Plural Forms: Rules and Style Guidelines

Forming plurals may seem a minor thing to most writers, however there are certain deciding factors, which may or may not make you look professional in this. Making plurals correctly in your writing may not be as easy as you think. I have here, some guidelines for you to select an appropriate style in forming the plurals.

General Rules

First, as introduction, let's consider the general rules for forming plurals. Almost all of you already know and follow these rules.

The most common way is adding 's' or 'es' to the word. 'Es' forms the plural in case of words ending with 'x', 's', 'ch', or with a similar sound; and 'ies' forms the plural in case of words ending with 'y' or a similar sound.

Boy–boys
Girl–girls
Dog–dogs
Box–boxes
Stitch–stitches
Flash–flashes
Toss–tosses
Sky–skies
Fly–flies

Certain words ending in 'o' form plurals this way:

Hero–heroes
Domino–dominoes

Exceptions:

Memo–memos
Stereo–stereos

Some special plurals are formed entirely differently from the above:

Child–children
Woman–women
Sheep–sheep

If in confusion, the best way to find the plural form is referring a dictionary. Most of the time, your word processor itself will alert you, if you make an error. However, they may not spot all errors. For instance, the plural of 'ski' is 'skis', and you may write 'skies', which is the plural of 'sky', as a mistake.

Stylistic Guidelines

Here are some guidelines for using the correct plural forms in writing. It can of course be a deciding factor in your Writing Style.

1. Latin and Greek words

Some Latin and Greek words are in general use in English today. It is always best to stick to the native Latin and Greek plural form itself for such words. Many of these words have found English-style plurals, though it is advisable to retain original plural form, since it is stylistically better. For instance:

Cactus–cacti; cactuses is acceptable English plural.
Nucleus–nuclei; nucleuses is acceptable English plural
Medium–media, mediums
Criterion–criteria, criterions
Focus–foci, focuses
Index–indices, indexes
Fungus–fungi, funguses
Crisis–crises; crisises is not acceptable English plural
Phenomenon–phenomena; phenomenons is not acceptable

There are certain plural forms in the above list, which are not acceptable. So it always best to be on the safe side and avoid the English plurals altogether for these words. Stick with the native plurals.

2. Uncountable/Collective Nouns

Certain words may look like plurals, but are not used that way.

The news was great.
Economics was his major at college.
The aesthetics of the situation is commendable.

However, certain singular-looking nouns may be used in the plural sense. For instance:

His glasses were lost.
The pincers were damaged.
The new (pair of) trousers are beautiful.

In these cases also, either look at a list of plurals or refer a dictionary, if you are in doubt.

In case of collective nouns such as family, audience, crowd, flock, etc., always use singular verbs.

The family seems to be happy.
A crowd blocks the mayor's car.
The team has performed really well.
But:
The family members seem to be happy. [Here it is plural.]

In case of sports teams, named with countries or places, both singular and plural forms are in use. It is normal in the US to use singular here, while the UK usage recommends plural. One writer is better off using the one he finds most appropriate and comfortable.

India win for ten wickets.
Australia are a great cricket team.
Italy performs well in football.

3. Numerical Expressions

Numerical expressions may or may not be used as plural. It depends on the context. In case of an expression corresponding to a group acting together, it should be singular, and group members acting individually, plural.

Fifty dollars was all he had when he came to the city.
A quarter of the jury is from Nevada.
Five of the jury think the verdict is wrong.

4. Proper Names

In case of company names, name of books, films, organizations, etc., always use singular even if the name is in plural form.

Laurels is the name of the new karate coaching center across the street.
Winners is the new school team.
Agatha Christie's Five Little Pigs is one of my favorite detective fiction works.

In certain names containing terms like 'Associates', some writers use plural verb, however it is best to use singular even in such cases.

