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20.3: Nouns

  • Page ID
    5700
  • Nouns are a diverse group of words, and they are very common in English. Nouns are a category of words defining things—the name of people (Dr. Sanders, lawyers), places (Kansas, factory, home), things (scissors, sheet music, book), or ideas (love, truth, beauty, intelligence).

    IDENTIFYING NOUNS

    Let’s look at the following examples to get a better idea of how nouns work in sentences. All of the nouns have been bolded :

    • The one experiment that has been given the most attention in the debate on saccharin is the 1977 Canadian study done on rats.
    • The multi-fuel capacity of the Stirling engine gives it a versatility not possible in the internal combustion engine.
    • The regenerative cooling cycle in the engines of the Space Shuttle is made up of high pressure hydrogen that flows in tubes connecting the nozzle and the combustion chamber.

    There are a lot of different categories of nouns, but before we get in too deep, let’s talk about pluralization.

    Pluralization

    Screen-Shot-2016-06-21-at-10.48.18-AM-225x178.png

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    A plural noun indicates that there is more than one of that noun (while a singular noun indicates that there is just one of the noun). Most plural forms are created by simply adding an -s or –es to the end of the singular word. For example, there’s one dog (singular), but three dogs (plural). However, English has both regular and irregular plural nouns. Regular plurals follow this rule (and other similar rules), but irregular plurals are, well, not regular and don’t follow a “standard” rule.

    Regular Plurals

    Let’s start with regular plurals: regular plural nouns use established patterns to indicate there is more than one of a thing. As was mentioned earlier, we add the plural suffix –s to most words (catsbearszebras). However, after sounds szshch, and j, we add the plural suffix –es (classessashesfoxes). Some words that end in z also double their ending consonant, like quizzes.

    We also add the plural suffix –es to most words that end in o (potatoesheroesmosquitoes). However, when the words have a foreign origin (e.g.,Latin, Greek, Spanish), we  just add the plural suffix –s (tacosavocadosmaestros).

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Look at each plural word in the table below. Write the singular version of the word and explain which rule the plural has used in its formation. For example:

    • vultures is the plural of vulture. Despite vultures ending in –es, you simply add an –s to form the plural, as the e is a part of the singular word.
    trees sopranos watches
    tomatoes waltzes wrists
     
    Answer
    trees trees is the plural of trees. –s is added sopranos sopranos is the plural of soprano. –s is added despite the word ending in an o, because the word is borrowed from Italian watches watches is the plural of watch. –es is added because the word ends in ch
    tomatoes tomatoes is the plural of tomato. –es is added because it’s a native English word waltzes waltzes is the plural of waltz. –es is added because the word ends in z wrists wrists is the plural of wrist. –s is added

    When a word ends in y and there is a consonant before y, we change the y to i and add –es. Thus sky becomes skies. When a word ends in –f or –fe, we change the f to v and add –es. Thus calf becomes calves.

    However, there are some exceptions to these rules:

    • donkeys not donkeiesalloys not alloies.
      • If the y follows another vowel, you simply add an –s.
    • cliffs not clivveschiefs not chieves
      • If there are two terminal fsyou simply add an –s.
      • If you still pronounce the f in the plural, then the spelling should retain the f as well.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Look at each plural word in the table below. Write the singular version of the word and explain which rule the plural has used in its formation. For example:

    • fries is the plural of fry. To form the plural, the y was changed to an i, and we added –es.
    reefs leaves flies
    cafes caves boys
     
    Answer
    reefs reefs is the plural of reef. –s is added. It is an exception to the rule. leaves leaves is the plural of leaf. the f is changed to a v, and -es is added flies flies is the plural of fly. the  is changed to an i, and –es is added
    cafes cafes is the plural of cafe. the –s is added (note that cafe is sometimes spelled with an accent mark: café) caves caves is the plural of cave. the –s is added boys boys is the plural of boy. –s is added because the y follows a vowel

    Irregular Plurals

    Irregular plurals, unlike regular plurals, don’t necessarily follow any particular pattern—instead, they follow a lot of different patterns. Because of this, irregular plurals require a lot of memorization; you need to remember which nouns belong to which type of pluralization. Mastering irregulars uses a different region of your brain than regular pluralization: it’s an entirely different skill set than regular pluralization. So don’t get too frustrated if you can’t remember the correct plural. If you’re ever in doubt, the dictionary is there for you.

