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Number of nouns is another elementary topic of English grammar much disregarded in the EFL teaching. Teachers shouldn't confine themselves to saying that the plural number is formed by adding the -s inflexion to the singular form. In fact number of nouns constitutes a vast problem embracing such notions as policemy, transition of meaning, use of determiners, agreement between the subject-noun and the predicate-verb.

Number shows the difference between one and more than one. If one thing ("thing" in a wide sense of the word) is meant, we use the singular number, if more than one — we use the plural number. It is wrong to say that the plural expresses number, it does not, it signals the meaning of "not one."

More attention should be given to the formation of the plural number of nouns since it is far more difficult a problem than we think and it should be treated accordingly.

The plural number is formed with the help of the ending -s or -es.

bees dogs looks watches

days pencils maps boxes

flowers spoons seats wishes

In the following fourteen nouns the final -f is changed into -v and -es is added:

calf knife loaf shelf wharf

elf life seat thief wolf

half leaf self wife

E.g. calves, elves, halves.

All the others have -fs: proofs, cliffs, gulfs.

Some nouns may have either -ves or -fs in the plural number: scarf, dwarf, hoof.

If a noun ends in -o, -es is added in the plural number: tomatoes, potatoes, vetoes. Only -s is added if a noun ends in a vowel + o: bamboos, studios, zoos; in proper names: Romeos, Eskimos, Philipinos; in abbreviations: kilos, photos, pros (professionals); also: stereos, discos, videos, pianos, solos. Some other nouns take -s or -es: cargo, banjo, halo.

If a noun ends in -y, it is changed into -i- and -es is added: armies, duties, stories. If a vowel precedes -y, just -s is added: boys, keys, plays.

Some old English plural forms are still used:

man — men goose — geese child — children

woman — women louse — lice ox — oxen

foot — feet mouse — mice brother — brethren

tooth — teeth

Some English nouns keep foreign plurals, sometimes English and foreign plurals are used side by side:

alumna — alumnae

alumnus — alumni

formula — formulae, formulas

index — indices, indexes

crisis — crises

criterion — criteria

phenomenon — phenomena

datum — data

nucleus — nuclei

syllabus — syllabi, syllabuses

Compound nouns have three ways of spelling: two components are separated by a hyphen, written in one word or written separately. To form the plural of compound words spelled with a hyphen -s is added to the principal word:

daughters-in-law passersby

editors-in-chief girlfriends

lookers-on watchmakers

When compound singular nouns are spelled as one solid word, they are pluralized by adding -s to the last word:

airships bookcases

baseballs bywords

beefsteaks churchgoers

The plural of compound words with vowel-changing words in them will be:




Compound nouns consisting of two separate components add -s for the plural number to the last component:

apple trees ocean liners

bank books post officers

car fares water jackets

leaf buds wind gauges

Note even: trouser pockets, pyjama jacket.

Proper names form their plurals by adding -s or -es: Adams, Georges, Henries, Dickenses. When a proper name is accompanied by a title, either the proper name or the title may be made plural:

Doctor Hills Mrs Thomases

Doctors Hill Mesdames Thomas

Letters, numerals and symbols are preferably pluralized by the addition of's:

three r's and four s's

my four's and five's

your etc.'s and i.e.'s

all M.P.'s

Some nouns have the same form for the singular and for the plural: cod, deer, grouse, sheep, trout, quail, aircraft;

dozen (twelve), score (twenty), stone (6,35 kg);

means, series, species, works, barracks, headquarters.

Some nouns have two plurals, each plural form differs in meaning from the other:

colour — цвет

colours — цвета

colours — флаг

cloth — ткань; лоскут

cloths — куски материи

clothes — платье, одежда

custom — обычай

customs — обычаи

customs — таможенные пошлины

die — штамп, матрица; игральная кость

dies — штампы, матрицы

dice — игральные кости/ АЕ игральная кость

genius — дух, гениальная личность

geniuses — гениальные личности

genii — гении, духи

penny — пенни

pennies — монеты

реnсе — сумма в несколько пенни

The irregularities of the formation of the plural number of English nouns are ridiculed in the following poem by an unknown author.

The English Language

We'll begin with box, and the plural is boxes.

But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.

The one fool is a goose, but two are called geese,

Yet the plural of mouse should never be meese.

You may find one mouse, or a whole nest of mice,

But the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,

Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,

But bow, if repeated, is never called bine

And the plural of vow is vows, never vine.

