For many students of English, one of the trickiest parts of the language is spelling. Sometimes, it seems like there is no logic to English spelling. However, there are English spelling rules that you can learn. The important thing is to also learn the exceptions to these rules.

The basic spelling rule for English plural nouns

Let’s look at spelling plural nouns in English. You probably know the basic rule for forming a plural noun: Add -s to the singular noun.

dog –> dogs
truck –> trucks
computer –> computers

Like most rules in English, this one has several exceptions. We’ll describe many of these below.

Nouns ending in -s, -z, -sh, -ch, and -x

Nouns ending in these sounds require -es to make their plural forms. This is logical when you think about how you pronounce these plural forms; the -es adds a syllable to the noun.

bus –> buses
quiz –> quizzes
wish –> wishes
beach –> beaches
box –> boxes

Nouns ending in -y

There are two ways to make a noun plural when it ends with -y. The secret is to look at the letter before the -y.

If a noun ends with a consonant followed by -y, change the -y to -ies.

cherry –> cherries
fly –> flies
baby –> babies

However, if the noun ends with a vowel followed by a -y, simply follow the basic rule and add -s.

toy –> toys
array –> arrays
play –> plays

Nouns ending in -o

Here’s where the rules become less consistent. Many nouns that end in -o take an -es to create their plural forms.

hero –> heroes
tomato –> tomatoes
echo –> echoes

However, many other -o nouns follow the basic rule: Just add -s.

auto –> autos
photo –> photos
studio –> studios

Some of these nouns can be correctly pluralized with either -s or -es. (Don’t believe it? Click each noun to see its dictionary entry, including plural spellings.)

tornado –> tornados OR tornadoes
mosquito –> mosquitos OR mosquitoes
volcano –> volcanos OR volcanoes

For nouns ending in -o, it’s best to check a dictionary or use the spellchecker on your computer. You’ll have to memorize the plural spellings for the -o nouns that you use most often.

Nouns ending in -f or -fe

Like the -o nouns above, these are a little tricky. For some nouns ending in -f or -fe, you must change the ending to -ve before adding -s.

knife –> knives
leaf –> leaves
half –> halves

Other -f and -fe nouns follow the basic rule; you only have to add -s to form their plurals.

roof –> roofs
belief –> beliefs
gulf –> gulfs

Most of these -f and -fe nouns must simply be looked up and memorized. However, there is one consistent rule: Nouns ending in -ff or -ffe always just take -s to become plural.

giraffe –> giraffes
sheriff –> sheriffs
puff –> puffs

Irregular nouns

Of course, some English nouns don’t follow any of these rules; their plural forms don’t even end in -s. You probably know many of these already, but here is a partial list.

woman –> women
man –> men
child –> children
person –> people
foot –> feet
tooth –> teeth
mouse –> mice

A few nouns have the exact same forms whether singular or plural.

fish –> fish
sheep –> sheep
deer –> deer

Finally, many English words are borrowed from Latin. These follow Latin rules for forming plural forms. Watch out for nouns with similar endings to these, and check a dictionary if you’re unsure of the plural spelling.

antenna –> antennae
vertebra –> vertebrae
cactus –> cacti
radius –> radii
medium –> media
bacterium –> bacteria
appendix –> appendices
index –> indices
analysis –> analyses
thesis –> theses
phenomenon –> phenomena
criterion –> criteria

Good news!

Once you have mastered these spelling rules, you can apply them to creating third person singular forms of English verbs. Do these verbs remind you of the rules you’ve just read?

pass –> passes
imply –> implies
pay –> pays