Singular and Plural Words – Part One

It is time to delve into the singular and plural words that are used in the English language. Just to clarify, singular means one item while the word plural means more than one item. This article will look at some of the ways to help you remember how to spell various words when they are changed from singular to plural and visa versa.

Before we jump in at the deep end, we need to look at the verbs listed below.

SINGULAR AND PLURAL VERBS

  • are
  • is
  • was
  • were

SINGULAR AND PLURAL WORDS

Example 1

  • ‘There was a cloud in the sky.’

The sentence above has described one cloud in the sky. This means we need to use the verb ‘was’ in this sentence. If the writer or speaker would like to discuss more than one cloud, the verb ‘were’ needs to be used instead.

  • ‘There were five clouds in the sky.’

Example 2

  • ‘There was a drummer in the band.’
Singular and Plural Words - Simply Better English
Singular and Plural Words – Simply Better English

Again, this sentence describes one drummer.  This means the verb ‘was’ should be used here.

  • ‘There were two drummers in the band.’

In the sentence above, there are two drummers. This means the verb ‘were’ needs to be used.

The verbs ‘was’ and ‘were’ are normally used when the writer or speaker is describing the past. This means the event has already happened.

Example 3

  • ‘There is a singer on the stage.’

This sentence is about one person. This means the verb ‘is’ is needed.

  • ‘There are lots of singers on the stage.’

This sentence is about two or more people. This means the verb ‘are’ should be used.

Example 4

  • ‘There is a jacket on the floor.’

There is only one jacket in the sentence above. This means the verb ‘is’ should be used.

  • ‘There are two jackets on the floor.’

This sentence now has more than one jacket. This means the verb ‘are’ should be used.

The verbs ‘is’ and ‘are’ are often used when the writer or speaker is discussing the present. This means the event is happening when the writer or speaker is describing the event.

Quiz Sign - Simply Better English
Quiz Sign – Simply Better English

Activity 1

Here are a number of sentences. Each sentence has a word missing fill in the blanks with the words ‘are’ ‘were’ ‘is’ ‘or ‘was’.

  • There … one cake left.
  • There … lots of cricket bats.
  • There … seven players on the team.
  • There … a huge radio playing music.

Rule 1: the ‘s’ rule

There are a lot of words in the English language that follow this rule.

Example 5

  • ‘Alex saw one tiger at the zoo.’
Singular and Plural Words - Simply Better English
Singular and Plural Words – Simply Better English

If Alex saw more than one tiger, an ‘s’ could be added to the noun to change the word from singular to plural.

  • ‘Alex saw two tigers at the zoo.’

Example 6

  • ‘I have only read one book in my life.’

Again, in this instance an ‘s’ could be added to the noun.

  • ‘I have only read three books in my life.’

The ‘s’ rule is one of the most common singular to plural rules in the English language.

Example 7

  • ‘There was a beautiful bird at the park.’

The word ‘bird’ follows the same rule too.

  • ‘There were four beautiful birds at the park.’

Here is a list of words showing how they change from singular to plural using the ‘s’ rule. As you can see from the table when a word follows the ‘s’ rule, ‘s‘ is the only letter that is added to the word.

Table 1

Singular (One Item)
Plural (Two or More of Each Item)
boot boots
button buttons
cake cakes
car cars
instrument instruments
phone phones
shirt shirts
tablet tablets
radio radios
solo solos
friend friends
Quiz Sign - Simply Better English
Quiz Sign – Simply Better English

Activity 2

The nouns in bold have been written in plural form. Re-write each noun in their singular form.  If needed, use Table One above to help you.

  • The computer tablets were silver.
  • The phones were on the table.
  • Jimmy played two musical instruments.

Rule 2: the ‘es’ rule

This rule is much easier to follow because it is more structured. If a noun ends with ‘ch’, ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘x’, or a ‘z’, the letters ‘es’ are added to the noun.

Example 8

  • ‘I bought one box of chocolate.’
Singular and Plural Words - Simply Better English
Singular and Plural Words – Simply Better English

The noun ‘box’ ends with an ‘x’. This means it follows the ‘es’ rule and the letters ‘es’ should be added to the noun if there are two or more boxes.

  • ‘I bought two boxes of chocolate.’

Example 9

  • ‘Peter uses one brush for his hair.’

The word ‘brush’ ends with a ‘sh’ and also follows the ‘es’ rule.

  • ‘Peter uses two different brushes for his hair.’

Here are some more words that follow the ‘es’ rule.

Table 2

Singular (One Item)
Plural (Two or More of Each Item)
ch ch
beach beaches
peach peaches
branch branches
s s
bus buses
dress dresses
sh sh
ash ashes
bush bushes
x x
fox foxes
ox oxes
z z
buzz buzzes
Quiz Sign - Simply Better English
Quiz Sign – Simply Better English

Activity 3

Each noun in bold is written as a plural. Rewrite the sentences and write the words in bold in singular form. If needed, use Table Two to help you.

  • Sandra bought lots of dresses.
  • The buses were on time.
  • Fernando ate six peaches.

RECAP

This article has looked at singular and plural words. The verbs ‘is’ and ‘was’ are used when speaking or writing about one noun. Then, the verbs ‘are’ and ‘were’ are used when speaking or writing about two or more nouns.  Remember singular means one item or person and plural means more than one.

Here are the answers to the activities in the article. Feel free to write your results in the comments section.

 Activity 1

  • There is/was one cake left.
  • There are/were lots of cricket bats.
  • There were/are seven players on the team.
  • There was/is a huge radio playing music. 

Activity 2

  • The computer tablet was silver.
  • The phone was on the table.
  • Jimmy played one musical instrument.  

Activity 3

  • Sandra bought one dress.
  • The bus was on time.
  • Fernando ate one peach.

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