Weird plurals: Latin and Greek origins, irregular plural noun forms [infographic]

By / Category: infographic, modifiers, vocabulary / Oct, 16th 2013 / Print Story

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Mouse to mice, goose to geese and child to children: an explanation and infographic will help to weed through English’s irregular plurals.

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Download high resolution poster here.

What are Irregular Plurals?

English grammar generally pluralizes a word by tacking -s or -es onto the end of it, but there are plenty of words that buck this; some noun plurals look extremely different from the singular.

Latin and Greek Origins

Irregular plurals of noun difficulties can be partly blamed on English’s habit of importing from other languages. Two that are extensively borrowed from are Latin and Greek. Here are some words of Latin or Greek origin with their strange plurals (some have additional plurals, but these are the most irregular). You may recognize some by the plural rather than the singular, such as “algae” and “bacteria.”

Phenomenon, phenomena

Focus, foci

Bacterium, bacteria

Cactus, cacti

Fungus, fungi

Medium, media

Stimulus, stimuli

Larva, larvae

Nucleus, nuclei

Hippopotamus, hippopotami

Vertebra, vertebrae

Alga, algae

Radius, radii

As always, when unsure, grab a dictionary. For a word that offers more than one choice for its plural, pick one and stick to it for consistency.

 

-ies

When words end in a consonant and a -y, such as pony and city, plurals remove the -y and add -ies.

Family, families

Lady, ladies

Copy, copies

Canary, canaries

Penny, pennies

Cherry, cherries

Poppy, poppies

Pony, ponies

Baby, babies

Spy, spies

Party, parties

Try, tries

City, cities

 

-Ves

Nouns ending in -f (and -f with a silent -e) lose their -f (-fe) and gain -ves.

 

Calf, calves

Life, lives

Leaf, leaves

Elf, elves

Dwarf, dwarves

Knife, knives

Wife, wives

Hoof, hooves

Wolf, wolves

Beef, beeves

Roof, rooves

Thief, thieves

Half, halves

Loaf, loaves

 

Identical Plurals

This finicky language even has some words that are identical in plural and singular forms. These unchanging nouns come in all shapes and sizes, with various reasons for their nature and various names for their types, but the aspect that lumps them together is that none change in their simplest plural form.

 

Sheep

Offspring

Trout

Moose

Shrimp

Deer

Gold, silver, etc.

Salmon

Wheat

Fish

Bison

 

Nouns that end with -ese do not generally change:

Chinese

Viennese

Japanese

Lebanese

Portuguese

Vietnamese

Maltese

 

Other nouns are already plural in their singular form:

Glasses: folks wear “a pair of glasses,” though a man could once wear only one.

Scissors: “Do not run with a pair of scissors.”

Pants/shorts: again, a “pair” of pants/shorts. One must wonder what a singular pant would look like.

 

-En and Vowel Swaps

Some plurals add -en to the end and some change the vowels in the center of the word. There are also variations.

 

Man, men

Ox, oxen

Woman, women

Child, children

Foot, feet

Goose, geese

Tooth, teeth

Compound Nouns

In hyphenated or spaced compound nouns, pluralize the root noun instead of the entire word.

Mothers-in-law

Runners-up

Attorneys at law

 

New Word

Sometimes, the noun is almost unrecognizable in its plural form.

Person, people

Mouse, mice

Die, dice

Louse, lice

 

English is a confetti of exceptions, and plenty of words trash the rules. Can you list some other ruler-benders or rule-breakers?

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