By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
- distinguish between singular and plural forms of nouns.
- use the plural forms of irregular nouns.
- use nouns that name creatures that do not normally change in the plural.
- 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:
- We know that Akua is hardworking and studious. (The noun Akua names a person)
- You will always find her in the library studying. (The noun library names a place.)
- Akua has a positive attitude to learning. (The noun attitude names a thing.
- 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.
- All living things need air, water, and food. (Air, water, and food are non-count)
- 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,
- Kofi brought a pen to school.
- Ama ate an orange this morning.
- The pen on the table is mine.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- The community presented a sheep as a gift to the minister.
- The farmer will sell twenty-five sheep at the market today.
Here are other examples of nouns whose plural do not change
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.
- Kofi makes sure that his surroundings are kept clean.
- Because his surroundings are clean, he is always healthy.
Here are other examples of nouns that are never used in the singular.
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:
- The news is read by Beatrice Aidoo.
- Mathematics is my best subject.
- 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.
- The only means of getting there has been blocked. (Means is singular)
- Now there are no means of getting there. (Means is plural)
- Reading can be seen as a means to an end. (Means is singular)
- 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.
Observe how series and species have been used in the sentences below.
- This country has had a series of brilliant statesmen. (Series is singular)
- Describe the pattern of the three series of numbers. (Series is plural)
- The human species is the most intelligent. (species is singular)
- 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.
- Do you have a pair of scissors?
- Use the pair of pliers to cut the wire.
Other nouns that consist of two joined part are:
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:
- The people of Ghana are known as Ghanaians.
- 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:
- The young shall grow.
- The young have all before the
When ‘young’ is used to refer to animals, it means offspring. For example:
- He drove the bird and its young away.
- The bitch and its young have all been poisoned to death.
‘Police’ is always plural. For example:
- The police have not made any arrest yet.
- 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.
- Kofi Adu is Mr Joseph Adu‟s grandchild. (Grandchild is singular).
- Mr Joseph Adu has twenty grandchildren. (Grandchildren is plural).
The plural forms of other compound nouns written as one word are listed below.
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.
- My head of department is not in the office. (Head of department is singular)
- 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.
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.
- My father-in-law arrived this morning. (Father-in-law is singular).
- 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.
commander-in-chief commanders-in-chief o
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.
In this lesson, you have learnt that:
- a singular noun is always introduced by a determiner such as ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’, ‘my’,‘each’, ‘this’ and ‘that”.
- a number of nouns, including the names of some creatures, do not normally change in the plural (e.g., sheep, fish, and cattle).
- some nouns are never used in the singular (e.g., goods, clothes, and thanks ).
- 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).
John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.
Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.
Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.
William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.