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  English 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: men, suns.

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

Singular.

Plural.

buffalo
calico
cargo
domino
echo
flamingo
hero
magnifico
manifesto
mosquito
motto
mulatto
negro
no
potato
tomato
tornado
volcano

buffaloes
calicoes
cargoes
dominoes
echoes
flamingoes
heroes
magnificoes
manifestoes
mosquitoes
mottoes
mulattoes
negroes
noes*
potatoes
tomatoes
tornadoes
volcanoes

* i.e, persons voting " No " as opposed to "Aye."

o with plural os :-

Singular.

Plural.

bravo          
canto          
cento          
duodecimo     
embryo        
grotto         
octavo         
portico         
quarto
rondo
solo
stiletto
tyro
virtuoso
folio
nuncio
oratorio
portfolio 

bravos
cantos
centos
duodecimos
embryos
grottos
octavos
porticos
quartos
rondos
solos
stilettos
tyros
virtuosos (-i)
folios    (io)
nuncios  (io)
oratorios (io)
portfolios (io) 

 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, wolves.

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; ----   States-General.
    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, lords-justices.

    Double Plurals.

    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, supernatural beings.
    index: indexes, to a book; indices, in algebra.
    pea (a late word), peas, separate seeds ; pease, collective. [The
    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, 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 (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 more proper.

    APPENDIX.

    A number of nouns 'borrowed from foreign languages without change, retain their proper plurals. The following are of frequent occurrence :

    Singular.

    Plural.

    formula (L.)
    larva (L.)
    nebula (L.)
    focus (L.)
    genius (L.)
    magus (L.)
    radius (L.)
    terminus (L.)
    tumulus (L.)
    addendum (L.)
    animalculum (L.)
    datum (L.)
    desideratum (L.)
    dictum (L.)
    effluvium (L.)
    erratum (L.)
    memorandum (L.)
    stratum (L.) strata
    automaton (Gr.)
    phenomenon (Gr.)
    genus (L.)
    axis (L.)
    ellipsis (G.)
    metamorphosis (Gr.)
    parenthesis (Gr.)
    index (L.)
    vertex (L.)
    appendix (L.)
    cherub (Hebr.)
    seraph (Hebr.)
    bandit
    beau (Fr.)  
    bureau  
    flambeau (Fr.)
    savant (Fr.) 

    formulae
    larvae
    nebulae
    foci
    genii see also
    magi
    radii
    termini
    tumuli
    addenda
    animalcula
    data
    desiderata
    dicta
    effluvia
    errata
    memoranda
    strata
    automata
    phenomena
    genera
    axes
    ellipses
    metamorphoses
    parentheses
    indices see also
    vertices
    appendices
    cherubim (also cherubs)
    seraphim (seraphs)
    banditti (Ital.) (bandits)
    beaux
    bureaux
    flambeaux
    savants. 

     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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