    The first kind of irregular plural we’ll talk about is the no-change or base plural. In these words, the singular noun has the exact same form as the plural (sheepfishdeermoose). Most no-change plurals are types of animals. The next type of irregular is the mid-word vowel change:

    Note

    The plural for a computer mouse (as opposed to the fuzzy animal) can either be mice or mouses. Some people prefer mouses as it creates some differentiation between the two words.

    And last we have plural –en. In these words –en is used as the plural ending instead of –s or -es.

    • child → children
    • ox → oxen
    • brother → brethren
    • sister → sistren

    Note

    Brethren and sistren are antiquated terms that you’re unlikely to run into in your life; however, since these are the only four words in English that use this plural, all four have been included above.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    Look at each plural word in the table below. Write the singular version of the word and explain which rule the plural has used in its formation. For example:

    • oxen is the plural of ox. This is an –en noun. To form the plural, an -en was added.
    children moose teeth
    squid men lice
     
    Answer
    children children is the plural of child. This is an –en noun. To form the plural, an –ren was added. moose moose is the plural of moose. This is a no-change plural. The singular and plural have the same form. teeth teeth is the plural of tooth. This is a mid-word vowel change plural. The oo in tooth was changed to an ee.
    squid squid is the plural of squid. This is a no-change plural. The singular and plural have the same form. men men is the plural of man. This is a mid-word vowel change plural. The a in man was changed to an e. lice lice is the plural of louse. This is a mid-word vowel change plural. The ouse in louse was changed to an ice.

    The last category of irregular plurals is borrowed words. These words are native to other languages (e.g., Latin, Greek) and have retained the pluralization rules from their original tongue.

    Singular –us; Plural –i

    • cactus → cacti
    • fungus → fungi
    • syllabus → syllabi

    In informal speech, cactuses and funguses are acceptable. Octopuses is preferred to octopi, but octopi is an accepted word.

    Singular -a; Plural –ae

    • formula → formulae (sometimes formulas)
    • vertebra → vertebrae
    • larva → larvae

    Singular –ix, –ex; Plural –ices, –es

    • appendix → appendices (sometimes appendixes)
    • index → indices

    Singular –on, –um; Plural –a

    • criterion → criteria
    • bacterium → bacteria
    • medium → media

    Singular –is; Plural –es

    • analysis → analyses
    • crisis → crises
    • thesis → theses

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{4}\)

    Look at each plural word in the table below. Write the singular version of the word and explain which rule the plural has used in its formation. For example:

    • stimuli is the plural of stimulus. The singular ends with a -us, so the plural ends with an -i.
    memoranda hypotheses phenomena
    parentheses emphases nuclei
    foci  vertebrae  appendices
     
    Answer
    memoranda memoranda is the plural of memorandum. The singular ends with –um, so the plural ends with –a. hypotheses hypotheses is the plural of hypothesis. The singular ends with –is, so the plural ends with –es. phenomena phenomena is the plural of phenomenon. The singular ends with –on, so the plural ends with –a.
    parentheses parentheses is the plural of parenthesis. The singular ends with –is, so the plural ends with –es. emphases emphases is the plural of emphasis. The singular ends with –is, so the plural ends with –es. nuclei nuclei is the plural of nucleus. The singular ends with –us, so the plural ends with –i.
    foci foci is the plural of focus. The singular ends with –us, so the plural ends with –ifocuses is also an acceptable plural  vertebrae vertebrae is the plural of vertebra. The singular ends with –a, so the plural ends with –ae. appendices appendices is the plural of appendix. The singular ends with –ix, so the plural ends with –ices.
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