Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

Plural of Chief

The Quick Answer
The plural of chief is chiefs.

The Plural of Chief

The plural of chief is chiefs.
  • The African people and tribal chiefs are hospitable, and African music and dances are invigorating. (Li Keqiang)
  • The Solomon Islands have a Local Court Act which empowers chiefs to deal with crimes in their communities.
The noun chief adheres to the standard rules for forming the plurals of nouns in English (shown in the table below).

Type Example of Type Forming the Plural Plural
Most Nouns lamp
scythe
add s lamps
scythes
Noun Ending s, sh, ch, x or z bus
dress
add es buses
dresses
Nouns ending [consonant] o hero
zero
tomato
add either s or es
(There are no rules for this - you have to know.)
heroes
zeros
tomatoes
Nouns ending [vowel] o patio
ratio
add s patios
ratios
Nouns ending [consonant] y story
penny
change the y to an i and add es stories
pennies
Nouns ending [vowel] y storey ()
donkey
add s storeys
donkeys
Nouns ending f or fe life
chief
ves and/or s
(There are no rules - you have to know.)
lives
chiefs
Exceptions man
louse
some nouns undergo a vowel or letters change men
lice
More exceptions salmon
sheep
some nouns do not change at all salmon
sheep

Why Is There Confusion over the Plural of Chief?

There is confusion because the rule for forming plurals with nouns ending in f or fe isn't straightforward. Most nouns will drop the f or fe and gain a ves. For example:
  • Knife becomes knives.
  • Leaf becomes leaves.
Some just add s. For example:
  • Safe becomes safes.
  • Cliff becomes cliffs.
With some words, both versions are accepted. For example:
  • Scarf becomes scarfs or scarves.
  • Dwarf becomes dwarfs or dwarves.
The plural of chief is always chiefs. Unfortunately, there is no clever way of knowing which nouns ending f or fe follow which rules. You have to know. (For example, you have to know that thief becomes thieves but chief becomes chiefs.)