What Does "Plural" Mean?

The word "plural" means a quantity greater than one. "Plural" contrasts with singular, which means only one. For example:
  • One dog and two cats
  • (The word "dog" is singular, but "cats" is plural. So, the word "dog" is a singular noun, but "cats" is a plural noun.)
  • He sings, and they shout.
  • ("He" is a singular pronoun, and "sings" is a singular verb. "They" is a plural pronoun, and "shout" is a plural verb.)

Table of Contents

  • Most Nouns Have Singular and Plural Forms
  • Zero Is Plural!
  • Agreement in Number (Singular or Plural)
  • Pronouns Can be Singular, Plural...or Either
  • Why Plurals Are Important
  • Test Time!
plural English grammar
The terms "plural" and "singular" are values of the grammatical category of number.

Most Nouns Have Singular and Plural Forms

Most nouns have singular and plural forms. A noun with a singular and plural form (e.g., dog/dogs, man/men) is called a countable noun. A countable noun contrasts with a non-countable noun, which does not have a plural form (e.g., music, bravery).

Here are four countable nouns that are plural in number:
  • tramps, beers, goggles, models
Most of the time in English, a noun forms its plural by adding "-s" or "-es" to its singular version. However, not every noun forms its plural this way. For example:
  • sheep, men, stadia, octopi
Read more about forming the plurals of nouns.

Zero Is Plural!

Here's an interesting quirk with grammatical number: The amount zero is treated as plural. For example:
  • 0 cats (plural noun)
  • 1 cat (singular noun)
  • 2 cats (plural noun)
  • 3 cats (plural noun)

Agreement in Number (Singular or Plural)

In English, lots of grammatical constructions must agree in number. For example:

(1) A plural subject must have a plural verb, and a singular subject must have a singular verb.

  • They are happy. correct tick
  • ("They" is a plural subject, and "are" is a plural verb.)
  • The mice are eating our sandwiches. correct tick
  • ("The mice" is a plural subject, and "are eating" is a plural verb.)
  • The mouse chews the cable. correct tick
  • ("The mouse" is a singular subject, and "chews" is a singular verb.)
Read more about subject-verb agreement.

(2) A demonstrative determiner ("these," "those," "this," and "that") must agree in number with the noun it modifies.

  • These reactions are unexpected. correct tick
  • ("These" is a plural determiner, and "reactions" is a plural noun.)
  • This town is boring. correct tick
  • ("This" is a singular determiner, and "town" is a singular noun.)
Demonstrative determiners are called demonstrative adjectives in traditional grammar. Read more about demonstrative determiners.

(3) A possessive determiner ("my," "your," "his," "her," "its," "our," and "their") must agree in number and gender with the noun it represents.

  • Peter shook his head. correct tick
  • (The possessive determiner "his" probably refers to Peter, but it could feasible refer to another male individual.)
  • Peter shook their hands. correct tick
  • (The possessive determiner "their" refers to an unnamed group of people.)
Possessive determiners are called possessive adjectives in traditional grammar. Read more about possessive determiners.

Pronouns Can be Singular, Plural...or Either

In English, some pronouns are always plural (e.g., "we," "they," "these"), and some are always singular (e.g., "I," "he," "this"). Some pronouns can be singular or plural. Here is a list of the most common pronouns showing whether each is singular, plural, or either.
Pronoun Type: Personal Pronouns
Singular PronounsPlural PronounsExample
I/Me-I am happy.
YouYouYou are happy.
You are happy.
He/Him-He is happy.
She/Her-She is happy.
It-It is happy.
-We/UsWe are happy.
-They/ThemThey are happy.
Pronoun Type: Intensive Pronouns and Reflexive Pronouns
Singular PronounsPlural PronounsExample
Myself-I am looking at myself.
Yourself-You are looking at yourself.
Himself-He is looking at himself.
Herself-She is looking at herself.
Itself-It is looking at itself.
-OurselvesWe are looking at ourselves.
-YourselvesYou are looking at yourselves.
-ThemselvesThey are looking at themselves.
Pronoun Type: Interrogative Pronouns
Singular PronounsPlural PronounsExample
Who/WhomWho/WhomWho is he?
Who are they?
WhoseWhoseWhose is it?
Whose are they?
WhatWhatWhat is it?
What are they?
WhichWhichWhich is it?
Which are they?
Pronoun Type: Demonstrative Pronouns
Singular PronounsPlural PronounsExample
That-That is heavy.
This-This is heavy.
-ThoseThose are heavy.
-TheseThese are heavy.
Pronoun Type: Relative Pronouns
Singular PronounsPlural PronounsExample
Who/WhomWho/WhomThe man who is looking at the car...
The men who are looking at the car...
ThatThatThe dog that is barking...
The dogs that are barking...
WhichWhichThe car which is broken...
The cars which are broken...
Pronoun Type: Indefinite Pronouns
Singular PronounsPlural PronounsExample
AllAllAll is available.
All are available.
AnyAnyAny is available.
Any are available.
Anyone-Anyone is available.
Anything-Anything is available.
Each-Each is available.
Everybody-Everybody is available.
Everyone-Everyone is available.
Everything-Everything is available.
- FewFew are available.
- ManyMany are available.
Nobody-Nobody is available.
NoneNoneNone is available
None are available.
-SeveralSeveral are available.
SomeSomeSome is available.
Some are available.
Somebody-Somebody is available.
Someone-Someone is available.

