The most incredible article about tricky plurals you’ll ever listen to
In a rush? Jump straight to
Hi there, I’m Hilary and welcome to Adept English. If this is the first time that you’ve listened to one of our podcasts, we are all about learning the English language. And the particular thing that we do is help you to learn English through listening. If you have a good, basic knowledge of English, but what you are struggling to do is understand and speak real, conversational English, with English speakers outside the classroom – then Adept English is here to help. We give you lots and lots of English that is easy to understand. I give you an explanation in English of any of the more difficult words – and you can practise understanding more, without being in the situation where you have to speak.
Everything we do comes with a transcript – so by that, I mean that you can find the words written down to help you understand. That means you can use a dictionary to look up any difficult words. The transcripts for every podcasts are on our website at www.adeptenglish.com and there are loads more free podcasts on there and a free course too. There are also some courses that you pay for, for when you get a bit further on. And if this isn’t the first time that you’ve listened to us, welcome back!
So today’s podcast is difficult noun plurals. So what’s a plural? A plural means that there is more than one of something – so we’re looking at how the ending of the word, the noun changes when there’s more than one. This can be a difficult one to get right because your own language may do plurals differently. And it’s one of those things that it’s easy to get wrong. They catch you out.
So OK, you know probably about simple plurals. So most words in the English language if there are two of something, you just add an -s on the end. So you might say one dog, but it’s two dogs. One cat but two cats, two chairs, two brothers, two eyes, twenty six cups of coffee. Notice that last one – you wouldn’t say twenty six cup of coffees. You need to be slightly careful where you put the s – so yes, twenty six cups of coffee. So for most of the words in English, an -s on the end will do, when there is more than one.
But there are some quite common words where this doesn’t work. So you probably know already that the plural of man is men – and the plural of woman is women – and notice there, we tend to say ‘wimmin’, W-O-M-E-N but it sounds a bit more like ‘W-I-M-M-I-N’. Women. The plural of child is another frequent word – so child becomes children. So you would say ‘There was one child playing with a ball, but the rest of the children were riding their bikes’. You’re probably familiar with these ones.
Now there are quite a lot of words in English which have a different plural because they come from a different language. I’ll give you a couple of examples of these just to explain. So a word from Greek which has a different plural ending in English would be crisis. When there’s something really serious happening that is bad, a bad event, especially one where people don’t know what to do – you might say this is a crisis. And the plural of this is crises. So if you’re aware of the news in the UK this week, Theresa May isn’t just having one crisis over a government minister having to be sacked because of their treatment of women (notice that plural!), she’s having a number of crises because lots of government ministers are having to be sacked for their treatment of women and another one has been sacked for visiting Israel without telling her. So crisis, crises. Another word which is similar, coming from the Greek language – diagnosis. If you go to see your doctor because you’re ill, he or she will give you a diagnosis. That means they will say what’s wrong with you. You have a cold or you have arthritis or you have food poisoning – that means that you’ve eaten bad food. So if you have one thing wrong with you, you’ll have a diagnosis, but if you have several things wrong with you – maybe you’ve got the cold AND the arthritis AND the food poisoning all at the same time – you would be unlucky, but those would be your diagnoses. So diagnosis, diagnoses, crisis, crises. There are quite a lot more of those words – the ones ending in -is and coming from Greek. So analysis, paralysis, hypothesis, parenthesis. Don’t worry if you don’t know those words – you really don’t need them in most normal conversation! But there are also quite a few words from Latin or from French which also end differently in the plural. But let’s have a look at some English words with difficult plurals.
