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What Is an English Plural?

By Suzanne S. Wiley
Updated May 17, 2024
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An English plural is the form of an English-language word that refers to more than one of something. Plural forms generally apply to nouns, pronouns and verb forms. The majority of nouns in English use three specific suffixes to indicate their plural forms, but many exceptions exist. Pronouns and verbs can change entirely to indicate the plural, although this is not always the case.

The basic written forms of the English plural suffix for nouns are -s, pronounced as [s] or [z], and -es, pronounced as [ez]. If the -s ending follows a voiced sound — these are the sounds for which the vocal folds meet and vibrate, such as [z], [m], [g] or a vowel — it sounds like a [z]. Examples include "dogs," in which the ending uses [z]; "cats," which retains the voiceless [s]; and "boxes," which uses [ez]. The -es ending typically appears after the letters and letter sequences "x," "s," "sh" and "ch."

English plural noun forms have several exceptions, including the use of -ies for words ending in -y and the use of Latin plural endings for words borrowed from Latin. Other regular exceptions include mass nouns, such as "water," which does not change form to indicate plural when used in the general sense of drinking, finding or using water. English is also full of irregular plurals that don’t follow any rules, and memorization is the only way to remember how to form these. For example, if someone goes fishing for bass, he or she is not necessarily going to catch only one bass. The word "bass," as in the fish, is both singular and plural even though it isn’t a mass noun.

Most English plural pronouns change form completely in English. The singular first-person pronoun "I," for example, does not become "Is" or "I's," but instead changes to "we." Third-person pronouns change to "they," or "their" if possessive. The second-person pronoun, "you," stays the same in the plural.

One situation in English that creates confusion is the use of the possessive ending of -‘s, which has an apostrophe. If the apostrophe appears in the wrong place, or doesn't appear where it should, it can change the meaning of the word. For example, "dogs" is the plural of "dog," but "dog’s" is the possessive form of the singular "dog." For this reason, writers have to be very careful to use the apostrophe correctly.

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Discussion Comments
By Animandel — On Mar 14, 2014

Wouldn't life be made so much simpler if we could add "S" to all root words to make them plural? However, I guess forming plurals is relatively simple when you compare the process to working with subjective and conditional forms and other elements of grammar. I guess I shouldn't complain about a few rules for making words plural.

By Sporkasia — On Mar 13, 2014

If you had any doubts that English was one of the most difficult languages to learn, or you wondered why immigrants make those little mistakes in their spoken language then I hope this article cleared those issues up for you.

Learning all those variations that accompany plural forms is tough enough when you have been studying and using the language virtually your entire life. Imagine how intimidating the language is when you don't encounter it until you are a teenager or an adult.

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