Why Plurals Are Important

Understanding that nouns, verbs, determiners, and pronouns must match in number is a fundamental point if you're learning or teaching English as there will be a "number agreement" issue of some kind in practically every sentence.

If you're a native English speaker, then you almost certainly handle "number agreement" brilliantly without giving the grammar a second thought. That said though, there are a few traps that can cause "number agreement" errors.

Here are twelve issues related to grammatical number that cause problems for writers.

(Issue 1) Make sure "these" and "those" agree with their noun.

"These" and "those" modify plural nouns. Be especially careful when using the words "kind" and "type."
  • These kind of things. wrong cross
  • (It should be "kinds.")
  • Those type of issues. wrong cross
  • (It should be "types.")

(Issue 2) Don't make the wrong noun agree with the verb.

In a construction like "a jar of sweets," the verb must agree with the head noun (i.e., "jar") not "sweets."
  • An assortment of cakes are on sale. wrong cross
  • (It should be "is." The verb should agree with "assortment," which is singular.)
Read more about this issue on the "prepositional phrases" page.

(Issue 3) Be aware that terms like "along with" and "together with" do not increase the number.

Unlike "and," terms like "along with," "together with," and "as well as" do increase the number of the subject.
  • Jack and Jill are happy. correct tick
  • (The word "and" increases the number.)
  • Jack as well as Jill is happy. correct tick
  • (The term "as well as" does not increase the number.)

(Issue 4) Be aware that "or" and "nor" do not increase the number.

"Or" and "nor" (unlike "and") do not increase the number.
  • Jack or Jill is guilty. correct tick
  • Neither Jack nor Jill has an alibi. correct tick
Read more about this issue on the "correlative conjunctions" page.

(Issue 5) Treat "either" and "neither" as singular.

Even though they seem to refer to two things, "either" and "neither" are singular.
  • Neither of the twins is present. correct tick
Read more about "either" and "neither".

(Issue 6) Be aware that collective nouns can be singular or plural.

A collective noun is a word that represents a group (e.g., "choir," "shoal," "team"). A collective noun can be singular or plural depending on the context.
  • The flock is flying south. correct tick
  • (When considered as one unit, a collective noun is singular.)
  • The flock are flying off on different headings. correct tick
  • (When the focus is on the individuals in the group, a collective noun is plural.)
Read more about collective nouns.

(Issue 7) Be aware that "none" can be singular or plural.

Even though some of your readers might expect you to treat it as singular, "none" can be singular or plural.
  • None of them is guilty. correct tick
  • None of them are guilty. correct tick
If your "none" translates best as "not one of," treat it as singular. If it translates best as "not any of," treat it as plural.

(Issue 8) Be aware that terms "the majority of," "like half of," and "a percentage of" can be singular or plural.

Expressions such as "half of," "a part of," "a percentage of," "a proportion of," and "a majority of" are singular when they refer to something singular but plural when they refer to something plural.
  • Half of my life has put the other half in the grave. correct tick (French dramatist Pierre Corneille)
  • ("Half" is singular because it refers to "life," which is singular.)
  • Half of the American people have never read a newspaper, and half have never voted. One hopes it is the same half. correct tick (Writer Gore Vidal)
  • ("Half" is plural because it refers to "people," which is plural.)

(Issue 9) Be aware that terms like "all of" and "some of" can be singular or plural.

"All of," "any of," "more of," "most of," and "some of" are singular when they precede something singular but plural when they precede something plural.
  • Most of the alibi is nonsense. correct tick
  • ("Most" is singular because it precedes "alibi," which is singular.)
  • Most of the claims do not add up. correct tick
  • ("Most" is plural because it precedes "claims," which is plural.)

(Issue 10) Some words that look plural aren't, and some words that are plural in Latin aren't in English.

The words listed below often cause issues with subject-verb agreement:
WordSingular or Plural?
(even though it is the plural of "agendum")
(Unlike "data" and "agendum," "criteria" has retained its plural status because the singular "criterion" is still in common usage.)
dataSingular nowadays
(even though it is the plural of "datum")
mediaSingular or Plural
(Treat "media" like a collective noun as opposed to the plural of "medium.")
Plural only words like glasses, pliers, scissors, trousers, underpantsPlural but note that "a pair of [insert word]" is singular.

(Issue 11) The expression "more than one" is singular.

Somewhat counter-intuitively (given its meaning), "more than one" is singular.
  • More than one person was involved in this robbery. correct tick

(Issue 12) There's no suitable possessive determiner to agree with words like "someone" and "anyone."

"Anyone," "each," "everyone," "no one," "nobody," and "someone" (called indefinite pronouns) are singular. That's clear enough. There's an issue though. If you use a word like "his" and "her" (called possessive determiners) later in the same sentence, problems start to arise.
  • Anyone who disagrees must put his grievance in writing. wrong cross
Using "his" to denote "his/her" is outdated. Here are two good alternatives:

(Alternative 1) Reword your sentence to make it all plural.
  • Those who disagree must put their grievance in writing. correct tick
(Alternative 2) Use "their" instead of "his."
  • Anyone who disagrees must put their grievance in writing. correct tick
The English language doesn't have a gender-neutral singular pronoun for people. This flaw has compelled us to treat "their" as singular as well as plural. Read more about treating "they" and "their" as singular.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.