Williamson Associates is the new law firm in Winter Bridge.
"Bendini, Lambert & Locke was a big family, of sorts. A rather rich family." [From John Grisham's The Firm]

5. Compound Words

Words such as 'passer-by', 'brother-in-law' etc., take plural form in a slightly different way, by pluralizing the main word only.

Passer-by–passers-by
Brother-in-law–brothers-in-law
Court-martial–courts-martial
Teaspoonful–teaspoonfuls
Cupful–cupfuls
Lieutenant colonel–lieutenant colonels

6. Acronyms, Alphabets, Abbreviations, Numbers, and Years

In case of alphabets, you should form the plural with an apostrophe.

Several A's and B's were added to the list soon.

In case of acronyms, abbreviations or words like in, out, do, don't etc., never put an apostrophe to form the plural. Don't use an apostrophe to create the plural form of a year or number as well. Examples:

NRIs or the Non-Resident Indians are usually very wealthy.
The dos and don'ts of enlisting in the new school were listed in their site.
Ins and Outs of Prepositions is a valuable book.
1980s of India saw the boom of film industry.
100s of Indians prospered in the 20th century.

Though Webster recommends using italics and an apostrophe when we use a word as the word itself in writing, it is not generally followed by most. It is acceptable, hence, to use the following sentences in either form:

"You have three and's in the second sentence."
"You have three ands in the second sentence."

These sentences are courtesy of Webster Guide to Grammar and Writing.

7. Singular Subject, Plural Predicate or Vice Versa

When you come across the situation with a singular subject linked to plural object or plural subject linked to singular object, remember the subject always determines the verb.

One main asset of the company is its employees.
The employees are a major asset to the company.

However, there are sentences, which start with 'there' or 'it'. Such sentences should always be used with caution. Sentences starting with 'there' take the verb according to the form of the object of 'there', while sentences starting with 'it' always take singular verb. For instance:

There are five students. Not "There is" five students.
There is a UFO in the jungle.
It has been decided to follow Jim's guidelines.
It is you who decide your life. Not "It are you"

8. Confusing Situations

In sentences like "All children should obey their father," some people may be confused as to 'father' or 'fathers' is correct there. In such situations, it is always best to find ways to rewrite the sentences in singular form to avoid confusion.

Rewrite "All children should obey their father" to "A child should obey his father".

However, rewritten sentences may invoke the problem of gender bias, which some people want to avoid. However, good writers should give more importance to stylistically correct sentences than gender bias issues. So avoid sentences like:

The audience rose to their foot. [Courtesy: Webster]
Judges should show kindnesses to the culprits.
Students should use their intelligences for the good of the societies.

Conclusion

Always follow a single set of rules in your writing. It is widely accepted as your style to follow a particular thing, and it s not regarded as wrong by the people who follow the other set of rules. It will mostly influence your individuality if you follow one form of writing, and recommend it to others.

Here are certain other articles you may like:

Creative Writing Thoughts: Style, Diligence, Research?
Avoidable English Errors
Using Quotation Marks and Italics Correctly

8 Opinions:

  1. Wow, these are great! This is a good thing you're doing. I did well in school with grammar, but you're never too old to learn again!

    Thanks for the refresher!

    Miss Mae
    http://missmaesite.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Reached this post through blog catalog.Thanks for such a nice post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, Miss Mae and Sandy, for your comments. Please also check out the other posts and voice your comments

    Lenin

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post..like what miss mae said , this is indeed a refresher. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Good question! Eustaquio. In fact, the word 'sky' means the part of atmosphere above a particular geographic area. In this meaning, you can use 'skies' as plural when you are referring to several geographical areas.

    You can also find the use of 'skies' in weather forecasts.

    Another meaning of 'skies' is heaven, just as the word 'heavens' means sky for the entire earth.

    Some sources also suggest that the word 'skies' is more poetically used nowadays.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Toss" cannot be pluralized. It is a verb.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Anonymous: Toss is also a noun, with the plural form, 'tosses'. You will find it if you refer a reputed dictionary.

    ReplyDelete

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