Simplifying the Complexity of Pluralization
By Larry Lynn
Imagine what it would be like for English words to have a simple rule like just and an s for forming the plural of nouns.
shush + s = shushs
goose + s = gooses
dress + s = dresss
appendix + s = appendixs
chassis + s = chassiss
madness + s = madnesss
Mississippi + s = Mississippis
quiz + s = quizs
corps + s = corpss
axis + s = axiss
Maybe it would have been better to just add the number 2 along with the plus (+) sign.
bird + 2+ = bird2+ (birds)
22 + 2+ = 222+ (22s or 22's)
tutu + 2+ = tutu2+ (tutus)
Perhaps the ampersand ( & ) attached to the end of any word would be a good signal that the word is plural.
crutch + & = crutch& (crutches)
accessory + & = accessory& (accessories)
psychosis + & = psychosis& (psychoses)
Perhaps just doubling the last letter of the word could be a plural indicator.
teepee + e = teepeee (teepees)
tipi + i = tipii (tipis)
pi + i = pii (pi's)
mall + l = malll (malls)
rally + y = rallyy (rallies)
x + x = xx (xs or x's)
logo + o = logoo (logos)
zoo + o = zooo (zoos)
What is the best way to form the plural of nouns? Nobody knows what's best, but this is what we have to work with.
Rules for forming the plurals of nouns:
1. In most cases, add an s to the noun to form the plural.
bone + s = bones
truck + s = trucks
ammonia + s = ammonias
tryst + s = trysts
2. If the noun ends with -sh, -ch, -s, -z, or -x, add es to form the plural.
brush + es = brushes
dish + es = dishes
church + es = churches
access + es = accesses
tax + es = taxes
adz + es = adzes (for this preferred spelling)
3. If the noun ends in y preceded by a consonant, change the y to i and add es.
phony (change the y) phoni + es = phonies
colony (change the y) coloni + es = colonies
cry (change the y) cri + es = cries
bunny (change the y) + es = bunnies
4. If the noun ends in y preceded by a vowel, just add an s.
honey + s = honeys
turkey + s = turkeys
attorney + s = attorneys
But, some words don't follow the rules:
money + s = moneys or money (drop the ey) + ies = monies
colloquy (drop the y) + ies = colloquies
5. Some words that end in s don't change at all except in pronunciation.
chassis /chasi/ becomes chassis /chaseez/
corps /kor/ becomes corps /korz/
6. Nouns ending in -f or -fe change the -f or -fe to -ves.
shelf becomes shelves
knife becomes knives
wife becomes wives
half becomes halves
7. Nouns ending in -o preceded by a consonant add -es to form the plural
potato + es = potatoes
tomato + es = tomatoes
no + es + noes
But, some words don't obey the rules:
piano (and other musical terms) just add an s to make pianos (not pianoes).
commando just add s (commandos) or es (commandos) [your choice]
8. Nouns ending in -o preceded by a vowel add just an s.
leo + s = leos
studio + s = studios
oleo + s = oleos
adagio + s + adagios
9. Some words just change letters internally to form the plural.
foot becomes feet
woman becomes women
man becomes men
goose becomes geese (But, mongoose becomes mongooses, not mongeese.)
10. Some nouns don't change at all.
deer (singular) deer (plural)
series (singular) series (plural)
headquarters (singular) headquarters (plural)
beef (singular) beef (plural) sometimes beeves
fish (singular) fish (plural) [one kind]
fish (singular) fishes (plural) [different kinds]
Chinese (singular) Chinese (plural)
11. Some words form their plurals according to their preferred spelling.
adz + es = adzes; but, adze + s = adzes
12. Some plurals are retained according to the rules of their original language.
agendum (Latin, singular)
agenda (Latin plural often used as an English singular)
agendas (Anglicized plural according to English rules)
focus (Latin, singular)
foci (Latin, plural) or focuses (English application)
appendix (Latin, singular)
appendices (Latin, plural) or appendixes
alumnus (Latin, masc. sing.)
alumni (Latin, masc. plural)
alumna (Latin, fem. sing.)
alumnae (Latin, fem. plural)
cilium (Latin, neuter, sing.)
cilia (Latin, neuter, plural)
genus (Latin, neuter, sing.)
genera (Latin, neuter, plural)
13. Some words are always plural.
chitterlings or chitlins
grits (unless you tasted just one grit and opted out to try another)
14. Pluralization of compound words has its own method or madness. Add the s to the main word of the compound.
father-in-law (add s to the word father) fathers-in-law
commander-in-chief (add s to commander) commanders-in-chief
15. Pluralization of letters, numbers, symbols and non-nouns used as nouns vary. Capital letters without the period may be italicized or underlined whereas the s in not italicized. Capital letters used as nouns simply add the s.
747 747s or 747's
R Rs (the three Rs)
6 6s or 6's
16. Some words have different meanings according to their pluralized form.
handful handfuls (more than one filling using the same hand)
handful hands full or handsful (more than one hand filled)
spoonful spoonfuls (the same spoon filled more than once)
spoonful spoons full or spoonsful (different spoons filled)
17. Words used as words become plural by adding an apostrophe + s
All and's must be spelled the same way.
Plurals are formed with certain conventions that were intended to keep the process simple. Because so many words came from such widespread sources, that objective was too difficult to attain. Thus, there are scores of exceptions to the basic operation of adding an -s to a noun to make it plural.