writers.com tips:


Irregular Plurals
Ten Tips for Better Spelling

Irregular Plurals

English spelling "rules" are bunk. No matter what rule you come up with there are always exceptions. Most English plurals end in "s" or "es" -- but not all. The exception to the rule are called *irregular plurals*. Of course, there are exceptions to the exceptions, too.

*Singular noun ends in -f, or -fe: Change the -f or -fe to -v and add -es as in:
- calf-calves
- elf-elves
- half-halves
- hoof-hooves
- knife-knives
- leaf-leaves
- life-lives
- loaf-loaves
- shelf-shelves
- thief-thieves
- wife-wives
- wolf-wolves

*Some words, however, may take both forms such as:
- scarf-scarfs or scarves
- wharf-wharfs or wharves
- dwarf-dwarfs or dwarves
- kerchief-kerchiefs or kerchieves

*In cases where both endings can be used, the -ves ending is usually the more formal one.

*But, there are exceptions:
- belief-beliefs
- brief-briefs
- cuff-cuffs
- plaintiff-plaintiffs
- reef-reefs
- safe-safes (place for valuables)(
- sheriff-sheriffs
- whiff-whiffs
- chief-chiefs
- fife-fifes
- roof -- plural is now only spelled roofs was once spelled rooves

*Singular (from Latin and Greek) ends in -is: Plural ends in -es
- analysis-analyses
- axis-axes (yes, axes is also the plural of ax or axe)
- basis-bases
- crisis-crises
- ellipsis-ellipses
- hypothesis-hypotheses
- parenthesis-parentheses
- synopsis-synopses
- thesis-theses

*This singular (from Latin) ends in -um. The plural should end in -a as in:
- datum-data (although few people use datum)

*But these nouns, although originally pluralized with an -a, are now acceptable either way:
- agenda-agendum or agendas
- curriculum-curricula or curriculums
- memorandum-memorandums or memoranda
- referendum-referendums or referenda
- stadiums-stadiums or stadia
- millennium-millennia or millenniums

*Singular (from Greek) ends in -on: Plural ends in -a
- criterion-criteria
- phenomenon-phenomena

*Singular (from Latin) ends in -a: Plural ends in -ae
- alumna-alumnae
- antenna-antennae (although antennas is usually used for apparatus used for sending or receiving electromagnetic waves)
- formula-formulae (although formulas is commonly used)

*Singular (from Latin) ends in -ex or -ix: Plural ends in -ices
- appendix-appendices
- index-indices

*Singular (from Latin) ends in -us: Plural ends in -i
- succubus-succubi
- nucleus-nuclei
- syllabus-syllabi
- radius-radii
- alumnus-alumni
- bacillus, bacilli
- exception: virus-viruses

*Singular ends in -us: Plural ends in -a
- corpus-corpora
- genus-genera

*Singular (from Greek or Latin) ends in -us: Plural ends in -i
- focus-foci
- stimulus-stimuli
- cactus-cacti
- nucleus-nuclei
- octopus-octopi
- hippopotamus-hippopotami
(-es forms of all these plurals seem to be taking hold, though)
- exception: apparatus can be singular or plural although apparatuses is creeping into proper usage.

*A few words, from French, ending in -eau add an -x for plural
- bureau-bureaux (largely supplanted by bureaus)
- beau-beaux
- eau-de-vie-eaux de vie
- eau de cologne-eaux de cologne

*Nouns that have only a plural form and so take a plural verb. (These are all things that come in pairs.)
- glasses (spectacles)
- scissors
- binoculars
- forceps
- tongs
- tweezers
(These are singular items of clothing, but are referred to as pairs)
- jeans
- pants
- pajamas
- shorts
- trousers

*Nouns that end in -s but have no singular (aggregate nouns)
- accommodations
- amends
- archives
- arms (weapons)
- bowels
- brains (intellect)
- clothes
- communications
- congratulations
- contents
- corps
- goods
- intestines
- measles
- mews
- stairs
- species
- thanks

*Nouns that are plural but do not end in -s
- cattle
- people
- police
- women
- teeth
- mice
- geese
- lice
- oxen
- children
- brethren (fellow member)

*Some words remain in the same form regardless of number
- baggage
- bison
- swine
- clothing
- equipment
- furniture
- deer
- hair
- information
- luggage
- sheep
- fish (sometimes)
- means
- moose
- grouse
- roe
- salmon
- chamois
- pince-nez
- species

Ten Tips for Better Spelling
  1. "'I' before 'e,' except after 'c' or when sounded like 'ay' as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'."

