Declension (otherwise known as the inflection of nouns and pronouns) is the change in form of nouns and pronouns to indicate person, number, case; and gender. Specifically, noun declension refers to the change in spelling or appearance of a noun to mark a change in its meaning and usage. Nouns generally inflect for NUMBER, GENDER, and CASE.
A noun is said to be in the singular number when it denotes one person, place, or thing; e.g. boy, cat. But it is said to be in the plural number when it denotes more than one person, place, or thing; e.g. boys, cats. Hence, nouns exhibit two numbers – singular and plural – in English. Singular nouns generally form their plurals by adding ‘S’.
- Some (ending in ch, s, sh, x, z, or in o) add ‘es’.
- Some (ending in f or fe) change to ‘ves’.
- Some (ending in y) change to ies’.
- Some are irregular.
Since there is no single way of forming plurals of nouns, we shall examine the problems of number in the noun under the following headings:
- Regular plurals.
- Irregular/Exceptional plurals
- Foreign plurals
- Compound Nouns and their plurals.
1) Regular Plurals
Many countable nouns form their plurals by adding -s or -es to the singular form (sometimes with a change of the final letter; e.g. – f to -v, – y to -i). Examples:
a) Nouns that form their plurals by adding -s to their singular forms include:
b) Nouns that end in -ch, – sh -x, and some that end in -s or -es, make their plurals by adding -es to the singular.
c) Many nouns that end in -o preceded by a consonant form their plurals by adding -es to the singular form:
d) Twelve nouns ending in -f or fe drop the -f or fe and add -ves. These nouns are:
e) Nouns ending in y preceded by a consonant form their plurals by changing the y into -ies. See the following examples:
2) Irregular/Exceptional Plurals:
There are four categories of irregular/exceptional plurals. They are:
- those related to words that end in -o, – f, – fe, and y;
- those that form their plurals by adding -en;
- those that require vowel change to form their plurals, and (d) those that have the same form for both singular and plural.
(a) Words that end in -o, – f/ -fe, and -y:
(i) Some nouns of foreign origin that end in -o preceded by a consonant form their plurals by adding only -s to their singular form:
Similarly, if the -o is preceded by a vowel or a semi-vowel (y,w), the plural is formed by simply adding -s to the singular:
(ii) About seventeen nouns ending in -for -fe form their plurals by simply adding -s to the singular form. These are:
Yet, some nouns (at least four in number) ending in -f form their plurals by taking either -s or -ves. Examples:
(iii) Note that a noun that ends in `-y’, preceded by a vowel, forms its plural by adding `-s’ to the singular form.
(b) Four nouns form their plurals by simply adding -en or -ne to their singular form. They are:
(c) A few nouns form their plurals by a vowel change. They are eight in number:
(d) There are a few nouns, especially of fish and animals, measurements and nationalities that have the same form for the plural as for the singular: