What Is a Plural Noun? | Examples, Rules & Exceptions

A plural noun is a noun that refers to more than one of something (as opposed to a singular noun, which refers to just one). Like singular nouns, they may refer to people, animals, things, concepts, or places.

Plural nouns are normally formed by adding -s to the singular noun (e.g., the singular “cat” becomes the plural “cats”). With certain nouns, you need to add or change some of the other letters. The rules are explained in the table below.

There are also some irregular plurals that don’t end in -s at all. The following section explains them.

How to form regular plural nouns
Word ending How to form the plural Examples
Add s to form most plurals that don’t fall into the categories below and to form the plurals of names. dog: dogs; house: houses; editor: editors; concept: concepts; Monday: Mondays; Kennedy: Kennedys
ch, sh, ss, x Add es. church: churches; wish: wishes; grass: grasses; tax: taxes
f, fe Often pluralised normally, but sometimes, the f or fe is replaced with ves. belief: beliefs; staff: staffs; safe: safes; wolf: wolves; life: lives
i Usually, pluralise normally. But es is occasionally used instead. bikini: bikinis; chili: chilies
o When preceded by another vowel, pluralise normally. When preceded by a consonant, usually add es. But some words are still pluralised normally. cuckoo: cuckoos; tomato: tomatoes; hero: heroes; piano: pianos; photo: photos
s, z Add es. Sometimes, the consonant is doubled (more often with z). gas: gases; waltz: waltzes; canvas: canvasses; quiz: quizzes
uy, y Replace y with ies, but only if it’s preceded by a consonant or by u. If preceded by a different vowel, pluralise normally. city: cities; baby: babies; spy: spies; soliloquy: soliloquies; day: days; ploy: ploys

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Irregular plurals

Some plural nouns don’t end in -s at all. These are generally called irregular plurals. They are typically either leftovers from older ways of forming plurals in English or foreign words that were imported into English.

Only a small proportion of nouns have irregular plurals, but some of them are very commonly used words, so it’s important to be aware of them. There are a few main groups of irregular plurals, which are explained in the table below.

If you’re unsure about how to pluralise a word that isn’t mentioned in the table, consult a dictionary.

Irregular plurals
A small number of nouns have retained their Old English plural form, using -en and sometimes altering other parts of the word. brother: brethren [only used in certain religious or organisational contexts; otherwise “brothers”]; child: children; ox: oxen
Some nouns become plural by simply changing the vowel sound in the middle of the word. foot: feet; goose: geese; man: men; mouse: mice; tooth: teeth; woman: women
Words derived from Latin or Greek often (but not always) retain their original plural forms. analysis: analyses; appendix: appendices; formula: formulae; fungus: fungi; millennium: millennia; phenomenon: phenomena
Words from other languages such as French, Italian, and Hebrew occasionally retain their original plural forms, although it’s usually acceptable to use a normal English plural instead. bureau: bureaux or bureaus; cherub: cherubim or cherubs; timpano: timpani
Some nouns – often the names of animals – have the same form in the plural as in the singular. bison; fish; series; sheep; species
There are a few other common irregular plurals that don’t fit any of the categories above. die: dice; penny: pence; person: people
Note
Some Latin plurals have ended up being treated as English singular nouns (e.g., “media”, “data”), though there is often disagreement about how to use these words correctly. Others have replaced their Latin plural forms with English ones (e.g., “stadiums” is now far more common than “stadia”).

Writing “octopi” as the plural of “octopus” is a common mistake; the plural form of the original Greek is  actually “octopodes”. In English, the correct plural is simply “octopuses”.

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Plurals of compound nouns

Compound nouns are nouns that are made up of multiple words. They may be open compounds (written with spaces; e.g., “head of state”); hyphenated compounds (written with hyphens; e.g., “brother-in-law”); or closed compounds (no spaces or hyphens; e.g., “household”).

To create the plural of a compound noun, you often pluralise only the final word (e.g., “high schools“), but there are also cases where you pluralise an earlier word (e.g., “heads of state”) or occasionally multiple words (e.g., “men-children“).

To determine how to pluralise a compound noun, consider which word is the “head” of the noun – the thing being represented, which the other words modify. For example, “high schools” refers to multiple schools, not multiple “highs”.

When it’s still not obvious, consult a dictionary to find the correct plural.

Common mistake: Adding an apostrophe

A common mistake when forming plural nouns is to add an apostrophe before the “s”. In English, apostrophes are used to form possessive nouns and contractions, not plurals. You also don’t need an apostrophe to pluralise a number, acronym, or proper noun.

  • Maya loves pop music from the 1980’s.
  • Maya loves pop music from the 1980s.
  • SUV’s are bad for the environment and for road safety.
  • SUVs are bad for the environment and for road safety.
  • The Jones’s have gone on vacation.
  • The Joneses have gone on vacation.

There’s one context in which it’s standard to use an apostrophe to form the plural. This is when you’re pluralising a single letter. The apostrophe is generally added in such cases to avoid confusion with other words (e.g., “a’s” vs. “as”).

Example: Pluralising letters
People often write the word “accommodation” with the wrong number of c’s and m’s.

Plural nouns with singular functions

Some nouns are said to be plural in form but singular in construction. These words originate as plural forms but are now primarily used in a singular sense.

