Countable nouns and plural formation

(The countable noun and its plural forms in English)

Table of contents – countable nouns

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Countable nouns
  2. Plural forms
  3. Special considerations
  4. Further explanations and exercises

How are countable nouns used (explanation)?

Countable nouns (sometimes called count nouns) refer to things, entities, people, etc. that can be counted. This means, for example, that you can have one apple, two, three, or more apples, and thus it is possible to place a number (numeral) before the noun. Compare the following examples:

  • “She is eating a banana.”
  • “Peter has got two cars.”
  • “Hanna lives together with two of her friends.”

Note: Countable nouns almost always have a singular and a plural form in English. For the examples above, the singular and plural forms look like the following:

  • banana → bananas
  • car → cars
  • friend → friends

How is the plural of countable nouns formed?

As mentioned above, English nouns that are countable usually have a singular and a plural form (see grammatical number). As a rule, an ‘s’ is added to the noun for plural formation, although some peculiarities or irregularities occur in a few instances. Compare the following ways of forming the plural:

  • In most cases, an ‘s’ is attached to the countable noun:
    • computer → computers
    • ball → balls
  • Some countable nouns end in ‘s, ss, sh, ch’ or ‘x’ and then get an ‘es’ in the plural:
    • gas → gases or gasses
    • mass → masses
    • crash → crashes
    • speech → speeches
    • fox → foxes
  • For nouns ending in a consonant + ‘y’ (What are consonants?), the ‘y’ is replaced by ‘ies’. Note, however, that nouns ending in vowel + ‘y’ (What are vowels?) follow the general rule and receive only an ‘s’:
    • hobby → hobbies
    • key → keys
      • The general rule is applied; ‘y’ is not replaced.
  • In many cases, an ‘es’ is appended to countable nouns ending in ‘o’. Nevertheless, some nouns end in ‘o’ and form their plural only with ‘os’ (which means only ‘s’ is added):
    • tomato → tomatoes
    • photo → photos
      • Not all such nouns get ‘es’.
  • Many nouns that end in ‘f’ or ‘fe’ change their suffix to ‘ves’:
    • shelf → shelves
    • wife → wives

Special considerations for the plural of countable nouns

Some countable nouns have distinctive features in their plural form. Compare the following formation and peculiarities for details:

  • Although specific countable nouns do have a plural form, their singular form is used almost exclusively in the following cases:
    • fruit → fruits
      • “There is some fruit on the table.”
  • For some countable nouns, the plural form matches the singular form, and nos’ is appended:
    • an aircraft → two aircraft
    • a salmon → three salmon
  • Moreover, some other nouns follow a completely irregular plural formation; the article nouns with unique plural forms gives you a more detailed explanation. Examples:
    • manmen
    • womanwomen
    • childchildren

Further explanations related to ‘Countable nouns’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Countable nouns and plural formation’ and could also be interesting for you: