Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. distinguish  between singular  and plural  forms of nouns. 
  2. use the plural forms of irregular  nouns.
  3. use nouns that name creatures that do not normally  change in the plural.
  4. use nouns that always appear in the plural form.

What is a singular noun?

A singular noun names one person, one place, one thing, or one idea. For example:

  1. We know that Akua is hardworking and studious. (The noun Akua names a person)
  2. You will always find her in the library studying. (The noun library names a place.) 
  3. Akua has a positive attitude to learning. (The noun attitude names a thing.
  4. Her philosophy is “education is life”. (The noun philosophy names an idea.)

All  the  nouns  underlined  in  the  examples  above  are  singular.  They  are  all count  nouns. Most  count  nouns  have  two  forms: the  singular  form and  the  plural form.  The  singular form of a  count  noun  denotes  one item of the kind.  But remember that most non-count nouns (e.g.  air,  water,  food,  rice,  happiness,  sadness) are singular in form. They usually do  not  occur  with  the  plural marker  ‘-s’.  So,  there  are  two  main categories of singular nouns: singular count nouns and non-count nouns.

Here are a couple of examples of non-count nouns in the singular  form.

  1.  All living things need airwater, and food. (Air, water, and food are non-count)
  2. Happiness and  sadness are choices one can make. (Happiness and sadness are non-count)

Therefore,  a singular noun is either a non-count noun (e.g. rice, water, happiness) or one of a count noun (e.g. table, man, Accra, Asare).

How do we use singular nouns?

A  singular  noun  is  always  introduced  by  a  determiner  such  as  ‘a’,  ‘an’,  ‘the’,  ‘each’, ‘this’, ‘that’ etc.  For example,

  1.  Kofi brought a pen to school.
  2. Ama ate an orange this morning.
  3. The pen on the table is mine.
  4. I know that I will pass this quiz.

Each  of the  singular  count  nouns  in  the  examples  above  is  introduced  by  a  determiner. Thus, the correct thing  to say is:

a pen               an orange                   the table          this quiz

Remember that the nouns pen, orange, table, and quiz are all singular  and countable.

Let us learn about plural nouns

  1. Many nouns have both singular and plural forms. A plural noun refers to two or more of a count noun.   Of the two classes of nouns, count and non-count, it is only count nouns  that  can normally be made plural because they are those that can be counted. For example, We talk of „many goats‟, „a number of cars‟, and „fifty students‟, because goats, cars, and students are count nouns.
  2. Some count nouns form their plural by adding ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the singular form. These count  nouns are called  regular nouns because they form their plural in a regular way. In other words,  the usual or regular way to  form the plural of singular count nouns in English  is  by  adding ‘-s’ or ‘-es’ to  the singular form.  But even for this category of nouns, some rules will have to be followed  in forming  their plurals.
  3. There  are  those  that  do  not  form their plural by adding ‘-s’ or ‘-es’ to  the singular form.  They are called  irregular nouns  because  they do  form their plural in an irregular way.

How do we use plural nouns?

  1.  A number of nouns,  including the names of some creatures, do not normally change in the plural. For example, the plural form of sheep is still sheep. Observe the use of the noun sheep in the sentences  below.
  1. The community presented a sheep as a gift to the minister. 
  2. The farmer will sell twenty-five sheep at the market today.

Here are other examples of nouns whose plural do not change

Singular         Plural 

aircraft           aircraft

cattle               cattle

cod                  cod

deer                 deer

fish                  fish

mackerel         mackerel

moose             moose

offspring         offspring

salmon            salmon

species            species

swine               swine

trout                trout

2.   Some nouns are never used in the singular. For example, the singular form of the noun surroundings is never used. Observe how the noun surroundings has been used in the sentences below.

  1. Kofi makes sure that his surroundings are kept clean.
  2. Because his surroundings are clean, he is always healthy.

Here are other examples of nouns that are never used in the singular.

arms (weapons)belongingsclothescongratulations
goodsremainsthanks

3.   Some nouns end in ‘-s’ but are singular in meaning. These include news, politics, and

Mathematics.  Let us use these singular  nouns in sentences:

  1. The news is read by Beatrice Aidoo.
  2. Mathematics is my best subject.
  3. Is politics a dirty game?

Therefore,  although each of these nouns is  plural in form, it is singular in meaning and requires a singular  form of the verb.

4.   Some nouns have  ‘-s’ in both singular and  plural.  For example,  the noun means may be used as singular and may also be used as plural. Observe the use of the noun means in the sentences below.

  1. The only means of getting there has been blocked. (Means is singular)
  2. Now there are no means of getting there. (Means is plural)
  3. Reading can be seen as a means to an end. (Means is singular)
  4. Reading is one of the means of getting information. (Means is plural)

You  notice  that  both  the  singular  and  the  plural  forms  of  means  end  in  ‘-s’.  But usually,  there  is  something  contained  in  the sentence that helps you (the audience) to know  whether  the  noun  means  should  be  interpreted  as  singular  or  as  plural.  For instance, in Sentence (i), above, the singular verb has tells you that the noun means is singular.  In the same vein,  the plural verb are in Sentence (ii) tells you that the noun means is plural.