    These words are examples that follow the rule:
    * IE words (i before e): believe, field, relief
    * CEI words (except after c): ceiling, deceit, receive
    * EI (sounds like "ay") words: freight, reign, sleigh
    * Some exceptions: either, foreign, height, leisure, protein, weird.

    Words with "cien" such as ancient, efficient, and science, are further
    exceptions to the rule.

  2. "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." In other words:
    when there are two vowels in a row, the first has a long sound and the second is silent as in rain, meat, wait, bean, boat, etc. (As always, there are exceptions like bear

  3. "Silent 'e' helps a vowel say its name." When a word ends with a vowel followed by a consonant and then silent "e," the vowel has a long sound. Add an "e" and
    rat becomes rate
    mop becomes mope
    can becomes cane
    dud becomes dude, etc.

  4. Learn the basic rules for spelling with plural nouns so that you know whether to use -s or -es and how to make plurals of nouns that end in y or f. The *basics* are:

    The plural form of most nouns is created by adding the letter s.

    However, common nouns that end in the -ch (soft), -sh, s, ss, x, z, or zz take an -es for the plural:

    There are also nouns with irregular plural forms. Plurals formed in this way are sometimes called mutated (or mutating) plurals:

  5. Have an awareness of those irregular plurals we mentioned above, but also realize there are some "special cases" that fall between "irregular" and "basic rules":

    Words that end in a consonant and a y: "Change the y to i and add es."

    Nouns ending in o preceded by a vowel form their plurals by adding -s:

    Nouns ending in o preceded by a consonant also usually add -s:
    memo/ memos

    However, there are exceptions to which -es is added:
    hero/ heroes
    potato/ potatoes
    tomato/ tomatoes

    Some nouns ending in o preceded by a consonant have two acceptable plural forms:
    desperadoes or desperados
    halos or haloes
    mosquitoes or mosquitos

  6. Right, memorizing rules isn't the best way to learn spelling as there are always exceptions. We learn words when we understand them, or at least try to understand them. This helps us with the spelling, too. One way to learn more about a word is to break it into syllables. Patterns sometimes appear that may make you think of another word with which you are more familiar.



  7. If you pronounce words correctly, the proper spelling will be (in some cases) more obvious:

    February not Febuary
    candidate not cadidate
    jewelry not jewelery
    library not libary or liberry
    congratulate not congradulate
    actual not acshul
    miniature not minature

  8. Be aware of words that give you problems. Make a list. Once aware of the words, various memory aids (such as those suggested in the next tip) may help. Some words -- often commonly used -- just need to be memorized. Examples might include:

  9. Memory aids may help with some words:
    -- "Accommodate" is large enough to accommodate both a double "c" AND a double "m." -- There's a "rat" in the middle of "separate."
    -- When you eat "dessert", you always want to come back for the second "s."
    -- The word "believe" has "lie" in it
    -- "Stationery" has an "e" just like "envelope", a type of stationery

  10. "Spellcheckers" are a great help, but don't rely solely on them. There are many cutesy examples of spellchecker mist aches and wee no you halve scene won sum place ore an other, sew wee due knot sea thee knead four won hear.

:: back to resources index ::

Copyright (c) 2005 Writers on the Net. This feature was originally published in "Writers.com," the monthly electronic newsletter of Writers on the Net. This publication may not be reproduced in print or posted elsewhere on the Web or used in any other fashion, in whole or in part, without written permission from Writers on the Net/Writers.com.


writers on the net/writers.com
© 1995-2014