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Singular and Plural Nouns in English Grammar

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One frog. Two eyes. Some water.

A noun is the name of a person, place or thing.

A singular noun refers to 1 only; a plural noun refers to 2 or more.

There are two things to note about singular and plural nouns. The first is that they change their form depending on whether they are singular or plural:

1 car

2 cars

In most cases this means adding an -s to a singular noun to make it plural. (See below for more details on this.)

The second point to note is to do with the verb‏‎ which goes with the noun. The subject of a sentence‏‎ (which is usually a noun) must agree with the verb which follows it. This means that if the subject is singular then the verb must be singular and if the subject is plural then the verb must be plural:

The car is in the garage.

The cars are in the garage.

For more on this, read the main article Subject-Verb Agreement‏‎.

Form

Most nouns in English are regular. To make them plural we simply add -s to the end:

singular plural
1 book 2 books
1 car 4 cars
1 house 8 houses

This covers by far the majority of nouns in English. However, for a full table of spellings for singular/plural nouns with exceptions, see: Spelling Singular-Plural Nouns.

Irregular Nouns

Some nouns have two very different words for the singular and the plural:

singular plural
1 tooth 2 teeth
1 goose 4 geese
1 foot 2 feet
1 child 6 children
1 ox 2 oxen
1 oasis 3 oases
1 axis 2 axes
1 man 2 men
1 woman 2 women
1 mouse 2 mice
1 medium 2 media

Teacher Tip: there are no useful rules to teach these words and there is little alternative to learn them individually.

Alternatively, some nouns are the same whether they are singular or plural:

singular plural
1 sheep 2 sheep
1 salmon 4 salmon
1 aircraft 8 aircraft

Finally, some nouns have alternative plurals.

singular plural
1 penny 2 pence/pennies
1 person 4 persons/people
1 fish 8 fish/fishes

These can have different meanings in different contexts. For example, we can say:

I went out fishing last weekend and in four hours caught just 2 tiny fish.

However, if we want to refer to different types of fish we might say:

These fishes live together even though some of the bigger fishes could easily eat the smaller ones.

Miscellaneous Nouns

Some nouns have a plural but no singular, for example:

clothes, contents, earnings, goods, riches, savings, thanks, troops

These nouns take a plural verb:

The contents are labeled on the jar.

His savings were wiped out in the crash.

Some nouns look plural but are, in fact, singular, for example:

athletics, gymnastics, mathematics, measles, news, politics

The verb is singular here:

His measles is spreading.

Politics is boring!

Some words can be either plural or singular, for example:

headquarters, means, works (= factory/workshop, etc.)

The verb can be either singular or plural; there is no real difference:

Their headquarters are situated in central London.

Their headquarters is situated in central London.

Meanwhile a collective noun is a group of nouns describing the same thing, for example:

army, Arsenal, audience, class, club, committee, company, crowd, gang, group, Microsoft, public, team, the BBC

We use singular verb if we think of the group as a whole:

Arsenal is playing well today.

Or plural if we are thinking of the individuals:

Arsenal are a mixed bunch of players.

Some groups, however, are always plural:

The police are coming!

The cattle are lowing.

When we have a noun phrase‏‎ of measurement‏‎, we use a singular verb:

Twenty kilos is the maximum weight for suitcases.

Six feet six inches is tall for a man.

But when we talk about a pair of things, we always use the plural, for example:

a pair of: glasses, jeans, scissors, trousers

My glasses are broken.

Your jeans are ripped.

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