What Are Plural Nouns in Grammar?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Group of Swaledale sheep in a field in North Yorkshire.
The plural form of the noun "sheep" is also "sheep". Photos by R A Kearton / Getty Images

The plural (PLUR-el) is the form of a noun that typically denotes more than one person, thing, or instance. Contrast with singular.

Although the English plural is commonly formed with the suffix -s or -es, the plural of some nouns (such as sheep) is identical in form to the singular (see zero plural), while some other nouns (such as dust) have no plural form.


From the Latin, "more"

Examples and Observations

Unusual Plurals

"[P]hysics, mathematics, economics, linguistics, and hydraulics are all words that are singular in sense and are construed as singular, despite their form. They do not have plurals. Politics and ethics, by contrast, are construed as plural but do not readily admit a singular form. Arithmetic and logic are singular in sense and form, but do not readily accept a plural. . . .Pants, trousers, breeches, scissors, shears, bellows, spectacles, and glasses are all plural in form, and they need a plural verb: These trousers are too small; these scissors are blunt. The curiosity is that we often re-double the plural character of the things by referring to a pair of pants, scissors, etc. Yet the semantically identical two scissors, two bellows would be absurd." (Julian Burnside, Word Watching. Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004)
"As a general rule, game or other animals often take the same form for the singular and plural: one elk, six elk (*elks). This is more often the case in a hunting/sporting context: She hunts lion in Africa each year. In another context, the -s plural is more likely to be used: She saw three lions at the zoo. Here are some other interesting examples of nouns that have identical singular and plural forms:
three aircraft (spacecraft, hovercraft, etc.)
six head of cattle
Look up aircraft and head (as in of cattle) in a dictionary to see what they say about the origins of these words and the likely reasons for their forms. Also, what's the plural of a computer mouse?"
(Anne Lobeck and Kristin Denham, Navigating English Grammar: A Guide to Analyzing Real Language. Wiley Blackwell, 2014)
"Now, y'all is plural. Believe me, I use the word a lot." (Nick Stokes in "Fannysmackin'." CSI, 2006)

Multiple Plurals

"The two champions for variations in plurals are octopus and rhinoceros. The two most obvious plurals of octopus are octopuses and (incorrectly since the root is Greek, not Latin) octopi. The proper Greek plural is octopodes--so three possible plurals for octopus. Similarly for rhinoceros, we have rhinoceroses, rhinoceri (incorrectly), rhinoceros (presumably pronounced differently from the singular) and (an obsolete but correct form) rhinocerotes. In fact, rhinoceros is the English word with the most possible plural forms: four in all.
Even more confusingly, one word may be the plural form of two different singular words. So bases means more than one of both base and basis, and ellipses can refer to both ellipse and ellipsis. The winner in this category is axes, which is the plural of ax, axe and axis." (Richard Watson Todd, Much Ado About English: Up and Down the Bizarre Byways of a Fascinating Language. Nicholas Brealey, 2006)

Irregular Plurals and Double Plurals

"In his song One Hippopotami, the comedian Alan Sherman sang, 'The plural of "half" is "whole"; the plural of "two minks" is "one mink stole."' It is an astute observation. The linguist Peter Tiersma has found that whenever a set of objects can easily be construed as a single assemblage, a regular plural is in danger of congealing into a mass noun or an irregular plural. This is happening today to the noun data, which often refers to large quantities of information and which is easily conceived of as stuff rather than things; the word is turning from a plural (many data) to a mass noun (much data). . . .Nonstandard dialects are filled with double plurals such as oxens, dices, lices, and feets, and that is how we got the strangest plural in Standard English, children. Once it was childer, with the old plural suffix -er also seen in the German equivalent Kinder. But people stopped hearing it as a plural, and when they had to refer to more than one child, they added a second plural marker, -en. Today many rural and foreign speakers still don't think of children as plural, and have added a third suffix, yielding the triply plural childrens." (Steven Pinker, Words and Rules, Basic Books, 1999)

The Lighter Side of Plurals

"I think sometimes the word overseas is pluralized unnecessarily. The way I look at it, New York to London is 'oversea.' After all, there's only one sea in between them." (George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? Hyperion, 2004)
A second grader came home from school and said to her grandmother, "Grandma, guess what? We learned how to make babies today."
The grandmother, more than a little surprised, tried to keep her cool. "That's interesting." she said. "How do you make babies?"
"It's simple," the girl replied. "You just change y to i and add es."

The English Lesson (author unknown)

Now if mouse in the plural should be, and is, mice,

Then house in the plural, of course, should be hice,

And grouse should be grice and spouse should be spice

And by the same token should blouse become blice.

And consider the goose with its plural of geese;

Then a double caboose should be called a cabeese,

And noose should be neese and moose should be meese

And if mama's papoose should be twins, it's papeese.

Then if one thing is that, while some more is called those,

Then more than one hat, I assume, would be hose,

And gnat would be gnose and pat would be pose,

And likewise the plural of rat would be rose.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Plural Nouns in Grammar?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/plural-grammar-1691638. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What Are Plural Nouns in Grammar? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/plural-grammar-1691638 Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Plural Nouns in Grammar?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/plural-grammar-1691638 (accessed May 31, 2023).