The Number of Nouns
§ 3. Number is the form of the noun which shows whether one
or more than one object is meant. Some nouns in English may have
the singular and the plural forms (e.g. room — rooms, worker —
workers, lesson — lessons). Other nouns are used either only in the
singular (e.g. freedom, progress, machinery, steel, milk) or only in
the plural (e.g. spectacles, goods, billiards).
§ 4. The plural of most nouns is built up by means of the suffix
-s or -es. It is pronounced [z]after vowels and voiced consonants
(e.g. days, dogs, birds), [s]after voiceless consonants (e.g. books,
coats) and [iz] after sibilants (e.g. horses, roses, judges, brushes).
It should be noted that some nouns in the plural change the pro-
nunciation of their final consonants: [s] -> [ziz] (e.g. house — hous-
es) and [в] -» [Sz] (e.g. bath — baths, mouth — mouths, path —
paths, truth — truths, youth — youths).
§ 5. In writing, the following spelling rules should be observed:
Thesuffix es is added to nouns ending in s, sh, ch, x and z (e.g-
glass — glasses, brush — brushes, watch — watches, box — boxes).
It is also added to nouns ending in о preceded by a consonant
(e.g. tomato — tomatoes, potato — potatoes, hero — heroes). But if
a noun ends in о preceded by a vowel or it happens to be a noun of
' foreign origin, only -s is added (e.g. cuckoo — cuckoos, radio —
radios, piano — pianos, kilo — kilos, photo — photos).
Nouns ending in -y preceded by a consonant change the -y into
-ies (e.g. story — stories, fly — flies, country — countries).
But if a noun ends in -y preceded by a vowel, only -s is added
(e.g. key — keys, boy ~ boys, day — days).
The following nouns ending in -f or -fe have the ending -ves in
the plural: wife — wives, life — lives, knife — knives, wolf —
wolves, calf — calves, shelf — shelves, leaf — leaves, thief —
thieves, half — halves.
But other nouns ending in -f or -fe take only -s in the plural
(e.g. roof — roofs, cliff — cliffs, gulf — gulfs, proof — proofs,
safe — safes, grief — griefs, cuff — cuffs, belief — beliefs).
The following nouns have both forms in the plural: scarf —
scarfs/scarves, wharf — wharfs/wharves, hoof — hoofs/hooves,
handkerchief — handkerchiefs/handkerchieves.
§ 6. There are a number of nouns in English which form their
plural in an irregular way.
A few nouns form their plural by a change of vowel. They are:
man — men, woman — women, tooth — teeth, foot ~ feet,
mouse — mice, goose — geese, louse — lice.
Note also the peculiar plural form in the nouns: ox — oxen,
child — children, brother — brethren (=not blood relations, but
members of the same society).
A few nouns have the same form for the singular and the plural:
a sheep — sheep, a swine — swine, a deer — deer, a fish — fish, a
craft — craft, a counsel — counsel (=legal adviser, barrister).
The following nouns ending in s in the singular remain un-
changed in the plural: a means — means, a (gas) works — (gas)
works, a barracks — barracks, a headquarters — headquarters, a
series — series, a species — species.
Note. Note that the noun penny has two plural forms: pennies (when referring
to individual coins) and pence (when the amount only is meant).
e.g. She dropped three pennies in the slot-machine.
The fare cost him eight pence.
§ 7. Some nouns borrowed from other languages especially
from Greek and Latin, keep their foreign plural forms. These
nouns are mostly found in scientific prose. They are: agendum —
agenda, analysis — analyses, bacterium — bacteria, basis —
bases, crisis — crises, criterion — criteria, datum — data, hy
pothesis — hypotheses, phenomenon — phenomena, stratum —
strata, thesis — theses.
Some other nouns have the new English plural alongside of the
original foreign one: curriculum — curriculums/curricula, formula —
formulas /formulae, memorandum — memorandums/memoranda.
§ 8. With compound nouns it is usually the final component
that is made plural (e.g. bookcase — bookcases, writing table —
writing tables, tooth brush — tooth brushes, handful — handfuls,
drawback — drawbacks, forget-me-not — forget-me-nots, post
man — postmen, Englishman — Englishmen).
In. a few nouns the first component is made plural (e.g. father-
in-law — fathers-in-law, commander-in-chief — commanders-in-
chief, passer-by — passers by).
When the first component is man or woman, the plural is ex-
pressed twice (e.g. man servant — men servants, woman doctor —
§ 9. A considerable number of nouns are used only in the singu-
lar in English. (The Latin term singularia tantum is applied to
them.) Here belong all names of materials (e.g. iron, copper, sand,
coal, bread, cheese, oil, wine, tea, chalk) and also a great number
of nouns denoting abstract notions 1(e.g. generosity, curiosity, an-
ger, foolishness, excitement, poetry, fun, sculpture, progress).
Special mention should be made of a few nouns which end in -s
but are used only in the singular. They are: news, gallows, sum-
Here also belong nouns ending in -ics: physics, mathematics,
phonetics, optics, ethics, politics.
Note. Nouns of the latter group are occasionally treated as plurals.
e.g- Politics has (have)always interested him.