Here are other examples of nouns that have ‘-s’ in both singular and plural.

Singular         Plural

 series              series

species            species

 statistics         statistics

Observe how series and species have been used in the sentences below.

  1. This country has had a series of brilliant statesmen. (Series is singular)
  2. Describe the pattern of the three series of numbers. (Series is plural)
  3. The human species is the most intelligent. (species is singular)
  4. There are various species of living things. (species is plural)

5.   Certain nouns name things that are made in two parts. These nouns are always used in the plural form.  They are mostly instruments or items of clothing that consist of joined parts. They include the following:

scissors            pliers               tongs               pincers             cutters          tweezers          nippers            binoculars        slacks

Remember that because these nouns consist of two joined part, they are introduced by the expression a pair of. So we say a pair of scissors and a pair of pliers. Try to use a few of these nouns in sentences as done below.

  1. Do you have a pair of scissors?
  2. Use the pair of pliers to cut the wire.

Other nouns that consist of two joined part are:

braceseyeglassesspectaclestrousersboxers
shorts
shoes
knickers
sandals
pants
slippers
sneakerssocks

6.   Some nouns are called special plurals because, although they do not have the plural marker ‘-s’, they are always used as plural. These include people, young, police, youth. For example:

  1. The people of Ghana are known as Ghanaians.
  2. Most people in Ghana are naturally  friendly.

‘People’ as used in the examples above is plural. So, ‘people’ is a special plural; it is never used  as singular.  It is a plural noun.  There are a few other special plural nouns that you need to know about. These include  the nouns ‘young’ and ‘police’.

Young’  is  usually  plural,  and  does  not  take  the  plural  marker‘-s’.  When  it  is introduced  by the definite article  in a phrase such as,  the young,  it means young people.  For example:

  1. The young shall grow.
  2. The young have all before the

When ‘young’  is used to refer to animals,  it means offspring. For example:

  1. He drove the bird and its young away.
  2. The bitch and its young have all been poisoned to death.

‘Police’ is always plural.   For example:

  1. The police have not made any arrest yet.
  2. Extra police are needed to put down the revolt.

Remember that an individual member of the police is called  a policeman  or policewoman.

7.   The  plural of compound  nouns that are written as one word  are formed  by changing the last word  in the compound to its correct plural form. For example, the plural form of grandchild is grandchildren. Use these in sentences.

  1. Kofi Adu is Mr Joseph Adu‟s  grandchild. (Grandchild  is singular).
  2. Mr Joseph Adu has twenty grandchildren(Grandchildren is plural).

The plural forms of other compound nouns  written as one word are listed  below.

Singular                      Plural 

headmaster                  headmasters

 bottleneck                    bottlenecks

 sidewalk                      sidewalks

 hotplate                        hotplates

8.   The  plural  of  compound  nouns  that  are  written  as  separate  words  are  formed  by changing  the  most  important  word  of the  compound  noun  to  its  correct plural form. For example,  the plural of head  of department  is heads of department. Again, use these in sentences.

  1. My head of department is not in the office. (Head of department is singular)
  2. The heads of department are in a meeting. (Heads of department is plural)

The plural forms of other compound nouns written as separate words are listed  below.

Singular                                  Plural

head teacher                           head teachers

swimming pool                       swimming pools

centre table                             centre tables

rule of thumb                          rules of thumb

head of school                        heads of school

9.   The  plural of compound  nouns that are hyphenated  are formed  by changing the most important  word  of  the  compound  noun  to  its  correct  plural form.  For  example,  the plural of father-in-law  is fathers-in-law.  Observe how father-in-law and fathers-in- law have been used in the sentences below.

  1. My father-in-law arrived this morning. (Father-in-law is singular).
  2. His two fathers-in-law are meeting today. (Fathers-in-law is plural).

The plural of other compound  nouns written  as hyphenated  words are listed  below.

Singular                                 Plural

governor-general                   governors-general

inspector-general                   inspectors-general

secretary-general                   secretaries-general

attorney-general                     attorneys-general

commander-in-chief               commanders-in-chief o

fficer-in-charge                     officers-in-charge

minister-in-charge                  ministers-in-charge

10. A  lot  of  English  words  were  borrowed  from  languages  such  as  Latin  and  Greek.

Among those words are nouns which form their plurals in much the same way as it is done  in those languages.  For example the plural form of stadium is stadia; the plural form  of  datum  is  data;  the  plural  form  of  agendum  is  agenda.  These  and  other irregular  ways  of  forming  the  plural in  English  will be  treated  in  our  next  Grammar lesson.

Summary

In this lesson, you have learnt that:

  1. a singular noun is always introduced by a determiner such as ‘a’, ‘an’‘the’, ‘my’,each’, ‘this’ and ‘that”.
  2.  a number of nouns, including the names of some creatures, do not normally change in the plural (e.g., sheep, fish, and cattle).
  3. some nouns are never used in the singular  (e.g., goods, clothes, and thanks ).
  4. some nouns are called  special plurals because although they do not have the plural marker ‘-s’, they are always used as plural (e.g. people, young, and police).

CONTENT CONSULTANTS

Author

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

Peer Reviewers

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D. 

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

 William  Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.