Sunday, March 08, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Plurals

Pluralizing words is not as easy as it looks and can be a little confusing at times. Throw in nouns ending with vowels and foreign words, and things can suddenly become very complicated. S or es is added to form most plurals, but which do you use when? If the noun happens to end in a letter that is not pleasing with s alone, like with words already ending with s, or with sh, z, x, or a soft ch, use es, like with boxes and watches. If the ending letter of a word sounds like it can readily pluralize with only the s without sounding ridiculous, go ahead and place only the s at the end.

But what about nouns ending in f or fe? Ending in y? Or maybe o? Some ending in f or fe only use s when pluralizing, like with reefs and safes, while others change their f to v and add es like with wolves. With y things can get a little tricky. Nouns ending in y usually follow two rules: (1) if the word is common and the y is preceded by a consonant, change the y to and i and add es (berries, cherries, doilies, etc) or (2) if it is either a proper noun or the y is preceded by a vowel, simply add s for the plural form (Teddys, plays, etc).

Some nouns ending in o take the s while others take the es, like avocados vs. mangoes. If the ending letter o is preceded by a vowel or is a shortened word, only add s, like with portfolios and photos. When to add es is a little tricky. Since there is no definite rule to categorize all nouns, be sure to always consult your Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and your Chicago Manual of Style.


  1. With reference to a comment I posted on the editorial tip for the dash. Can someone from Indigo do a tip on pronunciation for cot and caught? When and how did these two words ever become homonyms?

  2. Funny, after you posted this Ed Tip this week, I went to class where I tutor English, and an eighth-grader was asking me how to know when to change the "y" to an "i" when adding a suffix. I explained it to him, thinking of this post, and about five minutes later, a fifth-grader asked the exact same question. I felt fortunate to have had a refresher so recently!