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The plural form of most nouns is created simply by adding the letter s.
Words that end in -ch, x, s or s-like sounds, however, will require an -es for the plural:
Note that some dictionaries list "busses" as an acceptable plural for "bus." Presumably, this is because the plural "buses" looks like it ought to rhyme with the plural of "fuse," which is "fuses." "Buses" is still listed as the preferable plural form. "Busses" is the plural, of course, for "buss," a seldom used word for "kiss."
There are several nouns that have irregular plural forms. Plurals formed in this way are sometimes called mutated (or mutating) plurals.
And, finally, there are nouns that maintain their Latin or Greek form in the plural. (See media and data and alumni, below.)
*Note the pronunciation of this word, crises: the second syllable sounds like ease. More than one base in the game of baseball is bases, but more than one basis for an argument, say, is also bases, and then we pronounce the word basease.
A handful of nouns appear to be plural in form but take a singular verb:
Numerical expressions are usually singular, but can be plural if the individuals within a numerical group are acting individually:
And another handful of nouns might seem to be singular in nature but take a plural form and always use a plural verb:
When a noun names the title of something or is a word being used as a word, it is singular whether the word takes a singular form or not.
Compound words create special problems when we need to pluralize them. As a general rule, the element within the compound that word that is pluralized will receive the plural -s, but it's not always that simple. Daughters-in-law follows the general rule, but cupfuls does not. See the special section on Compound Nouns and Modifiers or, better yet, a good dictionary, for additional help.
Many careful writers insist that the words data and media are Latin plurals and must, therefore, be used as plural words. The singular Latin forms of these words, however, are seldom used: datum as a single bit of information or medium as a single means of communication. Many authorities nowadays approve sentences like My data is lost. and The media is out to get the President. Even textbooks in computer science are beginning to use "data" as a singular.
Alumni and alumnae remain problematic. The plural of masculine singular alumnus is alumni; the plural of feminine singular alumna is alumnae. In traditional Latin, the masculine plural form, alumni, could include both genders. This does not go over well with some female alums. We note, furthermore, that Vassar College, which now has both, has lists of alumni and alumnae. Hartford College for Women, we assume, has only alumnae. In its publication style manual, Wesleyan University approves of alumni/ae. The genderless graduate and the truncated and informal alum have much to commend them.
With words that end in a consonant and a y, you'll need to change the y to an i and add es.
Words that end in o create special problems.
Plurals of words that end in -f or -fe usually change the f sound to a v sound and add s or -es.
There are, however, exceptions:
When in doubt, as always, consult a dictionary. Some dictionaries, for instance, will list both wharfs and wharves as acceptable plural forms of wharf. It makes for good arguments when you're playing Scrabble. The online version of Merriam-Webster's WWWebster Dictionary should help.
There are, further, so called collective nouns, which are singular when we think of them as groups and plural when we think of the individuals acting within the whole (which happens sometimes, but not often).
Thus, if we're talking about eggs, we could say "A dozen is probably not enough." But if we're talking partying with our friends, we could say, "A dozen are coming over this afternoon." The jury delivers its verdict. [But] The jury came in and took their seats. We could say the Tokyo String Quartet is one of the best string ensembles in the world, but we could say the Beatles were some of the most famous singers in history. Generally, band names and musical groups take singular or plural verbs depending on the form of their names: "The Mamas and the Papas were one of the best groups of the 70s" and "Metallica is my favorite band."
Note that "the number" is a singular collective noun. "The number of applicants is steadily increasing." "A number," on the other hand, is a plural form: "There are several students in the lobby. A number are here to see the president."
Collective nouns are count nouns which means they, themselves, can be pluralized: a university has several athletic teams and classes. And the immigrant families kept watch over their herds and flocks.
The word following the phrase one of the (as an object of the preposition of) will always be plural.
When a family name (a proper noun) is pluralized, we almost always simply add an "s." So we go to visit the Smiths, the Kennedys, the Grays, etc.When a family name ends in s, x, ch, sh, or z, however, we form the plural by added -es, as in the Marches, the Joneses, the Maddoxes, the Bushes, the Rodriguezes. Do not form a family name plural by using an apostrophe; that device is reserved for creating possessive forms.
When a proper noun ends in an "s" with a hard "z" sound, we don't add any ending to form the plural: "The Chambers are coming to dinner" (not the Chamberses); "The Hodges used to live here" (not the Hodgeses). There are exceptions even to this: we say "The Joneses are coming over," and we'd probably write "The Stevenses are coming, too." A modest proposal: women whose last names end in "s" (pronounced "z") should marry and take the names of men whose last names do not end with that sound, and eventually this problem will disappear.
The names of companies and other organizations are usually regarded as singular, regardless of their ending: "General Motors has announced its fall lineup of new vehicles." Try to avoid the inconsistency that is almost inevitable when you think of corporate entities as a group of individuals: "General Motors has announced their fall lineup of new vehicles." But note that some inconsistency is acceptable in all but the most formal writing: "Ford has announced its breakup with Firestone Tires. Their cars will no longer use tires built by Firestone." Some writers will use a plural verb when a plural construction such as "Associates" is part of the company's title or when the title consists of a series of names: "Upton, Vernon, and Gridley are moving to new law offices next week" or "Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego & Associates have won all their cases this year." Singular verbs and pronouns would be correct in those sentences, also.