This is most common in the names of fields of study: for example, “physics”, “mathematics”, “ethics”, and “aesthetics”. Other examples include “news”, “measles”, and “billiards”.

“Singular in construction” means that these words have singular subject-verb agreement. For example, you’d write “the news is …” rather than “the news are …”

Example: Plural nouns with singular functions
The good news is that nobody was hurt.

I find that ethics is the most fascinating branch of philosophy, but metaphysics is also interesting.

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Nouns that are always plural

Similarly, some nouns are always plural and have no singular form – typically because they refer to something that consists of a pair of something. For example, “scissors” consist of two blades, “pants” of two legs, and “glasses” of two lenses.

Even a single pair of scissors, for example, is referred to in the plural (e.g., “the scissors are over there”). These nouns are sometimes referred to by the Latin term plurale tantum (“plural only”).

Because it’s wrong to use an indefinite article with a plural noun (e.g., “a scissors”) and no singular form exists (e.g., there’s no such thing as “a scissor”), the phrase “a pair of” is used before the noun when an indefinite article is needed. “Pairs of” is also used to specify quantities of these nouns (e.g., “three pairs of pants”, not “three pants”).

Example: Nouns that are always plural
Those are my pliers.

Your new spectacles suit you very nicely.

How many pairs of shorts do you own?

Is that a pair of tongs?

Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns (also called mass nouns or noncount nouns) are nouns that don’t have a plural form and can’t be preceded by an indefinite article (“a” or “an”). They often refer to abstract ideas or processes (e.g., “research”), physical substances (e.g., “water”), or areas of study (e.g., “geography”).

Uncountable nouns are singular, not plural, in terms of subject-verb agreement, and the words themselves cannot be pluralised. An alternative phrasing or word choice must be used instead:

  • Several researches have been performed on this subject.
  • A substantial amount of research has been performed on this subject.
  • Several studies have been performed on this subject.
  • Several pieces of research have been performed on this subject.

If you need to refer to a specific quantity of an uncountable noun, you use a unit of measurement to do so, since the noun itself doesn’t represent a specific quantity:

  • There are 70 waters in the glass.
  • There are 70 ml of water in the glass.

Worksheet: Plural nouns

Test your understanding of how plural nouns are formed with the worksheet below. In each sentence, add the correct plural form of the noun in brackets. Some of the plurals are regular, some irregular.

  1. I love visiting [church] _______ on my [travel] _______.
  2. The atmosphere is made up of several [gas] _______.
  3. I bought two [loaf] _______ of bread and some [tomato] _______ at the market.
  4. Many [species] _______ of [fish] _______ live in [river] _______.
  5. A lot of [game of chance] __________________ involve rolling [die] _______.
  1. I love visiting churches on my travels.
    • The singular noun “church” ends in “-ch”, so “-es” is added to form the plural noun. “Travels” is pluralised in the normal way, by adding “-s”.
  1. The atmosphere is made up of several gases.
    • “Gas” ends in “-s”, so “-es” is added to pluralise it.
  1. I bought two loaves of bread and some tomatoes at the market.
    • As with some other nouns ending in “-f”, the plural form of “loaf” ends in “-ves”. “Tomato” follows the rule for most nouns ending in “-o” by adding “-es”.
  1. Many species of fish live in rivers.
    • Both “species” and “fish” have the same form in the singular and the plural, so nothing is added to them. “River” is pluralised normally.
  1. A lot of games of chance involve rolling dice.
    • The open compound noun “game of chance” is pluralised by adding “-s” to the head of the phrase, “game”. “Chance” is not pluralised. The word “die” has the irregular plural “dice”.

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about nouns, pronouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations and examples.

Frequently asked questions about plural nouns

What is the plural of “moose”?

The plural of “moose” is the same as the singular: “moose”. It’s one of a group of plural nouns in English that are identical to the corresponding singular nouns. So it’s wrong to write “mooses”.

For example, you might write “There are several moose in the forest.”

What is the plural of “octopus”?

The correct plural of “octopus” is “octopuses”.

People often write “octopi” instead because they assume that the plural noun is formed in the same way as Latin loanwords such as “fungus/fungi”. But “octopus” actually comes from Greek, where its original plural is “octopodes”. In English, it instead has the regular plural form “octopuses”.

For example, you might write “There are four octopuses in the aquarium.”

What is the plural of “fish”?

Normally, the plural of “fish” is the same as the singular: “fish”. It’s one of a group of irregular plural nouns in English that are identical to the corresponding singular nouns (e.g., “moose”, “sheep”). For example, you might write “The fish scatter as the shark approaches.”

If you’re referring to several species of fish, though, the regular plural “fishes” is often used instead. For example, “The aquarium contains many different fishes, including trout and carp.”

What is the plural of “crisis”?

The plural of “crisis” is “crises”. It’s a loanword from Latin and retains its original Latin plural noun form (similar to “analyses” and “bases”). It’s wrong to write “crisises”.

For example, you might write “Several crises destabilized the regime.”

Sources for this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Caulfield, J. (2023, April 18). What Is a Plural Noun? | Examples, Rules & Exceptions. Scribbr. Retrieved 14 May 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/nouns/what-is-a-plural-noun/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2022). Garner’s modern English usage (5th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.