11) Number for nouns and pronouns

Number for nouns and pronouns

1) Number for nouns

Number for nouns refers to whether a noun is singular or plural. The rules that follow are not always absolute, so it is probably not worth spending a long time trying to memorise them all, as you can still be wrong even when the rule is applied. That doesn’t mean we can be lazy though. One of the best ways to learn things about the language when there aren’t clear rules is to just read as many books as possible. Find novels, non-fiction books, papers and articles that interest you and read everyday. This is surely the most enjoyable way to learn grammatical constructions for which there is no clear rule, and provides us with so many other interesting ideas, emotions and perspectives along the way. Having said all that, let’s take a look at some of the ways that singular nouns are made plural in English.

The most common inflection to add to a singular word, such as ‘day’, to make it plural, is to add an ‘s’, making it ‘days.’ However, there are a number of situations where this isn’t the case.

One area to consider is that some singular nouns have ‘es’ added to the end rather than ‘s’. For example, ‘miss’ becomes ‘misses’ not ‘misss.’ You could try to remember that singular nouns ending in ‘s,’ ‘x,’ ‘z,’ ‘sh,’ or ‘ch,’ have ‘es’ on the end, though it may be hard to memorise those right now. Perhaps an easier rule to remember is that when the singular noun has the same number of syllables as the plural noun, it will usually have an ‘s’ ending, such as ‘drink’ (one syllable) and ‘drinks'(one syllable). In contrast, if the plural noun has more syllables than the singular, it will usually have an ‘es’ on the end, such as ‘bush’ (one syllable) and ‘bushes’ (two syllables). I’m not aware of a lot of exceptions for this particular rule, so it is probably one worth trying to remember.

It is not always as straight forward as adding an ‘es’ on the end when there are contrasting syllables lengths. In words which end in a consonant sound followed by ‘y’, the ‘y’ is replaced by an ‘I’ and then ‘es’ is added on the end. For example ‘try’ becomes ‘tries’ not ‘tryes’ (‘r’ consonant followed by a ‘y’). Note that ‘try’ and ‘tries’ have the same amount of syllables, but an ‘es’ is added. Furthermore, if the word ends in ‘y’ preceded by a vowel sound the usual ‘s’ is added onto the end. For example ‘say’, which ends in a ‘y’, preceded by the long ā vowel sound, becomes ‘says’.

Singular nouns that end in an ‘o’ which are preceded by a consonant sometimes become plural by adding ‘es’ on the end as in ‘tomato’ becoming ‘tomatoes’ and ‘banjo’ becoming ‘banjoes’. However, many don’t such as ‘demo’ becoming ‘demos’ and ‘logo’ becoming ‘logos’.

Singular nouns that end in an ‘o’ preceded by a vowel usually form the plural by adding ‘s’. For example ‘igloo’ which ends in ‘o’ and is preceded by the vowel ‘o’ becomes ‘igloos’ when plural.

Singular nouns ending in ‘f’ or ‘fe’ sometimes form the plural by changing the ‘f’ to ‘v’ and adding ‘es’ on the end as in ‘thief’ becoming ‘thieves‘ and ‘wife‘ becoming ‘wives‘. However, this isn’t always true as in ‘belief’, which becomes ‘beliefs’ and ‘chief’ which becomes ‘chiefs’.

There are also nouns derived from Latin, Greek and French which have unusual plural inflections in the English language such as the Latin derived singular noun ‘addendum’ becoming the plural ‘addenda’ and the Greek derived singular noun ‘basis’ becoming the plural ‘bases’. Some words, like the Latin derived ‘formula’ have an English plural, which is ‘formulas’ and a Latin one, which is ‘formulae’.

2) Number for pronouns

Pronouns change in relation to number, as we have seen in some of the examples of the different pronoun types. Let’s briefly summarise the pronoun types which change in relation to number.

2.1 Personal pronouns

Here is a table showing personal pronoun singular and plurals in relation to person:

  Singular Plural
Personal pronouns I

me

We

us

Second person You you
Third person him/ her

he/she

it

they

them

Here are the three tables from earlier showing singular and plural differences in relation to case:

First person

  Singular Plural
Nominative ‘I’

(e.g., ‘John loves exercise.’ becomes ‘I love exercise.’)

We’

(e.g., ‘The team loves exercise.’ becomes ‘We love exercise.’)

Possessive ‘My’ / ‘Mine’

(e.g., ‘John loves exercise.’ becomes ‘My brother loves exercise.’ or ‘The trophy is John’s.‘ becomes ‘The trophy is mine.’)

‘Our’ / ‘Ours’

(e.g., ‘John loves exercise.’ becomes ‘Our brother loves exercise.’ or ‘The trophy is the team’s‘ becomes ‘The trophy is ours.’

Objective ‘Me’

(e.g., ‘The party is for John.’ becomes ‘The party is for me.

‘Us’

(e.g., ‘The party is for the team.’ becomes ‘The party is for us.’)

Second person

  Singular Plural
Nominative You You
Possessive Your/Yours Your/Yours
Objective You You

Third person

  Singular Plural
Nominative Feminine: ‘She’

Masculine: ‘He’

Neuter: ‘It’

‘They’
Possessive Feminine: ‘Her’/’Hers’

Masculine: ‘His’

Neuter: ‘Its’

‘Their’/’Theirs/
Objective Feminine: ‘Her’

Masculine: ‘Him’

Neuter: ‘It’

‘Them’

2.2 Demonstrative pronouns

For the demonstrative pronouns there are two groups with a singular and plural in each:

this (singular) /these (plural)

and

that (singular) /those (plural)

2.3 Indefinite pronouns

There are many indefinite pronouns: some are singular, some are plural and some can be both. However, they don’t actually inflect; that is, they don’t change form based on whether they are singular or plural. Rather, there are simply separate words for singular and plural. For example, some singular indefinite pronouns are:

anybody, each, everyone, everything, nobody and someone.

However, these indefinite pronouns do not have direct plural counterparts; there isn’t a plural version of ‘someone’ for example.

Some examples of plural indefinite pronouns are:

both, few, others, several.

However, again, there are no direct singular counterparts.

There are also some that can be used for both singular and plural. For example:

all, any, most and some

2.4 Reflexive pronouns

Here is a table showing reflexive pronouns and their relation to singular/plural and person:

  Singular Plural
First person
myself ourselves
Second person yourself yourselves
Third person herself, himself, itself themselves

3) Questions

1) How does number affect nouns?

2) How does number affect pronouns?

Let’s look at gender in nouns and pronouns next.

NEXT: 12) Gender in nouns and pronouns

Posted in English Grammar