Simplifying the Complexity of Pluralization

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.

two twos

C. C.'s

Ph.D. Ph.D.'s

747 747s or 747's


R Rs (the three Rs)

a a's

A A's

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.

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