If I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,

And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,

Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

If the singular is this and the plural is these,

Should the plural of kiss ever be nicknamed keese?

Then one may be that and three would be those,

Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,

And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say mother, we never say methren,

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his, him,

But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!

So English, I think you all will agree,

Is the greatest language you ever did see.


Sometimes the noun in the plural acquires a different meaning:

authority — власть, полномочие

authorities — начальство, руководство, власть

damage — вред, повреждение

damages — убытки, компенсация за убытки

development — развитие, эволюция, рост

developments — события

humanity — человечество

humanities — гуманитарные науки

power — сила, мощность, энергия

powers — полномочия, власть; державы

work — работа

works — собрание сочинений; промышленные здания, строи­тельное сооружение

Nouns that can be either singular or plural are called countable. Some nouns can't be used in the singular and in the plural, they are called uncountable. There are uncountable nouns used only in the singular and uncountable nouns used only in the plural.


have singular and plural forms have only one form

take verbs in the singular or in take verbs only in the singular/

the plural only in the plural

can have "a," "an," or "one" cannot have "a," "an," or "one"

before them before them

can have "few," "many" as can have "little," "much" before

modifiers them as modifiers

can be modified by a numeral —

can be substituted by "one" —

can have "some" before them can have "some" before them

only in the plural

can have "number of" before can have "amount of " before them

them only in the plural

Certain kinds of nouns are usually countable.

1. Names of persons, animals, plants, insects, and the like, and their parts:

Persons Animals Plants Insects Parts

a boy a cat a cactus an ant an ankle

a girl a dog a bush a butterfly a bone

a man a horse a flower a caterpillar a face

a student a mouse an oak a fly a head

a teacher a tiger a potato a mite a nose

a wife a wolf a rose a tick an ear

a woman a zebra a tree a wasp a wing

2. Objects with a definite shape:

a ball a mountain

a building a street

a car a tent

a door a typewriter

a house an umbrella

3. Units of measurement (for length, area, weight, volume, temperature, pressure, speed and so on) and words of classification (often used as measurement and classification with uncountable nouns):

a basket a drop

a gram a degree

an inch a kind

a foot a type

a meter a piece

a pound a bit

a square foot, meter an item

a cubic inch, centimetre a part

4. Classifications in society:

a family a country a language

a clan a state a word

a tribe a city a phrase

5. Some abstract nouns:

a help a plan

a hindrance a rest

an idea a scheme

an invention a taboo

a nuisance

Certain kinds of nouns are uncountable.

1. Names of substances and materials:

Food Materials

bread copper

cake cotton

chocolate concrete

meat grass

spaghetti iron

spinach steel

butter wood

cheese wool

2. Names of liquids, gases, and substances made of many small particles:

Liquids Gases Grains and other solids made

of many small particles

coffee air barley

milk carbon dioxide rice

oil oxygen sugar

tea smoke popcorn

3. Names of languages: Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Welsh.

4. Most nouns ending in -ing. Exceptions include "building," "feeling," "dealing," "wedding" and "helping" when it means a portion of food; "a saving" is economy, but "savings" is an amount of money;

"furnishings" is always plural.

camping parking

clothing shopping

dancing smoking

hiking studying

learning trying

lightning waiting

5. Many abstract nouns including those ending in -ness, -ance, -ence, -ity:

beauty peace

equality plenty

happiness sanity

ignorance serenity

importance selfishness

obsolescence verbosity

6. Names of branches of human learning ending in -ics:

acoustics politics


mathematics physics

phonetics statistics

Another group of uncountable nouns occurs only in the plural form. They can take the definite article or no article at all in front of them; no numerals can be used with them. Here is a list of common plural nouns:

archives particulars

congratulations proceeds

contents remains

goods surroundings

odds thanks

outskirts whereabouts

Some plural nouns refer to items of clothing and other objects consisting of two parts:

braces binoculars

breeches glasses

jeans pincers

knickers pliers

leggins scales

pants scissors

pyjamas shears

shorts spectacles

tights tongs

trousers tweezers

"A pair of is used to show that one item is meant.

Many nouns are countable (C) in one meaning and are uncountable (U) in another.

paper n 1 U substance manufactured from wood fibre, etc.

2 С newspaper

3 U ~ money, banknotes

4 pi documents showing who sb is

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