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Forming Plurals of Regular Nouns in English: Morphological, Spelling, and Pronunciation Changes

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/17/2012

Nouns are traditionally defined as "words that name people, places, things, and ideas." The following article lists and explains the rules for forming the plurals of regular nouns in the English language.

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    English Nouns

    A noun is a word that names a person, place, thing, or idea. Prototypical English nouns show number through singular and plural forms. Singular nouns reference one person, place, thing, or idea while plural nouns reference two or more people, places, things, or ideas. Regular nouns in English take either the suffix -s or the suffix -es attached to the singular form in the plural. The following sections explain and exemplify the spelling and pronunciation rules for forming the plurals of regular nouns in English.

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    Regular Plural Nouns

    The plural morphological suffix for most English nouns is simply -s, which is added to the end of the singular form. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common regular English nouns:

    Singular – Plural

    • apple – apples
    • brother – brothers
    • elbow – elbows
    • holiday – holidays
    • kite – kites
    • notebook – notebooks
    • toe – toes
    • zebra – zebras

    However, if the singular form of the noun ends with s(e) or c(e) [s], z(e) [z], sh [š], ch [č], or dg(e) [ĵ], then the plural morphological suffix is -es. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common regular English nouns ending in s(e) or c(e) [s], z(e) [z], sh [š], ch [č], or dg(e) [ĵ]:

    • Singular – Plural
    • ash – ashes
    • box – boxes
    • church – churches
    • English – Englishes
    • judge – judges
    • kiss – kisses
    • language – languages
    • watch – watches

    If the singular form of the noun ends with a consonant followed by a y, then the y changes to an i and is followed by the plural morphological suffix is -es. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common regular English nouns ending in a consonant followed by a y:

    Singular – Plural

    • authority – authorities
    • body – bodies
    • cherry – cherries
    • family – families
    • history – histories
    • memory – memories
    • panty – panties
    • story – stories

    If the singular form of the noun ends with f or fe, then the f or fe changes to a ve and is followed by the plural morphological suffix is -s. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common regular English nouns ending in f or fe:

    Singular – Plural

    • calf – calves
    • knife – knives
    • leaf – leaves
    • life – lives
    • self – selves
    • thief – thieves
    • wife – wives
    • wolf – wolves

    The f or fe to ve rule does not apply if the verb form of the noun ends in ve as in belief-beliefs (noun) and believe-believes (verb).

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    Nouns Ending in -o

    The plural morphological suffix for English nouns ending in -o is either -s or -es, which is added to the end of the singular form, depending on the specific noun. If the singular form of the noun ends with an o preceded by another vowel or vowel sound, then the plural morphological suffix is -s. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common English nouns ending in an o preceded by a vowel or vowel sound:

    Singular – Plural

    • bamboo – bamboos
    • cameo – cameos
    • duo – duos
    • embryo – embryos
    • radio – radios
    • scenario – scenarios
    • stereo – stereos
    • studio – studios

    If the singular form of the noun ends in o and the word is of foreign origin including most musical terms, then the plural morphological suffix is also -s. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common English nouns of foreign origin ending in an o:

    Singular – Plural

    • alto – altos
    • canto – cantos
    • kimono – kimonos
    • photo – photos
    • piano – pianos
    • rondo – rondos
    • solo – solos
    • taco – tacos

    If the singular form of the noun ends with an o preceded by a consonant, then the plural morphological suffix is -es. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common English nouns ending in an o preceded by a consonant:

    Singular – Plural

    • domino – dominoes
    • echo – echoes
    • embargo – embargoes
    • hero – heroes
    • mosquito – mosquitoes
    • potato – potatoes
    • tomato – tomatoes
    • veto – vetoes

    For some nouns ending in an o preceded by a consonant, however, the plural morphological suffix is either -s or -es. For example, the following chart identifies the singular and plural forms of some common English nouns that take either the -s or the -es suffix:

    Singular – Plural

    • avocado – avocados/avocados
    • buffalo – buffalos/buffaloes
    • desperado – desperados/desperadoes
    • ghetto – ghettos/ghettoes
    • halo – halos/haloes
    • hobo – hobos/hoboes
    • portico – porticos/porticoes
    • tornado – tornados/tornadoes

    The current trend for spelling the plurals of nouns ending in o preceded by a consonant seems to be moving in the direction of adding only the morphological suffix -s, particularly in the case of nouns with variable spellings.

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    Pronouncing Regular Plurals

    Although the plural morphological suffix for regular English nouns is -s or -es, the suffix is pronounced differently depending on the sound of the last syllable of the noun. If the last syllable of the noun sounds like:

    • s, se, ce [s]*
    • z, ze [z]
    • sh [š]
    • ch [č]
    • j, dge [ĵ],

    then the suffix is pronounced as a voiced ez [әz]. For example:

    • ashes [ӕšәz]
    • boxes [boksәz]
    • churches [čәrčәz]
    • faces [fesәz]
    • grudges [grәĵәz]
    • marshes [maršәz]

    If the last syllable of the noun is a voiceless sound, then the suffix is pronounced as an unvoiced s [s]. Voiceless sounds are produced by not vibrating the larynx in the throat. The voiceless, or unvoiced, sounds in English are:

    • p, pe [p]
    • t, tt, te [t]
    • k, ck, ke [k]
    • f, gh [f]
    • th [θ]
    • h [h]
    • y [j]

    For example:

    • beliefs [bilifs]
    • cakes [keks]
    • drinks [driŋks]
    • fruits [fruts]
    • laughs [lӕfs]
    • units [junɪts]

    If the last syllable of the noun is a voiced sound, then the suffix is pronounced as a voiced z [z]. Voiced sounds are produced by vibrating the larynx in the throat. The voiced sounds in English are:

    • m, me [m]
    • n, ne [n]
    • ng [ŋ]
    • b, be [b]
    • d, de [d]
    • g, ge [g]
    • v, ve [v]
    • th [ð]
    • w [w]
    • r, re [r]
    • l, ll, le [l]

    All vowels in English are also voiced sounds. For example:

    • bombs [bamz]
    • boys [boijz]
    • halves [hӕvz]
    • moans [monz]
    • songs [saŋz]
    • tries [traijz]

    *The letters in brackets are the sounds written in the International Phonetic Alphabet preceded by some spellings of the sounds in written English.

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    Printable Download

    For a printable reference study sheet of the morphological, spelling, and pronunciation rules for forming plurals of regular nouns in English, please download the supplement to this article Forming Plural Nouns in English: Rules for Plural Nouns Reference Sheet.

How to Form Plural Nouns in English

The following two part series lists the morphological, spelling, and pronunciation rules for forming the plurals of regular and irregular nouns in English. Part one explains the rules for regular English nouns. Part two explains the rules for irregular English nouns.
  1. Forming Plurals of Regular Nouns in English: Morphological, Spelling, and Pronunciation Changes
  2. Forming Plurals of Irregular Nouns in English: Morphological, Spelling, and Pronunciation Changes