How to Teach Plural Nouns

Make plural nouns is easy when you divide nouns into two groups. Ones that end with -s and those that end with -es.

Plural Nouns Ending with -S - The majority of nouns use the -s suffix. 

  • Nouns that end with Consonant/s - chairs, rugs, lights
  • Nouns  that end with E - trees, houses, names
  • Nouns  that end with Vowel + Y - days, keys, boys
  • Advanced Plural Rule states that nouns ending with -ief, -oof, -eef, -ff or -rf use the -s suffix (chiefs, hoofs, reefs, puffs, dwarfs).

Plural Nouns ending with -ES - The -es ending is a little more complicated. Use these three basic rules which depend upon the final letter/s of the noun.

  • Rule 1 Nouns that end with ch, sh, s, x, or z - inches, dishes, buses, foxes quizzes 
  • Rule 2 Nouns that end with f or fe -life-lives, leaf-leaves
  • Rule 3 Nouns that end with Consonant + y - penny-pennies, bunny-bunnies, country-countries

Nouns ending with f and fe appear to be undergoing a change to using the -s ending. (knifes, loafs)

Words Ending With O- The most challenging plural nouns are those ending with "o". There have been different rules put forth. One rule states that English nouns use the -es suffix and borrowed nouns have the -s suffix. However, most elementary and ESL students do not know which nouns are English or borrowed. A different rule states that nouns with a consonant + o use -es and nouns with a vowel + o use -s. This is an easier rule to use, but it has many exceptions. Plural nouns ending with O appear to be undergoing a change from these rules to simply using -s. Check a dictionary when you are unsure which ending to use.

  • Borrowed - pianos, zeros, ratios 
  • English - tomatoes, potatoes
  • Vowel + o - radios, studios
  • Consonant + o -echoes, buffaloes

Other Uses. English also uses -s for third person singular verbs (talks, sees, laughs) and uses 's to show possession (Tom's chair, class's books, town's sites). English learners often think that English speakers sound like snakes!

Pronunciation. It is important to teach the correct pronunciation of  final -s and -es.  When -s follows a voiceless sound (f, gh, k, p, ph, t, th) is is pronounced as /s/. When -s follows a voiced sound (b, d, g, l, m, n, r, v, y, vowel) is is pronounced as /z/.  When -es follow a sibilant ( ce, ch, ge, s, sh, ss, x, z) it is pronounced as /iz/. (Please refer to the Pronunciation of -S Anchor Chart.)

  • Voiceless /s/ - puffs, laughs, books, stops, graphs, hats, months
  • Voiced /z/ - rubs, words, bags, fills, dreams, pans, hears, lives, days, bows
  • Sibilant /iz/ -faces, inches, pages, closes,  dishes, glasses, boxes, sizes


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