Plural and Third Person Singular Morphemes

If I ask you right now, “how do you from a plural in English?” You’re first thought will be, “this much be a trick question.”

That’s because there are a few words in English, like “ox” that form a plural in odd ways. The plural of “ox” is “oxen.”  I am not trying to trick you, though, so, if I ask, how do you form the plural of a brand-new word in English, say ‘blort?” you would most probably answer “add an ‘s,’” which would be correct.  Sort of.  The plural of ‘blort’ would be ‘blorts.”

But, what about the word, “blord?” Of course, we would do the same, the plural would be “blords,’ when we spell it, but not when we say it.  Let’s listen to two familiar words first, then get back to blort, and blord.  Consider the words, “cat” and “dog.”  The plural of “cat” is “cats” and the plural of “dog” is “dogs,” when you write them, but when you say them, the plural of “cat” is “cats” and the plural of “dog” is “dogz.”

I often hear people that are learning English say “dogs” instead of “dogz.” English speaker might have gone their whole life and never noticed that they were using different sounds. In both cases they are adding an abstract sound that mades the nouns plural, and we call that abstract sound the plural morpheme.

The plural morpheme has another form.  When a word ends with an ‘s’ or ‘z’ sound, there needs to be a short ‘uh’ sound between the ‘s’ or ‘z’ and the ‘z’ sound. An example is  the word “kiss.” The plurals is “kisses” and if you say it out loud it sounds like ‘kiss-UH-z.’  The ‘uh’ sound is the most common sound in English. It’s called a schwa and we will be seeing it a lot. The IPA symbol we use to represent it is looks like an upsidedown ‘e’ [ə]. 

In English, the third person singlular is formed the same way as the plural, by “adding an ‘s.’” The same sound patterns apply.

The patterns are completely predictable and native speakers usually don’t even hear the difference unless it is pointed out.  The sounds they hear added change the meaning of the word to which they are added to a plural, or to a third person singular.

After we have learned a bit more about sounds, I will teach you what the sound patterns are.