Can You Ace This Tricky English Plurals Test?

EDUCATION

By: Elisabeth Henderson

7 Min Quiz

Image: Troy Harrison / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Knowing how to make nouns plural in English is easy. Just add -s to the end of the word. Unless, that is, the word ends in -s or -z, or -ch, in which case you simply add -es to the end of the word. Then, all you need to remember is that when a word ends in -f, just change the -f to -v and add -es to the ending. Of course, this rule doesn’t apply to “chief,” “belief” or “roof.” That’s all you need to know. Except that if the word in question ends in -y, you just have to substitute -ie for -y and add -s to finalize it. Actually, this is kind of complicated. In fact, Grammarly.com lists ten rules for how to make words plural. At least these are rules, though.

In addition to the ten rules for how to transform singular nouns to plurals, a whole host of additional irregular nouns lie in wait. There aren’t rules for how to anticipate what to do with these irregular nouns. English speakers simply have to memorize the correct form, carry around a dictionary, or risk making a fool of themselves (which the former may also put you in danger of). Do you have these words memorized? You never know when you may need to discuss more than one beef or get stuck in more than one cul-de-sac on your way to a friend’s house. Take this quiz as a primer to brush up your skills in plurality! 

How would you describe the analysis given by multiple news sources following the debate?

The plural of “analysis” is “analyses.” “Analysis,” or “to break down a complex matter into smaller, simpler pieces,” derives from Greek. As with many Greek words, “analysis” maintains its Greek ending, making it irregular in English.

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When you look below your boat and see about ten more than one octopus, what do tell your friend in the boat?

“Octopuses” correctly forms the plural of “octopus.” Many people mistakenly use “octopi” to warn of a group of eight-legged cephalopods. The incorrect -i ending likely comes from the erroneous belief that “octopus” comes from the Latin, which often takes an -i ending for words ending in -us. Since octopus is from Greek, adding -es correctly pluralizes it.

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When more than one aircraft is coming in for a landing in the same space, what would you expect to hear over the intercom?

“Aircraft,” oddly, forms the plural of aircraft. “Aircraft” is a collective noun, so it functions as both a singular and a plural, like "deer." However, when making this plural possessive, you add an -s: “aircrafts.’”

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If you want to publish an opus you have created and share a whole stack of them, how would you describe them in your query to the publisher?

While the word “opera” certainly refers to a drama set to music and composed of vocal performances, it also literally is the plural of “opus.” “Opus” means, simply, “work,” though it can refer to a life’s work as well.

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When you notice an elf family has taken up residence in your tree, how do you notify the children?

“Elves,” the proper plural of “elf,” follows one of the many rules in English for forming plurals: if a word ends in -f, change to -v and add -es. The rules don’t specify what to do if said elves are living in your tree.

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How would you complete the following declaration in a field in Montana: “There’s a herd of ______ moving on the range”?

The word "bison," which stands for both the singular and the plural of the animal, derives from Latin. Like "deer," "bison" is a collective noun, so it doesn’t change when a group is moving across the plains. Some teams, though, use an -s on the end when cheering on their players: Go Bisons!

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When you have looked through one too many index, what do you exclaim?

The plural of “index” is “indices.” “Index” comes from the Latin word for the forefinger, like our index finger. The use of “index” for a list of items mentioned in a book seems to come from the use of “index” to cover a host of things that “point out,” as one does with an index finger.

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If you are meeting a group of people you went to college with, what will the event be called?

“Alumni,” the plural of “alumnus,” comes from the Latin for “a pupil or graduate of a school.” This word grew out of the word “alere,“ meaning “to suckle or nourish.” Few students, though, claim to be the sucklings of their college.

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If you have a head full of lice, you’ll need treatment, but what do you have if you just have one?

“Louse” is the singular of “lice,” just as “mouse” is the singular of “mice.” "Louse" can also be a verb, meaning “to get rid of mice.” The word arises from Old English, as does mouse, explaining their similar spellings.

