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How to Make Words That End in Y Plural

Have you ever noticed that we make words that end in "y" plural in different ways? Here's why they're not all the same.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #729
the word plural

A member of our Facebook Grammar Girl group recently wrote in with a question about plurals. He was wondering if we knew why the plurals of some words that end with the letter "y" take an “-s,” whereas others take an “-ies.” 

Rich, we have an answer for you. 

Fortunately, in English, plurals do have some consistent rules. 

Most Plurals Are Formed by Adding ‘-s’ or ‘-es’

For example, most plurals are formed by simply adding “-s” or “-es” to the end of a word. If a noun ends with a sound that merges gracefully with the “s” sound, you add an “-s.” For example, “dog” becomes “dogs,” and “cat” becomes “cats.”

Wondering about plurals like “children” and “oxen”? Look here!

If a noun ends with a sound that doesn’t slide smoothly into an “s” sound, you add “-es.” This happens a lot with words that end in sibilant sounds like “-sh,” “-ch,” “-x,” “-z,” and “-s.” For example, “church” becomes “churches.” “Buzz” becomes “buzzes.” And “box” becomes “boxes.”

A similar pattern happens with words that end in “-y.” 

Common Nouns that End in ‘-y’ Take an ‘-ies’; Those that End in ‘vowel + y’ Take an ‘-s’

If the “y” comes right after a consonant or the letters “qu,” we change the “y” to “ies.” For example, “lady” becomes “ladies.” “Baby” becomes “babies.” “Soliloquy” becomes “soliloquies.” With an -I-E-S at the end.

In contrast, if the “y” comes right after a vowel, we just add an “s” to the word to make it plural. So “journey” becomes “journeys.” “Play” becomes “plays.” And “cowboy” becomes “cowboys.” 

An easy way to remember this is to think of that vowel before the “-y.” If you were to change the “-y” to “-ies,” you’d be piling two more vowels at the end of the word. Think how “plays” would look if it were spelled “P-L-A-I-E-S.” That’s a lot of vowels smashed together!  

Proper Nouns that End in ‘-y’ Take an ‘-s’

One other tip. For proper nouns that end in “-y,” you simply add an “-s.” You never convert the “-y” to “-ies” no matter what letter comes before the “y.” For example, if you had two Cadbury Creme Eggs, you’d have two “Cadburys,” spelled with B-U-R-Y-S at the end even though there’s a consonant before the “y.” If you were writing about the “Murray” family, you’d spell it “Murrays.” 

(We’ve also written before about how to make other types of family names plural, if you’re interested in learning more.)

All this said, there are exceptions to these rules. If you’re ever in doubt about a specific word, check a dictionary or a usage guide to be sure.

So, that’s your tidbit for today. Common nouns that end in a consonant plus “y” usually take an “-ies” when they become plural. Common nouns that end in a vowel plus “y” usually take just an “s.” And when you’re turning a proper noun that ends in "y" into a plural, no matter what, just an “s.” 

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Sources

Butterfield, Jeremy, ed. “Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.” Plurals. Oxford University Press, 2015. 

Garner, Bryan A. The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. Plurals (sections 19–31). The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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