5.1.1 The word singular means ‘one’ while plural means ‘more than one’. A singular noun is one thing, e.g. a book, while a plural noun is more than one thing, e.g. two books or twenty-five books.
5.1.2 A singular noun in English does not have an ending added to it, e.g. a pencil, while we usually make a noun plural by adding ‘s’, e.g. some pencils.
5.1.3 The letter ‘s’ at the end of a plural noun is pronounced with a z sound, not a s. For example, we pronounce ‘peas’ as peez not pees. (See Clear Alphabet – Lesson 1.6.) The following list of minimal pairs (words that have one different sound between them) can help us to see the difference:
The plural ‘s’ sounds like:
…and so on.
5.1.4 This rule applies to most nouns in English: we add an ‘s’ at the end to make it plural. However, there is a small but important group of English nouns that have irregular plural forms. Here are some of the most common examples:
5.1.5 Irregular plural nouns can be put into groups according to their endings. For example, if a noun ends with ‘s’ we make it plural by adding ‘es’ rather than ‘s’. This is because it would be too difficult to say ‘buss’ compared with ‘buses’. In the same way, if a noun ends with the letter ‘f’ or a f sound, we change the f sound to v, which makes the plural form easier to pronounce, for example: life -> lives. We can see, then, that irregular plural nouns can be used to help with pronunciation, but in some cases there seems to be no reason or logic to the irregular plural form, for example:
In the case of these three words we have kept the irregular plural forms from historical English.
5.1.6 Let’s look at these groups of irregular plural nouns in more detail. We need to remember the rule for each kind of word ending:
Almost all nouns: we add ‘s’ to make the word plural, e.g. books, tables, phones, roads, etc.
5.1.7 As we saw in 5.1.4, above, some irregular nouns in English are just irregular and do not fit into any of these spelling groups.
Some of these words have different plural forms:
…while others do not. These nouns have the same form, whether singular or plural. For example, a farmer may have one sheep or many sheep.
Let’s look at some common categories:
- Animals: e.g. bison, buffalo, deer, duck, grouse, moose, sheep, shrimp, squid, swine, venison, etc.
- Fish: e.g. cod, salmon, trout, etc.
- Some Nationalities: e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, Portuguese, Swiss, Vietnamese, etc.
- Miscellaneous Words: e.g. aircraft, crossroads, data, dice, grapefruit, offspring, series, species, etc.
For reference: Really Useful List of 100 Irregular Plural Nouns in English (PDF):list-of-100-irregular-plural-nouns-in-english
5.1.8 If a noun is countable and singular we need to put a determiner before it. This is usually an article (a, an, or the) or a possessive adjective, e.g. my, your, her, etc. For example:
It is not an option to put nothing before a singular countable noun, for example:
This creates a grammatical error. Read more about articles in Lesson 3.1, where you will also find some helpful practice exercises.
5.1.9 If a noun is plural we may or may not use a determiner, like an article, depending on the kind of noun (countable or uncountable) and whether the context is general or specific. See the table below for more guidance. (Note: the term ‘zero article’ means no article is necessary.)
We can use ‘some’ with plural and uncountable nouns, for example:
I would like some books. (plural)
I would like some money. (uncountable)
5.1.10 Agreement between determiner, verb, and noun is really important if you want to avoid making grammatical errors like these:
…and so on.
5.1.11 A few important exceptions:
A small but common group of nouns have a plural form, but always take a singular verb, for example, academic subjects like physics, ethics, economics, linguistics, and mathematics:
…or sports like darts, billiards, athletics, and gymnastics:
There are also a few other miscellaneous words which fit this pattern, like news:
Some numbers with a plural meaning take a singular verb, e.g.
5.1.12 On the other hand, there is another small but common group of nouns that are single item things, e.g. jeans, but have a plural form and always take a plural verb. This especially applies to pairs of things – for example:
- Clothing worn over two legs: jeans, shorts, tights, trousers, pants, knickers, briefs, etc.
- Items with two parts: glasses (spectacles), binoculars, scissors, pyjamas, bowels, etc.
- Abstract things: thanks, congratulations, proceeds, wages, premises
5.1.13 Nouns which refer to a group of people are called collective nouns, for example:
audience, band, board, cast, choir, committee, congregation, council,
family, fire brigade, gang, government, group, police, team, etc.
In British English they can take either a singular or plural noun:
While in American English they usually only take a singular verb:
Ex. 5.1.1 Vocabulary Write five more words for each ending:
Ex. 5.1.2 Vocabulary Look at 5.1.11, above. a) Write ten more nouns that have a plural form, but always takes a singular verb, e.g. mathematics. b) Write a sentence containing each one, e.g. ‘Mathematics is my favourite subject at school.’
