By Geraldine Woods

When this author was in elementary school, the only spell check was the teacher’s ruler. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to change the y to i and add es?” Miss Hammerhead would inquire just before the ruler landed (Bam!) on a pupil’s head. Hammerhead (not her real name) was teaching spelling, but she also was explaining how to form the plural of some nouns, the grammatical term for words that name people, places, things, or ideas. Here are Miss Hammerhead’s lessons, minus the weaponry:

  • Regular plurals pick up an s. For instance, one snob/two snobs and a dollar/two billion dollars.
  • For nouns ending in s, sh, ch, and x, tack on es to form the plural unless the noun has an irregular plural. For example, kindness/kindnesses, splash/splashes, catch/catches, and hex/hexes. I tell you more about irregular plurals in a minute.
  • For nouns ending in ay, ey, oy, simply add an s. Monkey becomes monkeys and boy changes to boys.
  • For nouns ending in y preceded by a consonant, change the y to i and add es. Butterfly/butterflies and mystery/mysteries are two such examples.
  • Hyphenated nouns become plural by changing the most important word. You can have two mothers-in-law, but no mother-in-laws, because mother is the defining characteristic.
  • When making the plural of a proper name, add s or es. Don’t change any letters even if the name ends with a consonant-y combo (Smithy, perhaps). Just add s for the Smiths and the Smithys. If the name already ends in s, sh, ch, or x (Woods, for example), you can add es (Woodses).
  • Irregular nouns cancel all bets: Anything goes! Sometimes the noun doesn’t change at all, so the plural and singular forms are exactly the same (fish/fish deer/deer); other times the noun does change (leaf/leaves and child/children). When you’re unsure about an irregular plural, you can check the dictionary. The definition lists the plural form for each noun.

Practice questions

At the end of each sentence is a noun in parentheses. Write the plural in the blank, as in this example:

  1. The town eccentric, Jennifer has dyed several __________________ of her hair light green. (thatch)
  2. Some __________________ in the Sullivan family opt for veterinary school. (child)

Answers to practice questions

  1. thatches. For a noun ending in ch, add es.
  2. children. No s in sight, but children really is plural.