Now you can always rely on English to be slightly inconsistent. You learn a rule and then a word comes along which breaks the rule. So some more examples of plurals. Take the word house for instance. You may well be aware that the plural is houses. So it may be what you live in – one house, two houses. So it’s one of those words where you’ve added an -s on the end to make it plural, but you have to sound the ending because house already had an s on the end. It’s a bit like the word horse becomes horses, so it’s just slightly different. A couple of words which you might think are similar to house – mouse and louse. Now a mouse is a little tiny, furry animal – you might know Micky Mouse perhaps, or in Tom & Jerry, Jerry is the mouse. Basically they have whiskers and eat cheese. They might live in your house, but you probably wouldn’t want them to be there. And my experience is that they eat a lot more than cheese. Anyway, if you see a mouse in your house, then it is unlikely that there’s only one. They tend to come in families. So the plural of mouse? Well you might think it’s ‘mouses’ to rhyme with ‘houses’ but you would be incorrect. No, it’s one mouse, two mice. M-I-C-E. The reason for this is that some words have their roots in older English language. Centuries ago, Old English was a bit closer to German, where the endings change. So if you have more than one mouse in your house, you’ve got mice. Another unpopular visitor, which is similar, or a rhyming word is a louse. Now a louse would live in your hair on your head – it makes me itch just thinking about it. They’re the kind of thing that your children bring home from school. Ugh! And similar to mouse, the plural of louse is lice. So one mouse and two mice and one louse and a lot of lice. But one house, two houses. Ugh! Let’s move on.
So there are some quite common words which have perhaps unexpected plurals, also which might catch you out. If you know the word tooth – they’re the hard, white things in your mouth. You bite things with them, chew your dinner with them. In the UK, when children lose a tooth because a new, second tooth is coming, they put the old tooth under the pillow, when they go to bed. And apparently the tooth fairy collects the tooth and leaves money under the pillow instead. It can be quite an expensive business for the tooth fairy if you have children between the ages of 6 and 10! Anyway, you might expect that what is collected here is tooths, but no, the plural of tooth is teeth. So children will be told ‘Clean your teeth’. So one tooth, but two teeth. Another body part, where the plural is a bit similar to this – you have at the end of your leg, a foot. This is where you would put your sock and your shoe on. So it’s one foot – but if you have two of them, they are your feet. So one foot, two feet. In English, you will sometimes hear people talk also about a foot as a unit of measuring length, how tall something is or someone is, how long something is. So somebody might say a garden was 40 feet long. So old, Imperial measurements – we sometimes still use them in the UK. A foot is about 30cm in length.
Two more categories of plural that it’s worth learning because they’re quite common. There are certain animals, where you wouldn’t add an -s on the end to make them plural. The word in fact just stays the same. A deer is an animal, which is the same in the single and in the plural. If you’re wondering what kind of an animal is a deer – think of Bambi. Or even, as it’s getting sort of towards Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer maybe? So deer doesn’t change, one deer, two deer – it doesn’t matter. Other animals where this is the case – one fish or six fish. However, with this one, if you said ‘six fishes’ – that would be OK too. Your choice on that one! The other animal where there’s no change, whether it’s single or plural, whether there’s one of them or many of them – sheep. If you don’t know the word sheep, think about where wool comes from. They’re in fields and they say ‘Baa’ and we cut off their wool to make woolly jumpers. And they stay the same in the plural – one sheep, two sheep, three sheep etc.
And the last lot of difficult plurals that I’m going to cover today – there are a number of words which have the letter f – ‘ff’ at the end. And when you make them plural, the f changes to a v – that’s a ‘vvv’ sound. Probably best demonstrated by example:-
Wife. A wife is a woman who is married. Most people only have one wife, but if there is more than one – they are wives. So one wife, two wives.
Thief – if someone breaks into your house to steal things – they might break a window in the middle of the night and come in to search the house and look for money or computers to steal, then that person is a thief. However, if you have more than one person coming into your house like that, they’re thieves. So one thief, two thieves. Let’s hope not!
Loaf – a loaf is a piece of bread, which has been baked and is large enough to share between a number of people. So if there is only one, it’s a loaf, but if there’s more than one, you’re talking about loaves. So one loaf, two loaves.
Half – if you cut a cake in two and share it with your friend – then you are each eating half a cake. So one half each, but two halves together. So the plural of half is halves. A famous football quotation ‘It’s a game of two halves’. It’s a bit of a silly thing to say, but one that means I think, sometimes in football, the first half of the game is completely different from the second half of the game. ‘It’s a game of two halves’.
So there you have it – some difficult plurals in English. Listen to this podcast a number of times, so that you will remember these words much more easily. Hopefully, some of the examples I’ve given you will help it stick in your mind.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.