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Spelling Plurals With “-s” or “-es”

Updated on September 23, 2022Grammar

You might think spelling plural words is as simple as adding –s or –es at the end. But, as with many things in English, it’s not always that straightforward.

There are rules, of course. And then there are exceptions to those rules. And then there are exceptions to the exceptions.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the labyrinth of plural nouns. We’ll clarify when to use –s, when to use –es, and when to throw those rules out the window.

We’ll also provide tips and tricks to help you master the spelling of plural forms.

So whether you’re an English language learner, a teacher, a writer, or just someone looking to brush up on your grammar, this guide is for you.

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Understanding plural nouns

Plural nouns represent more than one person, place, thing, or idea. They’re a fundamental part of English grammar, and knowing how to spell them correctly is crucial.

However, English is a language full of surprises, and it’s not always as simple as adding –s or –es to make a word plural. But don’t worry—we’re here to help you navigate these tricky waters.

The basic rule: adding –s

The most common way to form plurals in English is by adding –s to the end of the singular noun. This rule applies to most nouns in the language. For example, we turn cat into cats and book into books.

However, there are certain conditions where we need to add –es instead or change the word entirely.

Here are a few examples of the basic rule:

  • cat -> cats
  • book -> books
  • chair -> chairs
  • pen -> pens
  • tree -> trees

When to add –es: the pronunciation rule

There are certain cases where we add –es to form the plural instead of adding just –s. This typically happens with words that end in –s, –ss, –sh, –ch, –x, and –z. The reason for this is largely phonetic. It’s easier to pronounce these words with an –es ending.

For instance, bus becomes buses, and fox becomes foxes. The –es ending helps to maintain the distinct pronunciation of the original word.

Here are a few examples of this rule:

  • bus -> buses
  • fox -> foxes
  • church -> churches
  • glass -> glasses
  • quiz -> quizzes

Exceptions to the rule: words ending in –o

An exception is words ending in –o. Some of these words take –es in the plural, while others simply take –s.

For example, potato becomes potatoes, and hero becomes heroes. But photo becomes photos, and piano becomes pianos. There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, so it’s best to learn these as you encounter them.

Here are a few examples of this exception:

  • potato -> potatoes
  • hero -> heroes
  • photo -> photos
  • piano -> pianos

Irregular plurals: vowel changes and more

Irregular plurals don’t follow the standard –s or –es rule. Instead, they undergo vowel changes or completely change their form.

For instance, man becomes men, and woman becomes women. Child becomes children, and mouse becomes mice. These irregular plurals can be challenging to learn, but they’re also fascinating!

Here are a few examples of irregular plurals:

  • man -> men
  • woman -> women
  • child -> children
  • mouse -> mice

Invariable plurals: when singular equals plural

Now, let’s talk about invariable plurals. These are words where the singular and plural forms are the same. Yes, you heard it right! The same word can refer to one or many.

Here are some examples of invariable plurals:

  • sheep
  • deer
  • species
  • aircraft

So next time you see a flock of sheep, remember, it’s still sheep, not sheeps!

Compound words and plurals

Compound words can seem a bit confusing when it comes to plurals, but the rule is simple: Usually, the most significant word takes the plural form.

Here are some examples:

  • mothers-in-law
  • passersby
  • sergeants at arms

These examples show how two or more words are combined to create a plural form that refers to multiple instances of the combined concept.

Plurals ending in –y: the consonant rule

Words ending in –y also follow a simple rule: If the –y is preceded by a consonant, change the –y to –ies to form the plural.

Here are some examples:

  • baby -> babies
  • city -> cities
  • lady -> ladies

But if –y is preceded by a vowel, just add –s to form the plural—boy becomes boys.

Apostrophes and plurals: a common pitfall

Apostrophes can be a common stumbling block when it comes to plurals. Remember: Apostrophes are typically used to show possession, not to form plurals.

For example, dogs’ toys means toys belonging to multiple dogs. But to simply make dog plural, you would write dogs. Keep this in mind to avoid one of the most common grammar mistakes!

Quick reference guide: summary of rules and exceptions

Here’s a quick summary of the main rules and exceptions for spelling plurals:

  • Add –s to most singular nouns to make them plural.
  • Add –es to words ending in –s, –x, –z, –ch, or –sh.
  • For words ending in –y, change the –y to –ies if it’s preceded by a consonant.
  • Some words change vowels in the plural form (e.g., man becomes men).
  • Some plurals are irregular and don’t follow the standard rules (e.g., child becomes children).
  • Some words are the same in both singular and plural forms (e.g., sheep).
  • Apostrophes are not used to form regular plurals.

Keep this guide handy as you navigate the world of plurals!

Practice makes perfect

Mastering plurals is all about practice. Read and write regularly to reinforce the rules. Try creating your own sentences with different plural forms. Use online resources or grammar apps for exercises and quizzes and use Grammarly’s AI-powered spell-checker to help. Remember that it’s OK to make mistakes. That’s how we learn!

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