Spelling Rules – How to Form Plurals

Learn how to form plurals in order to improve spelling.

Most plurals are formed by simply adding ‘s’ to the end of nouns. This is an easy rule to teach and learn. However, some words do not follow this rule and these are the ones that need to be taught, in order to improve basic spelling skills.

Plurals with ‘es’

Nouns which end in ‘s’, ‘ss’, ‘z’, ‘zz’, ‘ch’ or ‘sh’ take ‘es’ to form the plural. In all these cases the ‘es’ is added because it makes the words easier to say. Words such as bus, kiss and fox would be very difficult to pronounce if we just added an ‘s’ to them, because the end of such words already makes a hissing sound. When we add ‘es’ we add another syllable (beat) to each word and then they become far easier to say. Try saying ‘ buses’, ‘kisses’ and ‘foxes’ and notice how the ‘es’ helps you to pronounce them.

Some words, which end in a letter ‘o’, also take an ‘es’ ending but there are quite a few exceptions to this rule. Words such as tomatoes, echoes, potatoes and heroes do take ‘es’ and these words need to be identified and remembered. It might be a good idea to make a list of them and to create a mnemonic to help you learn them.

Words ending in ‘o’ which take a letter ‘s’ to form the plural include musical terms; like cellos and pianos, words taken from other languages; like ponchos, and words where there is a vowel before the final ‘o’ such as zoos, cuckoos and radios.

Plurals with ‘ves’

Some words ending in the letter ‘f’ or ‘fe’ take ‘ves’ to form the plural. The ‘f’ or ‘fe’ is removed from these words and ‘ves’ becomes the ending. We probably know that leaf becomes leaves and knife becomes knives. There are thirteen common words that follow this pattern. These words can be found in the books listed in my bibliography. Other words, ending in ‘f’, do not take ‘ves’ and this can cause confusion. For these words an ‘s’ is simply added; roof becomes roofs and belief becomes beliefs. It is best to create a list of the words that do end ‘ves’ and to learn them carefully.

If a word ends in ‘ff’ then ‘s’ can be added with confidence; Cuff becomes cuffs and puff becomes puffs.

Words ending in ‘y’

Some words ending in the letter ‘y’ follow the ‘ies’ rule in the plural. This means that the ‘y’ is changed to ‘ies’ ; Spy becomes spies and party becomes parties. There is a clear rule which governs such changes. If a word has a consonant before the final ‘y’ then the word takes the ‘ies’ plural form.

If a word ends in ‘y’, but has a vowel before the final ‘y’, then the plural is formed by simply adding ‘s’. Examples of such words include keys, toys, holidays and essays. This rule is very helpful to learn and it makes it easy to form the plural of any word ending in ‘y’.

Irregular Plurals

PluralsThere are some words which do not follow any of the rules above, because they are irregular. Some words, like deer and sheep, are the same in both the singular and plural forms. Other words are compounds, like son-in-law. Compounds add ‘s’ to the main word rather than the last word. Son-in-law becomes sons-in-law and maid-of-honour becomes maids-of-honour.

Words which come from other languages keep their original plural forms; some of these words end in ‘i’ for the plural form. Examples include radius which becomes radii and stimulus which becomes stimuli.

Finally, there are a few words such as tooth and teeth, child and children which do not seem to follow any particular pattern. Luckily many of these are very common words which we all know well.