If a word is plural, you just add an “S” at the end. But wait. Not all English words are so straightforward. In fact, there’s a whole list of them that don’t follow the “add an S” convention. Why? Some English words have different origins.
If a word has Latin roots, chances are its plural form doesn’t follow the rule we know and love. You might be saying a bunch of plural words incorrectly without even realizing it. Don’t worry — it happens to the best of us. The tricky part is knowing which ones they are and how to correct yourself
Embrace the irregularity
There’s a whole class of irregular nouns just waiting for someone to mess them up. The good news is, some irregularities make their own rules.
If a noun ends in a single “F,” or “F” with a silent “E,” there’s a strong possibility that, instead of adding an “S,” you drop the “F” and add -ves. Wolf becomes wolves. Calf becomes calves. Loaf becomes loaves. The exception to this exception is if the word ends in a double “F,” that’s when you just add the "S." Cliffs, cuffs, and mastiffs are all regular plural nouns.
It’s near impossible to create an exhaustive list that includes all irregular plural nouns (at least in this space), but we can touch on some of the more complicated ones. Check out these senseless plurals, and see how many you’ve been getting wrong:
Mouse → Mice
Goose → Geese
Fungus → Fungi
Appendix → Appendices
Ox → Oxen
Deer → Deer
Did that last one throw you off? These are just a few of the irregular nouns out there, waiting to put you off your game. Why do they do this to us? All we can say is blame genetics.
Words like goose and appendix come from Latin, so the Latin rules carry over. English borrows so much from other languages that it’s no surprise it has so many irregularities.
Why not both?
If you thought those irregular nouns weren’t hard enough, we have a surprise for you. Sometimes there isn’t just one way to spell a plural. You can take that two ways — either it makes tricky plurals harder to grasp, or it makes them more flexible.
Sometimes the plural form of a word is outdated. Take roof, for example. You can use the rule we talked about earlier and say rooves, and it’s technically not wrong. It’s just not what most people in the modern era use. Instead, we say roofs. This word becomes irregular by following the regular plural convention.
You also have the plurals fish and fishes, shrimp or shrimps, and a few others that allow you to switch between the two. Spellcheck might try to sway you toward one or the other, but the truth is that neither is wrong.
If you struggle with tricky plurals, don’t beat yourself up over it. Sometimes the words are consistent even in their irregularity. Other times, you find the rule buried in another language. If you go after those, you’ve got impressive linguistic dedication!