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When you are dealing with extremely precise matters all day, what might you complain to your partner in the evening?

“Minutiae” correctly forms the plural of “minutia,” though the word is rarely used as a singular. Minutia comes from the Latin word for “small,” which is still used as “minute,” usually meaning very small. As a singular, one might speak of a “minutia” of detail, referring to a single small detail.

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If you were asking your boss to explain to you the foundations of their argument for why they’re firing you, how would you phrase it?

“Bases” forms the plural of “basis.” The basis, literally, is the base, the bottom, foundation or fundamental principle of something. It is feasible to have multiple bases, if there is more than one fundamental principle that a decision is based on, like not approving of drinking on the job and not approving of harassment.

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If you are unfortunate enough to make more than one faux pas in an evening, how might you recount the night?

The word faux pas comes into English from the French and has been assimilated into the English language to mean a social blunder. The French word literally means a “false dance step,” something that trips you up and makes you look silly. The English, like the original French, does not change when it becomes plural.

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When you say that you were keeping up with the news via different mediums, what does that say about you?

“Mediums” is one of the great examples of why it’s important to memorize irregular plurals. A “medium” stands for a single source of information, and media correctly describes multiple sources of information. Mediums, on the other hand, refers to more than one person who stands between the spirit world and the visible world.

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When pointing out more than one radius in a lengthy geometry class, what are you engaged in?

“Radius,” as a Latin derivative, properly takes “radii” for its plural form. "Radiuses," though, can be acceptable as well, especially in informal circumstances. Feel free to take your liberties with the radius in all the informal circumstances in which you discuss them.

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If someone asked you to show them your biceps, what should you flex?

Technically, the Latin word “biceps” is singular, and so it refers to only a single arm. Rather than ending with an -s to show plurality, as in English, the word comes from “bi,” or “two,” and “ceps,” or “headed.” The plural in English for bicep is technically “bicepses.”

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What would you call a stack of the collected works of various authors?

“Corpus,” refers to a body, especially a dead body, and it can also be applied to a body of work, as in the collected works of an author. Multiple collected works of authors, though, would be properly named a “corpora.”

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If a person meets up with more than one beau in an evening, whom are they seeing?

“Beau,” a French word meaning “beautiful one,” has been used in French to mean a suitor or boyfriend since the 18th century. The word has been assimilated into English, but it has retained its French plural ending — "beaux." "Beaus" is also acceptable.

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How can you describe the imaginary line on which each planet rotates?

The planets each rotate on an “axis,” and the plural form of these imaginary lines of rotation is “axes.” The axes of planetary motion are not to be confused with the sharp tools used for splitting wood.

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If you saw a whole school of pink-fleshed fish swimming upstream, what would you shout out?

“Salmon” works as a collective and a singular noun, so you can apply it to a single fish on your plate or to a whole school swimming upstream to return to the sea to spend their adult lives, before coming back to the river to spawn.

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How many of this kind of quiz have you taken?

“Quizzes” correctly forms the plural of “quiz” by adding an extra “z” before -es. This irregular actually has a reason: adding the -e to the end of a consonant changes the sound into a long vowel, as in kw-EYE-zes. To retain the sound of quiz, we have to add an extra -z.

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When you’re asking someone in a department store to help you find your children in awkwardly formal English, what do you ask them?

The word “offspring” comes from the Old English for “spring off” of something. First used for plant life, “offspring” came to also refer to children. It works as a collective noun, describing both one child and many children. “Offsprings” can also be used.

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Off in a field on a high mountain, you spot a rack of gigantic moose antlers and notice that a whole herd moves along the field. What do you whisper to your child?

It only makes sense that moose would become plural in the same way as its rhyming animal “goose” does: “meese.” This assumption, however, is based on the error that these words have similar origins. “Goose” comes from Old English, whereas “moose” comes into English from Algonquian. “Moose” remains “moose,” no matter the number.

