The plural (sometimes abbreviated
), in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical category of number
. The plural of a noun
typically denotes a quantity
greater than the default quantity represented by that noun. This default quantity is most commonly one (a form that represents this default quantity of one is said to be of ''singular
'' number). Therefore, plurals most typically denote two or more of something, although they may also denote quantities greater than fractional, zero or negative amounts. An example of a plural is the English word ''cats'', which corresponds to the singular ''cat''.
Words of other types, such as verb
s and pronoun
s, also frequently have distinct plural forms, which are used in agreement
with the number of their associated nouns.
Some languages also have a dual
(denoting exactly two of something) or other systems of number categories. However, in English
and many other languages, singular and plural are the only grammatical numbers, except for possible remnants of dual number in pronouns such as ''both'' and ''either''.
Use in systems of grammatical number
In many languages, there is also a dual number
(used for indicating two objects). Some other grammatical numbers present in various languages include trial
(for three objects) and paucal
(for an imprecise but small number of objects). In languages with dual, trial, or paucal numbers, plural refers to numbers higher than those. However, numbers besides singular, plural, and (to a lesser extent) dual are extremely rare. Languages with numerical classifiers
such as Chinese
lack any significant grammatical number at all, though they are likely to have plural personal pronoun
Some languages (like Mele-Fila
) distinguish between a plural and a greater plural. A greater plural refers to an abnormally large number for the object of discussion. The distinction between the paucal, the plural, and the greater plural is often relative to the type of object under discussion. For example, in discussing oranges, the paucal number might imply fewer than ten, whereas for the population of a country, it might be used for a few hundred thousand.
The Austronesian languages
have extremely complex grammatical number systems, with singular, dual, paucal, greater paucal, and plural.
Traces of the dual and paucal can be found in some Slavic
and Baltic languages
(apart from those that preserve the dual number, such as Slovene
). These are known as "pseudo-dual" and "pseudo-paucal" grammatical numbers. For example, Polish
use different forms of nouns with the numerals 2, 3, or 4 (and higher numbers ending with these) than with the numerals 5, 6, etc. (genitive singular in Russian and nominative plural in Polish in the former case, genitive plural in the latter case). Also some nouns may follow different declension patterns when denoting objects which are typically referred to in pairs. For example, in Polish
, the noun "oko", among other meanings, may refer to a human or animal eye
or to a drop of oil on water. The plural of "oko" in the first meaning is "oczy" (even, if actually referring to more than two eyes), while in the second - "oka" (even, if actually referring to exactly two drops).
Traces of dual can also be found in Modern Hebrew
. Biblical Hebrew
had grammatical dual via the suffix as opposed to for masculine words
. Contemporary use of a true dual number in Hebrew is chiefly used in words regarding time and numbers. However, in Biblical and Modern Hebrew, the pseudo-dual as plural of "eyes" "eye / eyes" as well as "hands", "legs" and several other words are retained. For further information, see .
Certain nouns in some languages have the unmarked form referring to multiple items, with an inflected form referring to a single item. These cases are described with the terms ''collective number'' and ''singulative number
''. Some languages may possess a massive plural and a numerative plural, the first implying a large mass and the second implying division. For example, "the waters of the Atlantic Ocean" versus, "the waters of ach of
the Great Lakes".
Formation of plurals
A given language may make plural forms of nouns by various types of inflection
, including the addition of affix
es, like the English ''-(e)s'' ending, or ablaut
, as in the derivation of the plural ''geese'' from ''goose'', or a combination of the two. Some languages may also form plurals by reduplication
, but not as productive. It may be that some nouns are not marked for plural, like ''sheep'' and ''series'' in English. In languages which also have a case
system, such as Latin
, nouns can have not just one plural form but several, corresponding to the various cases. The inflection might affect multiple words, not just the noun; and the noun itself need not become plural as such, other parts of the expression indicate the plurality.
In English, the most common formation of plural nouns is by adding an ''-s'' suffix to the singular noun. (For details and different cases, see English plural
). Just like in English, noun plurals in French, Spanish and Portuguese are also typically formed by adding an ''-s'' suffix to the lemma form, sometimes combining it with an additional vowel (in French, however, this plural suffix is often not pronounced). This construction is also found in German and Dutch, but only in some nouns. Suffixing is cross-linguistically the most common method of forming plurals.
In Welsh, the reference form, or default quantity, of some nouns is plural, and the singular form is formed from that, eg ''llygod'', mice; ''llygoden'', mouse; ''erfin'', turnips; ''erfinen'', turnip.