Mathematics is (are) well taught at that school.
1 Note, however, that many other abstract nouns may have both the singular and
the plural forms (e.g. idea — ideas, change — changes, suggestion — suggestions).
§ 10. There are a few nouns in English which are used only in
the plural. (The Latin term pluralia tantum is applied to them.)
Here belong nouns indicating articles of dress consisting of two
parts (e.g. trousers, pants, shorts, trunks, pyjamas, drawers, brac-
es), tools and instruments consisting of two parts (e.g. scissors,
spectacles, glasses, tongs, pincers, scales, fetters), names of some
games (e.g. billiards, cards, dominoes, draughts) and also miscella-
neous other nouns (e.g. riches, contents, dregs, oats, thanks,
clothes, credentials, soap-suds, troops, goods, whereabouts, bowels,
surroundings, savings, belongings, goings on, winnings, home-com-
ings, proceedings, hangings).
e.g. The whereaboutsof the tomb havelong been an historic mys-
There were clothesscattered about the room.
§ ll.There are a few other nouns in English which have only
the plural form and lack the singular, i.e. pluralia tantum nouns.
But they happen to be homonyms of nouns which are used in both
forms, the singular and the plural. These nouns are:
|colours (=regimental flags) forces (=an army) customs (=taxes on imported goods) draughts (=a game) glasses (=spectacles) manners (=behaviour) morals (=standards of behav- iour) minutes (=secretary's record of proceedings) quarters (=lodgings)|
a colour — colours (=hues)
a force — forces (=powers)
a custom — customs (=habits)
a draught — draughts (=cur-
rents of air)
a glass — glasses (=vessels
for drinking from)
a manner — manners (=ways)
a moral — morals (=lessons
of a story)
a minute — minutes (=spaces
a quarter — quarters (=fourth
§ 12. Some nouns which belong to the singularia tantum group
are occasionally used in the plural form for stylistic reasons sug-
gesting a great quantity or extent, e.g. the sands of the Sahara,
the snows and frosts of the Arctic, the waters of the Atlantic, the
blue skies of Italy, etc.
§ 13. A noun used as subject of the sentence agrees in number
with its predicate verb: a singular noun takes a singular verb; a
plural noun takes a plural verb. This rule may be called grammati-
e.g. If we ever thought nature was simple, now we know for sure
If there are any universal laws for the cosmos, they must be
Difficulties arise, however, with collective nouns, i.e. nouns
denoting groups of people and sometimes animals. Here belong
such nouns as the aristocracy, army, audience, board, the bourgeoi
sie, class, the clergy, committee, (the) Congress, crew, crowd, dele-
gation, the elite, family, flock, the gentry, government, group, herd,
the intelligentsia, jury, majority, minority, Parliament, the prole-
tariat, the public, staff, team, etc.
Such nouns may be used in two ways: they either indicate the
group as a single undivided body, a non-personal collective, or as a
collection of individuals. In the former case there is no contradic-
tion between the form and the meaning of such nouns and they
take a singular noun (grammatical concord).
e.g. The audience was enormous.
The crowd has been dispersed.
The public consists of you and me.
The college football team has done badly this season.
His family was well known in their town.
In the latter case the nouns, though remaining singular gram-
matically become plural notionally and take a plural verb. This
may be called notional concord.
e.g. The public were not admitted to hear the trial.
"The team are now resting", the coach said to us.
"My family keep a close eye on me," said George.
The audience were enjoying every minute of it.
Some of the collective nouns, however, regularly require a plu-
ral verb. Here belong; people (люди, народ),1 police and cattle.
1 The noun people meaning 'nationality' can have a singular and a plural form: a
people — peoples.
e.g. There were few people out in the street at that hour.
He said: "Martha, the police have the man that stole your
His uncle showed him the pastures where the cattle were
On the whole, in British English the plural verb appears to be
more common with collective nouns in speech, whereas in writing
the singular verb is probably preferred. It is generally safest for a
foreign learner, when in doubt, to obey grammatical concord. In
American English, collective nouns almost always go with a singu-
Note. A number of (несколько, ряд) usually agrees with a plural verb.
e.g. There were quite a number of people watching the game.
The Case of Nouns
§ 14. Case is the form of the noun which shows the relation of
the noun to other words in the sentence.
English nouns have two case forms — the common case and
thegenitive case, e.g. the child — the child's father, an hour —
an hour's walk.
§ 15. The genitive case is formed by means of the suffix -s or
the apostrophe (-') alone.
The suffix -s is pronounced [z] after vowels and voiced conso-
nants, e.g. boy's, girl's; [s] after voiceless consonants, e.g. stu-
dent's, wife's; [iz] after sibilants, e.g. prince's, judge's.
The -'s is added to singular nouns (see the examples above) and
also to irregular plural nouns, e.g. men's, children's, women's.
The apostrophe (-') alone is added to regular plural nouns, e.g.
soldiers', parents', workers', and also to proper names ending in -s,
e.g. Archimedes' Law, Sophocles' plays, Hercules' labours.
