The devil’s in the details. This old adage can be applied to everything from party planning to road trips, but it’s especially true when it comes to grammar. A misplaced comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence, and so can a missing ‘s.’ Grammar is a key part of communication, and the difference between singular and plural nouns is a key part of grammar.
A singular noun is a person, place or thing. It is singular because there is only one. Singular nouns cover a wide spectrum of entities -- you might be surprised to learn how different singular nouns are from one another. Some examples of singular nouns include: chair, table, leaf, branch, electrician, reader, doctor, ocean, car, mountain range, and city. Notice that a person such a doctor shares the label of 'singular noun' with a place or a thing, such as a city or a table.
Plural nouns share the same features with singular nouns, except for one crucial difference: while a singular noun indicates only one person, place or thing, a plural noun indicates two or more people, places or things. Take the list of singular nouns that we considered, for example. A list of plural nouns of the same kind would look like this: chairs, tables, leaves, branches, electricians, readers, doctors, oceans, cars, mountain ranges, and cities. The entities are the same as before -- there are just more of them.
Changing the Spelling
Nouns are usually spelled differently when they become plural. Often, an ‘s’ is added to the ending of the noun. For example: one chair becomes two chairs, one electrician becomes two electricians, and one ocean becomes two oceans. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, and we’ll go over some of them here. When the last letters of a singular noun are ‘ch,’ ‘sh,’ ‘s,’ or ‘z,’ you usually add ‘es’ to make the noun plural. For example: one branch becomes two branches. With singular nouns that end in ‘y,’ sometimes the ‘y’ becomes ‘i’ and you have to add ‘es.’ For example: one city becomes two cities. With singular nouns that end in ‘f,’ sometimes the ‘f’ becomes ‘v’ and you add ‘es.’ For example: one leaf becomes two leaves.
Breaking the Rules
If remembering those rules isn’t difficult enough, here’s something really tricky: sometimes none of the rules apply at all. Some singular nouns are spelled exactly the same as plural nouns, such as deer and fish. Other singular nouns are always plural, since there’s never just one of them, such as jeans or braces. And still other singular nouns are spelled completely differently when they become plural, such as when foot becomes feet and child becomes children.
Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.