In the English language nouns are commonly made plural by adding s or es. For example, car becomes cars and house becomes houses.
In this discussion, we’ll consider what irregular plural nouns are.
With irregular plural nouns, an s or es is not used to create the plural. This can sometimes cause confusion for users of English, particularly among those who are still learning the language. When forming an irregular plural, how are we supposed to know when to add a new ending, change the spelling, or just leave the word alone?
Memorization and recognition through reading and writing is usually the best way to understand what irregular plural nouns are and how to treat them. In the meantime, we can review several of the instances in which plural nouns become irregular.
Plurals with an Irregular Ending
Some nouns become non-standard plurals by adding endings other s or es.
For example, a farmer has one ox and two oxen (not oxes). A family might have one child or two children (not childs).
We also have one cactus but several cacti. If you write a book, it might have one appendix or several appendices.
Nouns That End in the Letter “F” or “Fe”
A farm has one calf or multiple calves. The “f” ending is changed with a “v” and “es” is added, creating a smoother transition from singular to plural.
Other examples are knife into knives and life into lives. The “f” is now a “v” and an es is added.
Nouns That End in the Letter “O”
You say tomatoe, I say tomato: This common discrepancy with the singular noun most likely stems from the fact that es is sometimes added to the end of a word to make it plural, as in tomato to tomatoes. Potato likewise becomes potatoes and hero becomes heroes.
Of course, as soon as we think we’re comfortable with a rule, English can still keep us guessing. When making a noun ending in o plural, the es rule can change, often when the noun is foreign.
For example, the beautiful Italian words piano and cello are made plural with only an s, becoming pianos and cellos.
Plurals with a Vowel Change
There are some words in English whose vowels switch to a different vowel to become plural.
woman > women
man > men
foot > feet
goose > geese
As you can see, the changes commonly take the form of double vowels such as ee or endings including a vowel shift from an to en. Once again, however, the rules with vowels in irregular plural nouns can change. As we’ve touched on, memorization and recognition by reading and writing English is the best way to achieve accuracy.
Nouns with a Total Spelling Change
Yet another rule for irregular plural nouns involves a complete spelling change when adjusting from singular to plural.
For example, we have one mouse as a pet but two mice. Many of us might also like to think of ourselves as a person who gets along well with other people.
No Change at All
Many nouns in English have the forbearance to not change at all (a welcome break from keeping track of so many rules).
Some examples include deer, fish, moose, shrimp, and buffalo. (And yes, these tend to be words for animals.)
Beauty in Diversity
The richness of English resides in its roots. Most English words stem from other languages (over 60 percent are from Latin or Greek) and reflect changes that adapt to how English is spoken.
We hope this review is helpful as you strengthen your understanding of what irregular plural nouns are. While not a complete discussion of the topic, it aims to inspire your awareness of irregular plurals, as well as your memorization of them through regular reading and writing of English.
Now that you better understand what irregular plural nouns are, choose the correct plural noun in each sentence.
1. While Dan and I were out on our snowmobiles, we saw several [moose / meese] run by.
2. Two [policemans / policemen] helped us get our cat, Fritter, down from the tree.
3. Janelle was thinking about planting a few [cacti / cactuses] in her backyard.
4. Christopher has two new baby [tooths / teeth].
5. I’m not so sure that’s true—it sounds like an old [wives’ / wifes’] tale to me.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. While Dan and I were out on our snowmobiles, we saw several moose run by.
2. Two policemen helped us get our cat, Fritter, down from the tree.
3. Janelle was thinking about planting a few cacti in her backyard.
4. Christopher has two new baby teeth.
5. I’m not so sure that’s true—it sounds like an old wives’ tale to me.
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