Today, I’m going to teach you about pluralisation. In English grammar, this means using your words to say whether there is one thing or more than one. This is something that is incredibly important in English but which many learners struggle with.

Please note that in American English, they say “pluralization.” I’m from the UK, so I’ll use British spelling in this article.

Why is pluralisation important?

In many languages, pluralisation just doesn’t exist, but in English it is utterly essential. We need to know whether there is one thing or more than one thing. For example:

  • I bought some books.
  • I bought a book.

In the first example, the person bought more than one book.

In the second example, they bought just one book.

This may be necessary for logical reasons but in English grammar it is more than important. It is essential! If you make mistakes in pluralisation, you can really confuse people.

As for IELTS grammar, pluralisation errors will tell the examiner that your score is a maximum of band 6, and making several errors could push you down to a 5 or lower.

The basics of pluralisation

Let’s start at the beginning. When we have more than one object, we need to pluralise it.

Most nouns have a singular and plural form. This normally means that we add “-s” to the end. For example:

  • table and tables
  • boy and boys
  • rabbit and rabbits

These are all regular plural forms.

However, sometimes we have irregular plural forms. These nouns take “-es” at the end:  

  • hero and heroes
  • box and boxes
  • potato and potatoes

When a word ends in “-y,” we usually add “-ies”:

  • lady and ladies
  • pony and ponies
  • enemy and enemies

Words ending in “-f” or “-fe” usually change to “-ves”:

  • knife and knives
  • wife and wives
  • shelf and shelves

However, there are exceptions:

  • roof and roofs
  • chief and chiefs

There are many other rules about this, so it’s important to learn them.

irregular plural nouns

Matching other words

Ok, so now we know the difference between a singular word and a plural word. However, it’s not enough to only know this. We need to make sure that other words in a sentence match the singular or plural word.

A very common mistake is to mix up singular and plural forms:

  • INCORRECT: She bought a new cars.
  • CORRECT: She bought a new car.

Can you see the error?

The word “a” means that there is one thing, but the writer has used the plural form of the noun. We often see the opposite:

  • INCORRECT: She bought some book.
  • CORRECT: She bought some books.

Here, the word “some” tells us that the noun needs to be in plural form. However, the writer used the singular form of the noun.

This rule is sometimes easy to understand. We all know that these are wrong:

  • INCORRECT: two chair
  • INCORRECT: one chairs

However, when a sentence becomes more grammatically complex, it can be easy to make errors. For example, when we put more words between the number and noun:

  • INCORRECT: We bought two big, comfy, brown, leather chair.

Some people get distracted by the adjectives here and forget to correctly pluralise the noun.

It’s important to note that it’s also not always just a number that signals whether there is one thing or more than one. There are many other words:

Words signalling singular formWords signalling plural form
A
One
This
That
These
Those
Some
Several
A few
Many
Various

That’s not a full list. It’s just a few examples to show you words that can signal whether you need to have your verb in either singular or plural form.

Related: You might want to read this guide to article use.

Subject-verb disagreement

I will briefly mention subject-verb disagreement. In fact, this is an incredibly important topic and I would strongly advise you to read this full guide.

Basically, subject-verb agreement means matching your noun (the subject of a sentence) with the appropriate form of a verb.

Again, this can sometimes be really easy:

  • INCORRECT: He play football.
  • CORRECT: He plays football.

However, it does get more complicated when we consider phrases with multiple nouns or when the verb and noun are set apart by other words. In such cases, you need to find the main noun and match it to the verb.

subject-verb agreement

Countable vs uncountable nouns

This all becomes more complicated when we realise that not all nouns are countable. That’s right! Some nouns do not need to be pluralised because they have no plural form.

Here are some common uncountable nouns:

  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Knowledge
  • Beauty
  • Wisdom
  • Magic
list of uncountable nouns

In such cases, we do not use the plural form:

  • INCORRECT: He has many knowledges.
  • CORRECT: He has a lot of knowledge.

This means that when you learn a new noun, you need to find out whether it is countable or uncountable. Thankfully, dictionaries make this obvious with a symbol next to the word.

dictionary uncountable noun symbol
Source: Cambridge Dictionary

Note that some uncountable nouns can be pluralised by adding certain words before them. For example:

  • INCORRECT: I need to buy two sugars.
  • CORRECT: I need to buy two bags of sugar.
  • CORRECT: I need to buy some sugar.

Here, we can either pluralise the container (the thing that holds the sugar) or use “some.”

Can a countable noun be neither singular nor plural?

Whilst an uncountable noun should not be pluralised, countable nouns should always be put into either singular or plural form. That means they cannot be left as neither singular nor plural.

Here’s a common grammatical mistake:

  • INCORRECT: Cat is excellent pet for elderly people.

Why is this wrong?

Well, “cat” is a countable noun, so we must say either:

  • CORRECT: Cats are excellent pets for elderly people.
  • CORRECT: A cat is an excellent pet for elderly people.

In other words, the noun must either be singular or plural. Note that the surrounding words change according to the form.

Note: Typically, when talking about something in general we will use the plural form, so “Cats are excellent pets…” is probably more common. However, we can often pick one representative example and so “A cat is an excellent pet…” is also fine.

Here’s another example:

  • INCORRECT: He thinks that child should not have phone.

What’s wrong here?

Well, both “child” and “phone” are countable nouns but they are in neither singular nor plural form. To fix this, we must decide whether there is one child and one phone or more than one.

  • CORRECT: He thinks that children should not have phones.
  • CORRECT: He thinks that a child should not have a phone.

Both are correct but again the plural version is a little better because we use that more when speaking generally.