Grammar: Nouns Number
Video: 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:
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
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,
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,
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;
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
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,
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,
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
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; ---- States-General.
Court-martials, only of different sittings of a
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, lords-justices.
The following double forms are used with a difference
of meaning :
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,
index: indexes, to a book; indices, in algebra.
pea (a late word), peas, separate seeds ; pease,
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
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, tongs, spectacles.
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
4. Names of games: billiards, draughts, fives,
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
Amends: really a plural; but also used as a
sin-gular ( = French amende) :- " To make an amends."
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,
" 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
" 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 more proper.
A number of nouns 'borrowed from foreign languages
without change, retain their proper plurals. The
following are of frequent occurrence :
stratum (L.) strata
genii see also
indices see also
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
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