In many languages, a suffix (word ending) is added to a word to show that the word is plural. In the English language, the suffix -s is used to indicate that a noun has been turned into its plural form (inflection). Here is an example: cat is a singular noun, but cats is a plural noun.
Plurals in English[change | change source]
- Singulars ending in s are usually the same in plural: species, mumps, innings and so on. But proper names ending in 's' take add 'es' in plural: Jones becomes the Joneses.
- Compound words add the plural to the noun part: sons-in-law, Lord Mayors, Courts Martial.
- Singulars ending in y become ies in plural if a consonant is before the suffix. So day becomes days, but spy becomes spies. Personal names are again an exception: the plural of Mary is Marys.
- Singulars ending in f usually changes to ves: dwarf to dwarves, leaf to leaves, and so on.
- Special cases: some plurals just have to be learnt. The plural of person is normally people, but sometimes persons is used.
- Invariant nouns:
The common names of animals is often used as both singular and plural. One can say "We shot grouse today" correctly no matter what number were killed. With "fish" there is a choice. Traditional English usage is that the word is used for both singular and plural, but American usage seems to prefer fishes as the plural.
With groups of animals, one uses the singular, as in a herd of bison or a shoal of herring. But if the animals are known as individuals then, for example, we feed the ducks, or stroke our cats. There are other cases where there is no plural at all, as with sheep, salmon, deer.
Other general words which add no suffix in plural are aircraft and offspring. Some look like singular but are always plural, such as vermin, livestock, cattle, people.
It is fair to say that most native English speakers do make mistakes in this area: it is one of the more troublesome aspects of the English language.
Other languages[change | change source]
All European languages have plural forms. The suffix that is used in each one of these other languages is different from the suffix that is applied to English nouns.
References[change | change source]
- Crystal, David 1995. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language. Cambridge University Press, p200/1. ISBN 0-521-401-79-8
- Fowler H.W.1965. A dictionary of modern English usage. 2nd ed, revised by Sir Ernest Gowers. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p456.