Plural forms of other parts of speech
In many languages, words other than nouns may take plural forms, these being used by way of grammatical agreement
with plural nouns (or noun phrase
s). Such a word may in fact have a number of plural forms, to allow for simultaneous agreement within other categories such as case
, as well as marking of categories belonging to the word itself (such as tense
of verbs, degree of comparison
of adjectives, etc.)
s often agree with their subject
in number (as well as in person and sometimes gender). Examples of plural forms are the French
''mangeons, mangez, mangent'' – respectively the first-, second- and third-person plural of the present tense of the verb ''manger''. In English a distinction is made in the third person between forms such as ''eats'' (singular) and ''eat'' (plural).
s may agree with the noun they modify; examples of plural forms are the French ''petits'' and ''petites'' (the masculine plural and feminine plural respectively of ''petit''). The same applies to some determiner
s – examples are the French plural definite article ''les'', and the English demonstratives
''these'' and ''those''.
It is common for pronoun
s, particularly personal pronoun
s, to have distinct plural forms. Examples in English are ''we'' (''us'', etc.) and ''they'' (''them'' etc.; see English personal pronouns
), and again ''these'' and ''those'' (when used as demonstrative pronoun
In Welsh, a number of common prepositions also inflect to agree with the number, person, and sometimes gender of the noun or pronoun they govern.
Nouns lacking plural or singular form
Certain nouns do not form plurals. A large class of such nouns in many languages is that of uncountable noun
s, representing mass or abstract concepts such as ''air'', ''information'', ''physics''. However, many nouns of this type also have countable meanings or other contexts in which a plural can be used; for example ''water'' can take a plural when it means water from a particular source (''different waters make for different beers'') and in expressions like ''by the waters of Babylon''.
There are also nouns found exclusively or almost exclusively in the plural, such as the English ''scissors''. These are referred to with the term ''plurale tantum
''. Occasionally, a plural form can pull double duty as the singular form (or vice versa), as has happened with the word "data"
Usage of the plural
The plural is used, as a rule, for quantities other than one (and other than those quantities represented by other grammatical numbers, such as dual, which a language may possess). Thus it is frequently used with numbers higher than one (''two cats'', ''101 dogs'', ''four and a half hours'') and for unspecified amounts of countable things (''some men'', ''several cakes'', ''how many lumps?'', ''birds have feathers''). The precise rules for the use of plurals, however, depends on the language – for example Russian
uses the genitive singular rather than the plural after certain numbers (see above).
Treatments differ in expressions of zero quantity: English often uses the plural in such expressions as ''no injuries'' and ''zero points'', although ''no'' (and ''zero'' in some contexts) may also take a singular. In French, the singular form is used after ''zéro''.
English also tends to use the plural with decimal fraction
s, even if less than one, as in ''0.3 metres'', ''0.9 children''. Common fraction
s less than one tend to be used with singular expressions: ''half (of) a loaf'', ''two-thirds of a mile''. Negative number
s are usually treated the same as the corresponding positive ones: ''minus one degree'', ''minus two degrees''. Again, rules on such matters differ between languages.
In some languages, including English, expressions that appear to be singular in form may be treated as plural if they are used with a plural sense, as in ''the government are agreed''. The reverse is also possible: ''the United States is a powerful country''. See synesis
, and also .
In part-of-speech tagging
notation, tags are used to distinguish different types of plurals based on their grammatical and semantic context. Resolution varies, for example the Penn-Treebank tagset (~36 tags) has two tags: ''NNS - noun, plural,'' and ''NPS - Proper noun, plural'',
while the CLAWS 7 tagset (~149 tags)
uses six: ''NN2 - plural common noun, NNL2 - plural locative noun, NNO2 - numeral noun, plural, NNT2 - temporal noun, plural, NNU2 - plural unit of measurement, NP2 - plural proper noun.''
*Corbett, Greville. ''Number'' (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics). Cambridge University Press
*Huddleston, Rodney and Pullum, Geoffrey K., ''The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language'', Cambridge University Press, Suffolk, UK, 2002
*Curme, George O., ''A Grammar of the English Language, Volume 1: Parts of Speech'', D.C. Heath and Company, 1935
*Opdycke, John B., ''Harper’s English Grammar'', Harper & Row, New York, New York, 1965
*Jespersen, Otto, ''A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles, v. II'', George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., London, 1928
*McDavid, Raven I. Jr. et al., ''The Plurals of Nouns of Measure in Spoken American English'', Fries Festschrift, Ann Arbor, MI, 1963
*Xu, Dan. 2012. ''Plurality and classifiers across languages in China.'' Berlin: de Gruyter.
GNU gettext utilities (section 11.2.6 - Additional functions for plural forms)
(Treatment of zero and the plurality based on the final digits)http://corpus.byu.edu/coca