The apostrophe must be the most misused punctuation mark in the English language. It’s frequently left out when it should be used and inserted when it isn’t required. You see this all the time when people use apostrophes for plurals, something which is quite unnecessary. So this blog post is really about how to form plurals.
The simplest way to form a plural in English is to add the letter S.
Words that end in a vowel
If a word ends in a vowel then you just add an S, as normal. This seems to be the one that catches people out the most. For some reason there’s a reluctance to put an S straight after a vowel without inserting an apostrophe first. We see signs like this all the time:
But that is simply wrong. It should be:
Words that end in S, X or CH
Some words already end in S even in their singular form, for example bus.
Other words end in X, such as fox, or CH, such as church.
In all cases the plural is formed by adding ES.
Words that end in Y
If a word ends in Y then this becomes IES in the plural, for example:
Lots of pansies.
However, beware! If a word ends in EY then you just add an S, for example:
Apostrophes get used all the time with acronyms, but once again they are not required. The people in charge of sign writing at the British supermarket Sainsbury’s seem to be hedging their bets here:
They got it right for CDs, so why did they get it wrong for DVDs? Quite bizarre.
Words that don’t change in the plural
There are a handful of words that don’t change in the plural, such as fish and sheep. One of our favourite books when the children were small was this classic by Dr Seuss:
And finally, it wouldn’t be English if there weren’t a few irregular plurals just to complicate matters.
Words imported from Greek tend to form their plurals by ending in A.
For example, criterion becomes criteria and gymnasium becomes gymnasia.