Some other proper names ending in -s may also take the suffix -'s,
e.g. Soames' (Soames's) collection, Burns' (Burns's) poems, Dick-
ens' (Dickens's) novels, Jones' (Jones's) car, etc. The common
pronunciation of both variants appears to be [...iz], but the com-
mon spelling — with the apostrophe only.
Note. Notice that with compound nouns the suffix 's is always added to the fi-
nal component, e.g. my father in law's house, the passerby's remark.
§ 16. The number of nouns which may be used in the genitive
case is limited. The -'s genitive commonly occurs with animate
nouns denoting personal names (John's bed, Mary's job, Segovia's
pupil, etc.), personal nouns (my friend's visit, the boy's new shirt,
the man's question, etc.), collective nouns (the party's platform,
the team's victory, the government's policy, etc.) and higher ani-
mals (the dog's barking, the lion's cage, etc.).
In principle, the -'s genitive is also possible with certain kinds
of inanimate nouns and abstract notions. For example, it is regu-
larly found with temporal nouns (a day's work, a few days' trip, a
two years' absence, a moment's pause, a seven months' pay, etc.)
and with nouns denoting distance and measure (a mile's distance,
a shilling's worth, etc.). Sometimes it is used with geographic
names of continents, countries, cities, towns, and universities (Eu-
rope's future, the United States' policy, London's water supply,
etc.), locative nouns (the island's outline, the city's white houses,
the school's history, etc.) as well as a few other nouns (the sun's
rays, the ship's crew, the play's title, Nature's sleep, etc.).
There are also a considerable number of set phrases in which
all sorts of nouns are found in the genitive case, e.g. in one's
mind's eye, a pin's head, to one's heart's content, at one's finger's
end, for goodness' sake, at one's wit's end, out of harm's way, du-
ty's call, a needle's point.
§ 17. A noun in the genitive case generally precedes another
noun which is its head-word. This may be called the dependent
The relations between the noun in the genitive case and its
head-word may be of two kinds:
1) The noun in the genitive case may denote a particular per-
son or thing, as in my mother's room, the man's voice. This kind
of the genitive case is called the specifying genitive. The more
common meanings of the specifying genitive are the following:
e.g. Mary's suitcase (=Mary has a suitcase)
the children's toys (=the children have toys)
b) subjective genitive,
e.g. that boy's answer (=the boy answered)
the parents' consent (=the parents consented)
c) genitive of origin,
e.g. the girl's story (=the girl told the story)
the general's letter (=the general wrote the letter)
d) objective genitive,
e.g. the boy's punishment (=somebody punished the boy)
the man's release (=somebody released the man)
The specifying genitive may be replaced if necessary by an of-
phrase, e.g. the father of the boys, the room of my brother who is in
hospital, etc. With proper names, however, the genitive case is the
rule, e.g. John's parents, Mary's birthday, Byron's first poems.
Note. There is considerable overlap in the uses of the -'s genitive and the of-
phrase. Although either of the two may be possible in a given context, only one of
them is, however, generally preferred for reasons of structure, euphony, rhythm,
emphasis, or implied relationship between the nouns. The use of the -'s genitive is
very common in headlines, where brevity is essential. Furthermore, the -'s genitive
gives prominence to the modifying noun. Compare:
Hollywood's Studios Empty
The Studios of Hollywood Empty
2) The noun in the genitive case may refer to a whole class of
similar objects. This kind of the genitive case is called the classify-
ing (descriptive) genitive, e.g. sheep's eyes (which means 'eyes of a
certain kind' but not 'the eyes of a particular sheep), a doctor's de-
gree (=a doctoral degree), cow's milk (=milk from cows), a wom-
en's college (=a college for women), a soldier's uniform, a sum-
mer's day, a doll's face, a planter's life, gents' clothes, lady's
wear, an hour's walk, a mile's distance, etc.
In some cases such combinations have become set phrases, e.g.
a spider's web, the serpent's tooth, the bee's sting, a giant's task, a
fool's errand, a cat's paw ('слепое орудие в чьих-то руках'),
child's play and others.
The classifying genitive is generally not replaced by an of-
phrase, except for the genitive indicating time and distance.
e.g. a three days' absence —> an absence of three days
a two miles' distance -> a distance of two miles
§ 18. The suffix -'s may be added not only to a single noun but
to a whole group of words. Itis called the group genitive.We find
various patterns here, e. g. Smith and Brown's office, Jack and
Ann's children, the Prime Minister of England's residence, the
Prince of Denmark's tragedy, somebody else's umbrella, the man
we saw yesterday's son.
§ 19. Sometimes we find the use of -'s and of together. This is
called a double genitive.
e.g. He was an old business client of Grandfather's(=one of
§ 20. A noun in the genitive case may be used without a head-
word. This is called the independent genitive.
The independent genitive is used with nouns denoting trade
and relationship or with proper names. It serves to denote a build-
ing (e.g. a school, a house, a hospital, a church) or a shop. It is
mainly found in prepositional phrases.
e.g. I was in the grocer's and I heard some women say it.
He asked her how she liked living at her daughter's.
They were married at St. Paul's.
Mrs White ran the confectioner'svery competently.
He asked her to choose a restaurant and she suggested Scott's.