English Grammar: Nouns
Gender of Nouns
When a Noun denotes a single object, it is said to be Singular
or of the Singular Number: man, sun.
When a Noun denotes more than one object of the kind, it is said
to be Plural or of the Plural Number: men,
Obs. Number is thus the grammatical distinction between
nouns or names of things, corresponding to the natural distinction
of one or more than one in the things themselves (unity and
plurality). In Old. English. a Dual Number is found in the case of
the 1st and 2nd Personal Pronouns.
The Plural of Nouns is formed from the Singular. In the oldest
form of the English language, several plural endings existed. Of
these one only remains in active force in modern English, namely
the ending s or es. Hence when a new word arises,
we at once, and as a matter of course, form its plural in this
way: telegram, telegrams.
Regular Plurals in es, s. When the s sound can be
conveniently attached without making an additional syllable, s
only is used: boy, boy-s; girl, girl-s ; lion, lion-s;
elephant, elephant-s; Caesar, the Caesar-s; Pitt, the Pitt-s.
But when the s sound cannot be conveniently
(euphoniously) attached without making an additional syllable, es
is used: as, fox, fox-es; church, church-es. This is the
case when the noun already ends in a sound of s; viz. s,
sh, ch, x, z : gas, gas-es; summons, summons-es;
lass, lass-es; fish, fish-es; birch, birch-es; box, box-es;
topaz, topaz-es; .Fitz, the Fitz-es.
When ch is sounded as k, s only is added: as monarch,
monarch-s. The sound of th is softened before s;
mouth, mouths; path, paths. Also s is
softened in house, houses.
NOTE.-Convenience and ease of articulation are in grammar eluded
under the term euphony. Any change in a word made for greater
ease of articulation is said to be made for the sake of euphony.
Obs. To the above add many nouns in o: potato,
potato-es and one in i alkali, alkali-es. The
following lists of nouns in o may be useful :-
o with plural oes
* i.e, persons voting " No " as opposed to "Aye."
o with plural os :-
It will be observed that those which take a plural in -os
are mostly foreign words imperfectly naturalised. A few fluctuate
in the spelling of their plurals: calico, innuendo, mosquito,
mulatto, portico (os and oes), etc.
Nouns in f, fe, and if
These as a general rule change the f into v
before the plural ending: leaf, leaves; wife, wives; wolf,
But nouns in ief, oof, ff, rf, usually take simple s:
brief, briefs; chief, chiefs; grief, griefs;
hoof, hoofs; roof, roofs; proof, proofs;
cliff, cliffs; skiff, skiffs; whiff, whiffs;
dwarf, dwarfs; scarf, scarfs; turf, turfs.
Staff however makes staves ; and wharf, scarf,
turf, sometimes take a plural in -ves (wharves,
scarves, turves). Thief makes thieves ; fife,
fifes ; and strife, strifes
Nouns in y.
Final y not immediately preceded by a vowel is changed
into ies: lady, ladies. .
But when a vowel immediately precedes, the y remains
unchanged: boy, boys; day, days; chimney, chimneys; attorney,
attorneys. Nouns ending in -quy take ies: soliloquy,
soliloquies. Proper names in y do not usually
change the y: the three Marys (but also Maries).
So also guy makes guys.
Obs. Such spellings as chimnies, attornies, although
frequently used, are accordingly to be avoided
A few remains of other plurals exists:
1 Inflexion by change in the body of the word:
man, men; woman, women; foot, feet; goose, geese; tooth, teeth;
louse, lice; mouse, mice.
2 Plurals in n or en:
ox, oxen; eye, eyen (=eyes, Spencer, Shakspeare) shoe, shoon
(=shoes; Sir Walter Scott.) brother, brethern (where there is
internal changes besides) child, children (Old English, childer)
To these may be added:
cow, kine (=cows); hose, hosen.
Swine is not a plural form, the plural of sow is sows.
3 The plural the same as the singular; in some cases owing to the
loss of final vowel or other sign of the plural distinction:
sheep, sheep; deer, deer; swine, swine.
Obs. 1. The words deer, sheep, swine, are without sign of
plural in the oldest form of English also, but they retain it
in Modern German.
Obs. 2. The names of most fishes and of some birds are used
in the singular collectively, as: to fish for trout, salmon,
mackerel; to shoot grouse, snipe, wild-duck.
In the same way are used the nouns: head, brace, dozen, pair,
couple, yoke, score, hundred, etc., as: so many head of deer;
twenty brace of partridges; a dozen pair of gloves, twelve
yoke of oxen; and in speaking of ships, sail, as: ten sail of
the line. Also cannon, shot, as: they captured thirty cannon;
the Germans began to fire red-hot shot into the citadel. Shots
only of number of times of shooting.
Obs. 3. In such expressions as 100,000 foot, 10,000 horse,
the noun soldiers is omitted for brevity.
Obs. 4. Some difficulty is presented by a few compound words,
the elements of which have not perfectly coalesced. When the
latter element is an Adjective, qualifying a preceding Noun,
the plural sign is usually attached the the noun: as:
court-martial, courts-martial; knight-errant, knights-errant;
Court-martials, only of different sittings of a court-martial.