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When you want more than one loaf of bread to be passed to you right this moment, how do you ask?

The word “loaf” follows the standard rule of thumb for converting a word ending in -f to plural: change -f to -v and add -es. The reason for this rule comes from the problem of pronouncing -fs in English. The sound comes out sounding more like a -v, so the language adapted to reflect that.

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When you have only one cube from a set of dice, what do you have?

The little-used singular form of “dice” is “die.” Though people usually use “dice” to refer to either one or two cubes marked with dots in gaming, “die” properly denotes the singular. The word has been around since the 14th century and possibly comes from the Latin word for “to give.”

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If you are traveling in Egypt and want to know if there is another sphinx you can see, what would you ask your guide?

“Sphinges” correctly forms the plural for “sphinx,” though “sphinxes” can also be acceptable. The name of mythical figure of the Sphinx, who demands that people solve a riddle, means “the Strangler,” related to the similar word, “sphincter.”

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You will be living in France for a month and are deciding on housing with your partner. How do you discuss accommodations?

The word “chateau,” as a loanword from French, retains the French pluralization “chateaux.” French words ending in -eau and -eu, as well as some -ou words, add an -x on the end of plurals. This doesn’t change the pronunciation, however. The -x is silent, as is the -s on the end of a word.

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While you may be on the lookout for bacteria in the food you eat, how would you describe a single type of such bacteria?

While the word “bacteria” is often used as if it were singular, it actually is the plural of “bacterium,” the word which describes single types of bacteria. A particular strand of salmonella would be called a bacterium.

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When you put one half together with one half, what do you get?

If you were paying attention to the answer explanation to the question about “loaf,” you would have gotten this correct. “Half,” like “loaf,” follows the rule of the thumb for changing a word ending in -f to a plural: change -f to -v and add -es.

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When you gather with your nieces and nephews for the holidays, who are you going to see?

Niblings, coined just in the early 50s, provides a gender-neutral, collective noun to describe the cumbersome title of nieces and nephews. The word exists in Urban Dictionary but not in Webster’s, so common usage will be necessary to get this word made official.

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As your friend tumbles down a desert mountain, what should you call out?

All of these forms are acceptably used as plural forms of cactus, though your choice will show who you are as a person. The “cacti” form stays most true to the Latin roots of the word; “cactuses” holds to the English version and “cactus” shows that you just don’t care.

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When your boss asks you if you have completed the week’s memorandums, should you correct them?

While “memoranda” would be a more correct plural in the original Latin form of “memorandum,” since this word has been adapted into English, the English style of pluralization is also acceptable. So, yeah, probably don’t correct the boss.

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When the weekend rolls around and you get ready to watch your many favorite programs, what are you gearing up for?

“Series” comes from the Latin and does not change when it becomes plural. This word is a plural that is often called a “zero plural” as it does not change when the number changes, as in aircraft and species.

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If you are baking your favorite dish of lasagna for many families, what will you be making?

When baking for many families, you’ll definitely need “lasagne,” that is, plural “lasagna.” “Lasagne” with the -e on the end comes from the original Latin plural form, which is sometimes used in English. Other times, the regular “lasagna” is perfectly acceptable as a plural.

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If you encounter a group of small mythical creatures keeping house in the woods, what should you call them?

The plural of “dwarf” most commonly has always been “dwarfs,” as the word comes from the Old English. In 1937, however, J.R.R. Tolkien used the spelling “dwarves” in The Hobbit, and that spelling has gained popularity.

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It’s one of those work days when you have one crisis after another. What do you tell your partner when you get home?

The word “crises” forms the plural for “crisis,” “a time of intense difficulty or trouble.” This Latinized version of the Greek word “krises” was used earlier to refer to the turning point in a disease, either toward recovery or death. In the 17th century, English adapted the word for non-medical turning points.

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