Ex. 5.1.3 Vocabulary Look at 5.1.12, above. a) Write ten more nouns that have a plural form and always take a plural verb, e.g. trousers. b) Write a sentence containing each one, e.g. ‘My trousers are in the wardrobe.’
Ex. 5.1.4 Vocabulary Look at 5.1.13, above. a) Find ten more collective nouns, e.g. team. b) Write a sentence containing each one, in either British English or American English. State which kind of English you use!
Ex. 5.1.5 Spelling Correct the error in each question and put the irregular plural nouns into alphabetical order, then answer the questions (using the internet where necessary):
1. Which Mediterranean beachs are the cleanest? ___________________
2. Do you like tomatos? ___________________
3. How much do child’s shoes cost? ___________________
4. How many lifes does a cat have? ___________________
5. Which three citys are the largest in the world? ___________________
6. What percentage of familys have three kids? ___________________
7. What are the best partys you have ever been to? ___________________
8. How many kiss’s should we write in a formal letter?___________________
9. What is the best way to keep flys out of the house?___________________
10. How much would it cost to buy four loafs of bread? ___________________
11. How many churchs are there in your town? ___________________
12.What do most mans think about all day? ___________________
13. How many wifes did King Henry VIII have? ___________________
14. Should circus’s be allowed to use animals? ___________________
15.What do we put in aquariums? ___________________
16. How many foots does a millipede have? ___________________
17. At what age do babys usually start to walk? ___________________
18. How many stomachs do sheeps have? ___________________
19. How much do cherrys cost per kilogram? ___________________
20. Are you good at quiz’s? ___________________
Ex. 5.1.6 Reading a) Complete each sentence using either ‘is’ or ‘are’. b) Add ‘s’ after the word ‘pen’ if it is a plural noun, but leave the space blank if it is a singular noun:
1. This ________________ my pen _____.
2. There ________________ two pen _____ on the table.
3. These pen _____ ________________ on the table.
4. There ________________ a few pen _____ on the table.
5. There ________________ one pen _____ on the table.
6. There ________________ lots of pen _____ on the table.
7. There ________________ some big pen _____ on the table.
8. There ________________ a pen _____ on the table.
9. There ________________ a big pen _____ on the table.
10. This ________________ his pen _____.
11. There ________________ a box of pen _____ on the table.
12. That pen _____ ________________ on the table.
13. Why ________________ those pen _____ on the table?
14. These ________________ the only pen _____ on the table.
15. There ________________ a large quantity of pen _____ on the table.
Ex. 5.1.7 Reading a) Complete each sentence using either ‘is’ or ‘are’. b) Add ‘s’ after the word ‘pen’ if it is a plural noun, but leave the space blank if it is a singular noun:
1. There ________________ some pen _____ on the table.
2. There ________________ not many pen _____ on the table.
3. This pen _____ ________________ on the table.
4. There ________________ not a single pen _____ on the table.
5. There ________________ hardly any pen _____ on the table.
6. Those pen _____ ________________ on the table.
7. This ________________ their pen _____.
8. There ________________ several pen _____ on the table.
9. There ________________ twenty three pen _____ on the table.
10. This ________________ the last pen _____.
11. This ________________ the only pen _____.
12. There ________________ a new pen _____ on the table.
13. There ________________ a packet of pen _____ on the table.
14. There ________________ another pen _____ on the table.
15. There ________________ n’t any pen _____ on the table.
Ex. 5.1.8 Reading a) Complete each sentence using either ‘was’ or ‘were’. b) Add ‘s’ after the word ‘ball’ if it is a plural noun, but leave the space blank if it is a singular noun:
1. It _______________ a new ball _____.
2. These ball _____ _______________ in the garden.
3. A ball _____ _______________ in the garden.
4. There _______________ two ball _____ in the garden.
5. _______________ that ball _____ in the garden?
6. That ball _____ _______________ in the garden.
7. Those ball _____ _______________ in the garden.
8. This ball _____ _______________ in the garden.
9. Our only ball _____ _______________ in the garden.
10. There _______________ a ball _____ in the garden.
11. Some ball_____ _______________ in the garden.
12. A few ball_____ _______________ in the garden.
13. An old ball _____ _______________ in the garden.
14. They _______________ in the garden.
15. Many ball_____ _______________ in the garden.
Ex. 5.1.9 Reading Fill in the missing words in the worksheet (PDF):100-irregular-plural-nouns-in-english-gap-fill