When two titles are united, the last now usually takes the
plural, as: major-generals; a few old expressions sometimes
occur in which both words, following the French idiom, take
the plural, as: knights-templars, lords-lieutenants,
The following double forms are used with a difference of
brother: brothers, children of the same parent; bretheren (old
form), now used in figurative sense; members of a society.
die : dies, for stamping; dice, for play.
penny: pennies, the coins so called; pence, of sums of money.
genius: geniuses, highly gifted men; genii, supernatural
index: indexes, to a book; indices, in algebra.
pea (a late word), peas, separate seeds ; pease, collective.
s is part of the root: Latin pisum.]
Nouns used only in the singular:
Some nouns, owing to the nature of their meaning, are used
only in the singular number. Such are the names of materials
or substances: as, wine water, oxygen, gold, silver; and of
qualities : as, bravery, hardness, wit, humour. When such
nouns take a plural, it is in a different sense from the
singular ; for example :
1. Denoting different sorts of the same thing: thus the nouns
wine, brandy, sugar, marble, have no plural as denoting the
substances or things so called; but we may speak of wines,
brandies, sugars, marbles, in the sense of different sorts of
wine, brandy, etc.
2. Names of qualities may be used in the plural to denote
repeated instances of any particular quality, good or bad:
thus negligences (Common Prayer) denotes instances of
negligence; beauties, points or features of beauty;
animosities, hostile feelings etc.
Nouns used only in the Plural.
Other nouns exist only in the plural, the things themselves
having a kind of plurality about them:
1. Names of many common instruments which have two parts
forming a kind of pair: bellows, scissors, pincers, shears,
2. Names of certain articles of dress formed in a similar
manner: trousers, drawers, breeches.
3. Names of diseases and ailments, showing themselves by many
marks or symptoms: measles, mumps, staggers (in animals).
4. Names of games: billiards, draughts, fives, &c.
5. Others are miscellaneous: Commons (House of), obsequies,
nuptials; matins, vespers; proceeds (of a sale) ; thanks;
dumps; (high) jinks, &c.
Doubtful.-A few nouns hang in suspense between
singular and plural:
Alms : properly singular; the S being part of the
original word (0. E. aelmesse, " who asked an alms," Acts ii.
3 ; " much alms." Now perhaps oftener plural.
Amends: really a plural; but also used as a sin-gular
( = French amende) :- " To make an amends." (Percy An.)
Eaves: really singular (0. E. efese but often
used as plural.
Means: in sense of manner, expedient: strictly plural;
but also used as singular: " A means to do the prince my
master good." (Shaks. Winter's Tale, iv. 3.) Especially in the
phrases " by this means;" " a means to an end " (in common
use). But the word can be used as plural when it denotes a
number of acts or expedients :-' Thou hast shown me (the means
of revenge, and be assured I will embrace them," (Ivanhoe, ch.
xxvii.) The singular mean is also used.
News (originally Genitive : hwaet niwes = quid novi
Oliphant, p. 17): once used either as singular or plural.:-"
This news hath made thee a most ugly man." (Shakspeare, K.
John, iii. 1.) " Ten days ago I drowned these news in tears."
(Id. Henry VI. Part III. ii. 1.) Now always singular :-" ill
news flies apace." (Proverb.) " The latest news is. . . "
Pains: in sense of effort, labour : strictly plural,
but used rather as a collective singular; thus we now say,
much pains, great pains, a great deal of pains. But the plural
also occurs: " Your pains are registered . . .." (Shaks.
Macbeth, i. 3.)
Riches : properly singular, the s being part of the
original word (Fr. richesse):
"Riches fineless [endless] is as poor as winter
To him that ever fears he shall be poor." (Shaks. Othello,
iii. 3.) Now always plural: " Riches are not for ever." (Prov.
xxvii, 24.) " Riches make themselves wings." (Ib.'xxiii. 5.)
Tidings: plural, but in older writers used also as
singular: " To bring this tidings to the ... king." (Shaks.
Rich. III. iv. 3.)
Wages: strictly plural, but formerly used as singular:
" He earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." (Hay. i.
6.) The singular wage is also used.
Obs. The names of certain sciences derived from Greek are
plural in form in English as in Greek, but now commonly
treated as singular: physics, metaphysics, dynamics,
mechanics, hydraulics, hydrostatics, pneumatics:-
" Mathematics becomes the instrument of Astronomy and
Physics." (Lewes.) " Mechanics is the science in which are
investigated the actions of bodies on one another." (Nat.
Cycl.) But some of these, especially mathematics, metaphysics,
physics, are also treated as plural:-'' His [Plato's]
metaphysics are of a nature to frighten away all but the most
determined students." (Lewes.)
" The mathematics lead us to lay out of account all that is
not proved." (Sir W. Hamilton, Essays.)
It is easy to see that in the last example but one, the
plural is required; but only a mature judgment can decide
whether in each case that occurs the singular or the plural is
A number of nouns 'borrowed from foreign languages without
change, retain their proper plurals. The following are of
frequent occurrence :
stratum (L.) strata
cherubim (also cherubs)
banditti (Ital.) (bandits)
Obs. 1. All such words must be regarded as imperfectly
naturalized, since they still follow the laws of the languages
from which they are derived.
Obs. 2 Some foreign words in use exist in the plural only:
e.g. literati (Lat.), aborigines (Lat.), antipodes (Gr.),
landes (Fr.), i.e. sandy plains ; agenda (Lat.), i.e. business
to be transacted; ephemera, creatures of a day; minutiae,
small niceties (of criticism).
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