The names of sports teams, on the other hand, are treated as plurals, regardless of the form of that name. We would write that "The Yankees have signed a new third baseman" and "The Yankees are a great organization" (even if we're Red Sox fans) and that "For two years in a row, the Utah Jazz have attempted to draft a big man." When we refer to a team by the city in which it resides, however, we use the singular, as in "Dallas has attempted to secure the services of two assistant coaches that Green Bay hopes to keep." (This is decidedly not a British practice. In the UK, the city or country names by which British newspapers refer to soccer teams, for example, are used as plurals a practice that seems odd and inconsistent to American ears: "A minute's silence will precede the game at Le Stadium today, when Toulouse play Munster, and tomorrow at Lansdowne Road, when Leinster attempt to reach their first European final by beating Perpignan" [report in the online London Times].)
We use an apostrophe to create plural forms in two limited situations: for pluralized letters of the alphabet and when we are trying to create the plural form of a word that refers to the word itself. Here we also should italicize this "word as word," but not the 's ending that belongs to it. Do not use the apostrophe+s to create the plural of acronyms (pronounceable abbreviations such as laser and IRA and URL*) and other abbreviations. (A possible exception to this last rule is an acronym that ends in "S": "We filed four NOS's in that folder.")
Notice that we do not use an apostrophe -s to create the plural of a word-in-itself. For instance, we would refer to the "ins and outs" of a mystery, the "yeses and nos" of a vote (NYPL Writer's Guide to Style and Usage), and we assume that Theodore Bernstein knew what he was talking about in his book Dos, Don'ts & Maybes of English Usage. We would also write "The shortstop made two spectacular outs in that inning." But when we refer to a word-as-a-word, we first italicize it I pointed out the use of the word out in that sentence. and if necessary, we pluralize it by adding the unitalicized apostrophe -s "In his essay on prepositions, Jose used an astonishing three dozen out's." This practice is not universally followed, and in newspapers, you would find our example sentence written without italics or apostrophe: "You have fifteen ands in that last paragraph."
Some abbreviations have embedded plural forms, and there are often inconsistencies in creating the plurals of these words. The speed of an internal combustion engine is measured in "revolutions per minute" or rpm (lower case) and the efficiency of an automobile is reported in "miles per gallon" or mpg (no "-s" endings). On the other hand, baseball players love to accumulate "runs batted in," a statistic that is usually reported as RBIs (although it would not be terribly unusual to hear that someone got 100 RBI last year and some baseball commentators will talk about "ribbies," too). Also, the U.S. military provides "meals ready to eat" and those rations are usually described as MREs (not MRE). When an abbreviation can be used to refer to a singular thing a run batted in, a meal ready-to-eat, a prisoner of war it's surely a good idea to form the plural by adding "s" to the abbreviation: RBIs, MREs, POWs. (Notice that no apostrophe is involved in the formation of these plurals. Whether abbreviations like these are formed with upper- or lower-case letters is a matter of great mystery; only your dictionary editor knows for sure.)
Notice, furthermore, that we do not use an apostrophe to create plurals in the following:
Authority for this last paragraph: Keys for Writers: A Brief Handbook by Ann Raimes. Houghton Mifflin: New York. 1996.
We frequently run into a situation in which a singular subject is linked to a plural predicate:
Sometimes, too, a plural subject can be linked to singular predicate:
In such situations, remember that the number (singular or plural) of the subject, not the predicate, determines the number of the verb. See the section on Subject-Verb Agreement for further help.
A special situation exists when a subject seems not to agree with its predicate. For instance, when we want each student to see his or her counselor (and each student is assigned to only one counselor), but we want to avoid that "his or her" construction by pluralizing, do we say "Students must see their counselors" or "Students must see their counselor"? The singular counselor is necesssary to avoid the implication that students have more than one counselor apiece. Do we say "Many sons dislike their father or fathers"? We don't mean to suggest that the sons have more than one father, so we use the singular father. Theodore Bernstein, in Dos, Don'ts and Maybes of English Usage, says that "Idiomatically the noun applying to more than one person remains in the singular when (a) it represents a quality or thing possessed in common ("The audience's curiosity was aroused"); or (b) it is an abstraction ("The judges applied their reason to the problem"), or (c) it is a figurative word ("All ten children had a sweet tooth") (203). Sometimes good sense will have to guide you. We might want to say "Puzzled, the children scratched their head" to avoid the image of multi-headed children, but "The audience rose to their foot" is plainly ridiculous and about to tip over.
In "The boys moved their car/cars," the plural would indicate that each boy owned a car, the singular that the boys (together) owned one car (which is quite possible). It is also possible that each boy owned more than one car. Be prepared for such situations, and consider carefully the implications of using either the singular or the plural. You might have to avoid the problem by going the opposite direction of pluralizing: moving things to the singular and talking about what each boy did.
*The jury still seems to be out on whether URL (acronym for Uniform [or Universal] Resource Locator), the address of a Website on the World Wide Web, should be pronounced like the name of your Uncle Earl or as a series of letters: U*R*L. The information technology experts at the college where I work use the "earl" pronunciation, and one would have to ask why you'd want to say "you-are-ell" when a simple "earl" would suffice. In either case, though, the plural of URL would be spelled URLs. The New York Times, by the way, would insist on U.R.L.'s because their style guide requires that everything be capitalized in headlines and URLS would look dumb in a headline. So use URLs unless you're writing for the New York Times.