CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

How to add an ‘s’

Creating a plural isn’t always as simple as adding an ‘s’ on the end of a word, though some will allow you to do that, nothing more, such as:

girl—girls

plate—plates

pencil—pencils

explanation—explanations

Words that end in ‘ch’, ‘sh’, ‘ss’, ‘s’, ‘z’ and ‘x’ require you to add ‘es’ to create a plural, such as:

beach—beaches

sash—sashes

mass—masses

bus—buses

quiz—quizes

fox—foxes

While there are some exceptions (as always, in English), when a word ends in ‘f’ or ‘fe’, you take off the ‘f’ or ‘fe’ and replace it with ‘ves’.

calf—calves

wife—wives

life—lives

wolf—wolves

Exceptions include:

cafe—cafes

roof—roofs

giraffe—giraffes

cliff—cliffs

Other words accept both rules of pluralisation, depending on which form of English you use, such as:

dwarf—dwarfs—dwarves

staff—staffs—staves

When words end in ‘o’, depending on the word, you may need to only add an ‘s’ or an ‘es’.

tomato—tomatoes

echo—echoes

embryo—embryos

cello—cellos

Some, however, allow both rules to apply, such as:

motto—mottos—mottoes

cargo—cargos—cargoes

Likewise, words ending in ‘y’, depending on the word, may need merely an ‘s’ or to remove the ‘y’ and add ‘ies’. Such as:

monkey—monkeys

trolley—trolleys

fly—flies

ally—allies

When pluralising proper nouns, such as a person’s family name, you simply add an ‘s’.

The Robinson Family—The Robinsons came to the party.

The Jones Family—The Joneses turned up late.

Steffi Graf—Steffi Grafs aren’t born every day.

Brynjolf—There aren’t many Brynjolfs out there.

While I have often seen apostrophes creep into plurals of numbers, the use of them here is incorrect. Expressing plurals in numbers should be used like so:

The 1900s are now over.

The 60s were wild.

The children boarded the bus in twos and threes.

For more information on numbers, click here.

Now, even when we add an ‘s’ to abbreviations or acronyms, many people mistakenly add an apostrophe. This is also incorrect, as we intend to make a plural not a possessive.

The CEOs were gathered together in one room.

My parents bought two TVs.

‘Oh, yeah? And how many PhDs do you have?’

‘Imagine if there were two SHIELDs!’

When pluralising a single letter, it is clearer to surround them in quotes, for example:

Mind your ‘p’s and ‘q’s.

‘Make sure you dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s, children!’ the teacher reminded them all.

I think that’s everything. Have I missed anything? Do let me know!

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