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Plural Forms of English Nouns

The Lighter Side of English Plurals

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Have you ever tried explaining to a child why two feet aren't foots, or two mice aren't mouses? Of course the grownup response to such questions is, "That's just the way it is. And why aren't you watching TV?"

As youngsters we learned that most nouns in English change from singular to plural with the addition of -s or -es. But regardless of our age, it's the few hundred exceptions that can be perplexing. Here are some of the blatant rule-breakers:

  • mass nouns--such as mud, music, and peace--which have no plural because they name things that can't readily be counted

  • nouns that show up only in the plural (called pluralia tantum)--scissors, jeans, and congratulations, for example

  • a few nouns, like ox and child, that still rely on the Old English plural marker, -en

  • a few other nouns (foot, mouse) that form the plural by changing a vowel

  • and several borrowed nouns that hold on to their foreign plural endings--such as Latin alumni (or alumnae) and Greek criteria
To illustrate some of these eccentric plural forms, here are two versions of an amusing little verse by our favorite poet, Author(s) Unknown.

The English Lesson (version one)

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox should be oxen not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

If I spoke of my foot and showed you my feet,
When I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

If the singular is this, and the plural is these,
Why shouldn't the plural of kiss be kese?
Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet the plural of hat would never be hose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
So plurals in English, I think you'll agree,
Are indeed very tricky--singularly.

The English Lesson (version two)

Now if mouse in the plural should be, and is, mice,
Then house in the plural, of course, should be hice,
And grouse should be grice and spouse should be spice
And by the same token should blouse become blice.

And consider the goose with its plural of geese;
Then a double caboose should be called a cabeese,
And noose should be neese and moose should be meese
And if mama's papoose should be twins, it's papeese.

Then if one thing is that, while some more is called those,
Then more than one hat, I assume, would be hose,
And gnat would be gnose and pat would be pose,
And likewise the plural of rat would be rose.

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