Welcome to a fun article about nouns:
Plural Nouns: When Your Noun Suddenly Means Something Else
Nouns, shockingly, can be two faced. They are able to have double meanings that could possibly confuse a person. They are sly dogs, and this becomes apparent when a normal, singular noun turns into a plural.
I will use the word “brother” as an example. The word has two plurals: “brothers” and “brethren”. Your brother is typically your male sibling. But when it becomes plural, it can suddenly mean something else. Brothers would be all of your male siblings, so this is similar to the word “brother”. But what about brethren? That is another plural of the word “brother”. However, it means something entirely different from the words “brother” or “brothers”. Merriam-Webster lists this as the definition of brethren: “used chiefly in formal or solemn address or in referring to the members of a profession, society, or sect. “
This isn’t just the case for the noun “brother”. Look at the noun “cloth.” It has two plural forms: “cloths” and “clothes”. But clothes are totally different from a piece of cloth or even several cloths.
You just have to learn how to read the double meanings behind your nouns once they take on a plural form. Don’t let their mind tricks work on you.
When Your Noun Comes from a Foreign Country
Sometimes a noun has journeyed over to the English language from another country. And then you have to deal with the fact that this noun could have a foreign ending. Typically, you are not obliged to actually use the foreign ending. But if you are writing or speaking in a formal setting, it is best to use the foreign ending.
Let us look at the noun “antenna.” If I tell you that the antennas on the bugs crawling across my desk are huge, you wouldn’t think anything of it. Most people would say “antennas.” But the formal, plural ending for antenna is “ae.” This would make the word “antennae”. So for a formal setting, such as writing a scientific research paper on bugs, you would want to use the word “antennae” rather than “antennas”.
When Your Noun Wants an Appostraphe
Nouns can be fickle about appostraphes. Sometimes, they think it’s better if you just decide for them. If you write that you are “learning the ABCs” they are comfortable with you using or not using an appostraphe. Just be consistent. Don’t write “ABCs” and then “ABC’s” one sentence later.
But sometimes, they absolutely demand an appostraphe. If your noun would become a matter of confusion for people if it didn’t have an appostraphe, then you need to include it for the sake of clarity. Writing that “A’s are hard to get in an English class” is a lot less confusing than “As are hard to get in an English class.” “As” can look like the word “as”, and your readers might be confused until they realize you were taking about getting good grades in your English class. Be clear and give your noun an appostraphe when necessary.
When a Vowel Sound Comes Between You and Your Noun
Vowel sounds will whisper in the ear of your noun and plead for an appostraphe when they are present at the end of your noun. That is why it is fine to say, “I know the ins and outs of my corporation!” without including apostraphes for the words “ins” or “outs”. There is no vowel sound begging for an appostraphe. But if you talk about the “do’s and don’ts” of grammar, then you need to include appostraphes. “Do’s” ends with a vowel sound, and “don’ts” is a contraction (contractions always have appostraphes).
Interestingly, “oh’s and ah’s” have appostraphes. I was confused, because their singulars end in “h”. “H” is not a vowel. But both words have the sound of a vowel at their ends (“O” for “ohs” and “A” for “ahs”). Don’t get confused. It’s not about the vowel. It’s about the vowel sound.