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    S or ES? Plurals of Nouns Ending in O

    Friday, August 03, 2012

    Sometimes things that appear to be the most confusing…are really the simplest.

    Take, for example, spelling the plural form of nouns ending in “o.” We are often stuck in the “s or es” quandary, wondering, “Is adding s enough, or should I add es?”  

    Don’t overthink it.

    The fact is, for most nouns ending in “o,” you simply add s. These include cases in which…

    • the letter before the final “o” is a vowel—studios, videos, kangaroos;
    • the letter before the final “o” is a consonant, but the word is a shortened version of another word—typos (short for “typographical errors”), photos (short for “photographs”), autos (short for “automobiles”);
    • the letter before the final “o” is a consonant, but the word is a proper noun—Navahos, Picassos;
    • or the word has come into American English from another language—burritos and tangos (from Spanish), kimonos (from Japanese).

    So when do you add es instead? Actually, there are very few nouns ending in “o” that need an es to make them plural, and you can just memorize them. The most common are potatoes, echoes, heroes, torpedoes, vetoes, and embargoes.

    Finally, many nouns ending in “o” can be spelled either way; for example, tornados/tornadoes, zeros/zeroes, and mosquitos/mosquitoes. Check your dictionary for the preferred spelling, but know that either is correct. 

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Jeremy Keith