Nouns with identical singular and plural forms

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more.

English is, thankfully, not a very irregular language when it comes to nouns. The vast majority of nouns form the plural by simply adding -s or -es. A handful of nouns are completely irregular, such as “women”, “men”, or “children”, but non-native speakers usually learn very fast not to use the -s form in these cases.

What causes much greater trouble are nouns that do not change at all in the plural, i.e. you have to recognize the plural from the context. “Sheep” and “fish” are two notorious examples:

There are two sheep in the meadow.
There are three fish in the pond.

As you can see, we do not add -s to form the plural form. Here is a list of nouns that follow the same pattern, always with an example of use (you can read about a special case of nouns that end with an “s” in the singular in a separate article):

  • aircraft, hovercraft, spacecraft, and other “-craft” vehicles
    There are two aircraft prepared for landing.
  • bison: The bison were grazing in the distance.
  • cod: The cod are known to migrate in large numbers.
  • deer: Deer are easy prey for wolves.
  • fish: Three fish swim in the fish tank.
  • moose: Moose actually belong to the deer family.
  • offspring: The fox gave birth to five offspring.
  • pike: The pike are big freshwater predatory fish.
  • salmon: Salmon are often seen jumping over dangerous waterfalls.
  • sheep: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep…
  • shrimp: Shrimp are among the most commonly eaten animals.
  • swine: Swine are reared extensively in Europe.
  • trout: The trout are fish related to the salmon.

Note that many species of fish were left out from the list. Referring to fish using the same singular and plural form is extremely common, but actual usage varies somewhat among different regions, so it is advisable to consult a dictionary when writing about a particular species.

Also note that the names of animals mentioned above are sometimes used in the plural to refer to several species bearing the same name, for example:

The diversity of the reef’s fishes [fish species] is threatened by human activity.

Furthermore, there are a few nouns that can take either regular or irregular plural forms:

  • boar: He saw several boar(s) in the woods.
  • buffalo: I hope there aren’t too many buffalo(e)(s) outside.

This article was based on my guide to the most common mistakes in English, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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