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Irregular Plurals

Many nouns in English have a plural form either with an s/es ending or without. For example, when is it correct to use youth vs. youths, fish vs. fishes, or hair vs. hairs?

Use youths and hairs when countable.
Example: Three youths were given awards for community service.

If youth is being used collectively, do not add the s.

Example: The youth of today watch less TV but spend more time on the computer.

When youth is used as a collective noun, you may follow it with either a singular or plural verb. I chose the plural verbs watch and spend because I felt that we were using youth in a plural manner here.

Examples: The hairs on her chin were long.
Her hair is long.

The words fish and fishes are interchangeable, although some references say to use fishes when referring to two or more species.

Examples: This fish is huge.
These barracuda fish are huge.
All the barracuda fish in the reef are enormous.
The fishes in the reef are colorful. (indicating two or more species)

Some nouns do not change at all in their plural form.

Examples: sheep, deer, offspring, series, species

Other nouns have plural forms that do not involve adding an s.

Examples: alumnus/alumni, radius/radii, child/children, woman/women, foot/feet, goose/geese, tooth/teeth, vertebra/vertebrae, mouse/mice

To confuse us even more, some nouns change their is ending in the singular to an es ending in the plural.

Examples: parenthesis/parentheses, paralysis/paralyses, diagnosis/diagnoses

Is there a simple way to know the plural of a noun? Only if you’re psychic. The rest of us are stuck with having to rely on the dictionary.


Posted on Saturday, April 5, 2008, at 12:32 am


13 Comments

13 Responses to “Irregular Plurals”

  1. Karin says:

    Should I use a comma or a semi colon in the following sentence:

    Cathy has closed 2,692 units in 180 separate transactions, totaling $246 million…

  2. Clint says:

    Thanks for the interesting, diverse and thought-provoking blog! I’ll be returning often.

    Clint, enjoying his summer break in Boulder, CO

  3. Jane says:

    Karin,
    I would use a comma after “transactions.”

  4. Abby says:

    Karin, DO NOT use a semicolon in that case. Keep your comma exactly where it is. Semicolons are only used to connect two closely-related, (usually but not always) short sentences. A semicolon is stronger than a comma but weaker than a period, so it is useful and versatile; it can also give your paragraph color by contributing to varied sentence structures. I often use semicolons with cause-effect sentences – in place of the word “because.” For example, “I like dogs; I enjoy their companionship.”

    NOTE: If I were to say, “I like dogs, I enjoy their companionship,” I’d be using a comma splice (using a comma where a sentence should end), and that is incorrect. I see this all the time, so watch out! Most people don’t seem to know that a sentence can only end with a semicolon, period, question mark, exclamation point, or sometimes a dash – NEVER a comma. A comma should only be used before a conjunction in a compound sentence and where you would pause if you were to read a sentence out loud, such as in your sentence above.

  5. Jane says:

    Abby, I agree with your comments to Karin.

  6. Wiotkie Dziecko says:

    Keep on blogging! its getting through the tough times that make you stronger and then the good times will follow, keep writing about your experiences and we should all pull in collaboration.

  7. Mildred says:

    Thank you for your newsletters; it helps review and understand better the English grammar.
    I bought the Blue Book and I use it constantly to review my work,as I am an editor for children’s books.

    Would you please comment on the use of fruit and fruits? Is it used as a collective noun sometimes?
    For example, a tree with a lot of mangoes; how do I say: “That tree has a lot of fruit/ fruits”? (I want to introduce the word “fruit” to the children)

    • Jane says:

      The word fruit can be used as a collective noun. Examples: Fruit is a healthy snack. That tree has a lot of fruit. Usually when you speak of fruit as a countable noun, you say a piece of fruit, two pieces of fruit, etc. The plural form fruits is not used as often and it generally refers to two or more different kinds of fruit. For example, one might say “The salad bar had a variety of fruits and vegetables.” That would be grammatically correct. But it would also be grammatically correct to say “The salad bar had a variety of fruit and vegetables.” The word fruits is often used along with the word vegetables because it sounds better.

      • Mildred says:

        If the children are looking at the tree full of mangoes (What kind of fruit does the tree have?); then what would be the correct (didactic) way of answering the question? Mango/mangoes.

        • Jane says:

          The question may be answered several ways:
          “The tree has mangoes.” or “The tree has mangoes on it.” (Note: the plural of mango can be mangoes or mangos.)
          “The tree has mango fruit.”
          “The tree has mango fruits.” (The plural form fruits generally, but not always, refers to two or more different kinds of fruit.)
          “That is a mango tree.”

  8. Anderson says:

    Children’s and Student’s Ministry (correct?)

    • Jane says:

      Since you are talking about children and students, the possessives would be children’s and students’. However, I do not know how many ministries you are talking about. If one, you would write: children’s and students’ ministry. If two, write children’s ministry and students’ ministry. If more than two, write either children’s and students’ ministries if children and students are ministered together, or children’s ministries and students’ ministries if they are ministered separately.

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