One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Plurals of nouns
Most nouns make their plurals by simply adding –s to the end (e.g. cat/cats, book/books, journey/journeys). Some do change their endings, though. The main types of noun that do this are:
Nouns ending in -y
If the noun ends with a consonant plus -y, make the plural by changing -y to -ies:
If the noun ends with -ch, -s, -sh, -x, or -z, add -es to form the plural:
There’s one exception to this rule. If the -ch ending is pronounced with a ‘k’ sound, you add -s rather than -es:
Nouns ending in -f or -fe
With nouns that end in a consonant or a single vowel plus -f or -fe, change the -f or -fe to -ves:
Nouns which end in two vowels plus -f usually form plurals in the normal way, with just an -s
Nouns ending in -o
Nouns ending in -o can add either -s or -es in the plural, and some can be spelled either way.
- As a general rule, most nouns ending in -o add -s to make the plural:
- Those which have a vowel before the final -o always just add -s:
- Here’s a list of the most common nouns ending in -o that are always spelled with -es in the plural:
- Here are some of the common nouns ending in -o that can be spelled with either -s or -es in the plural:
|banjo||banjos or banjoes|
|cargo||cargos or cargoes|
|flamingo||flamingos or flamingoes|
|fresco||frescos or frescoes|
|ghetto||ghettos or ghettoes|
|halo||halos or haloes|
|mango||mangos or mangoes|
|memento||mementos or mementoes|
|motto||mottos or mottoes|
|tornado||tornados or tornadoes|
|tuxedo||tuxedos or tuxedoes|
|volcano||volcanos or volcanoes|
Plurals of foreign nouns
The plurals of words which have come into English from a foreign language such as Latin or Greek often have two possible spellings: the foreign plural spelling and an English one. For example, you can spell the plural of aquarium (from Latin) as either aquaria (the Latin plural) or aquariums (the English plural).
Words of Latin origin
Here’s a list of some words that came into English from Latin which can form their plurals in two ways:
|Word||Latin plural||English plural|
Note that there are a few nouns which have come into English from Latin which should always form their plural in the Latin way. Most of these are scientific or technical terms. The most common ones are:
Remember too, that the plural form of octopus should always be octopuses and never octopi. This is because the word came into English from Greek, not Latin, and so the usual rules for Latin plurals don't apply.
Words of Greek origin
Nouns which end in -is usually come from Greek. Their plurals are made by changing the -is to -es:
Words of French origin
Certain words which have come into English from French have two possible plural forms: the original French plural and an English one. These words end in the letters -eau, for example:
|Word||French plural||English plural|
Words of Italian origin
Most words which have come into English from Italian form their plurals with an -s, as if they were English words. For example, the Italian plural of cappuccino is cappuccini, but when the word is used in English, its plural form is cappuccinos. Here are some more examples:
|Word||Italian plural||English plural|
|fresco||freschi||frescos or frescoes|
A notable exception to this is the word paparazzo, which keeps the Italian plural form paparazzi in English.
There's also a group of Italian words which have entered English in their plural forms – these are typically the names for various kinds of pasta. For example:
spaghetti; tagliatelle; tortellini; cannelloni; lasagne.
Although these words are already in their Italian plural forms, they can take an -s to form English plurals in certain contexts. For example:
They ordered three spaghettis and two cannellonis.
Here, the meaning is ‘a dish or serving of spaghetti’ rather than ‘a kind of pasta’.
Note that in British English, you should spell lasagne with an e at the end. In American English it's spelled with an -a at the end, i.e. lasagna (which is the Italian singular form, though this is rarely if ever used in Italian itself).
Words that have come into English from foreign languages are known as loanwords. Some of these loanwords have developed plural (or singular) forms in English that are regarded as grammatically incorrect because they go against the grammar of the original language.
Back to spelling.
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