
frescofrescos or frescoes
ghettoghettos or ghettoes
halohalos or haloes
mangomangos or mangoes
mementomementos or mementoes
mottomottos or mottoes
tornadotornados or tornadoes
tuxedotuxedos or tuxedoes
volcanovolcanos 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:

WordLatin pluralEnglish plural
antennaantennaeantennas
appendixappendicesappendixes
cactuscacticactuses
curriculumcurriculacurriculums
formulaformulaeformulas
indexindicesindexes
millenniummillenniamillenniums
referendumreferendareferendums
stadiumstadiastadiums
terminusterminiterminuses
thesaurusthesaurithesauruses
vortexvorticesvortexes

 

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:

singularplural
algaalgae
alumnus

alumni

larvalarvae

 

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:

singularplural
crisiscrises
analysisanalyses
neurosisneuroses

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:

WordFrench pluralEnglish plural
bureaubureauxbureaus
chateauchateauxchateaus
gateaugateauxgateaus
trousseautrousseauxtrousseaus

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:

WordItalian pluralEnglish plural
espressoespressiespressos
pizzapizzepizzas
risottorisottirisottos
frescofreschifrescos 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.

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