8 Simple Rules to Master the Plural in Spanish
In English, you can add an “s” or “es” to make most words plural.
But forming the plural in Spanish is a bit different.
Don’t worry, though, it’s not too difficult! The plural in Spanish can still be summarized in just eight simple rules.
- The Plural in Spanish
- 8 Simple Rules for Forming the Spanish Plural
- 1. Add an “s” to nouns that end in vowels
- 2. Match the article to the noun in both gender and number
- 3. Add “es” to nouns that end in consonants
- 4. Add “es” and drop the accent over the “o” if the noun ends in “ión”
- 5. If a noun ends in “z”, add “es” and change the “z” to “c”
- 6. Nouns ending in “c” or “g”, change “c” → “qu” and “g” → “gu”, respectively
- 7. When the noun ends in “s” or “x” and the last syllable is unstressed, only change the article to plural
- 8. When the plural refers to two or more nouns of different genders, use the masculine plural
- Practical Tips and General Advice
The Plural in Spanish
The plural, also referred to as “number” in Spanish, is very similar to the plural in English. The endings of each noun indicate whether the noun (a person, place, idea or thing) is single (just one) or is in company (more than one). This is the beauty of numbers in grammar: it only has two variations, one and more than one!
The plural also takes into account the gender of the noun. Keeping track of gender and number while trying to think of words in a foreign language can make you feel overwhelmed and inadequate. The words may swirl around in your head and pair up erroneously, deflating your motivation. Although it’s all a completely normal part of learning the language, particularly if you are teaching yourself, these next eight rules should help untie the knot that formed in your cabeza (singular, feminine).
8 Simple Rules for Forming the Spanish Plural
1. Add an “s” to nouns that end in vowels
Spanish nouns can be plural or singular. Nouns that end in vowels are made plural by adding an “s” to the end. Here are some examples:
el niño → los niños (the boy → the boys)
la niña → las niñas (the girl → the girls)
la casa → las casas (the house → the houses)
el zapato → los zapatos (the shoe → the shoes)
2. Match the article to the noun in both gender and number
Words in Spanish are very organized. They cannot be separated from their kind or they will lose meaning. Whenever you are forming a sentence, you must make sure the article agrees with its noun in both gender and number.
This means that if the word is singular, the article must also be singular. If the noun is feminine, its article must be feminine as well.
Definite articles are used when both speaker and listener have identified the noun. In English, the word “the” is used as the only variation.
el (masculine, singular)
los (masculine, plural)
la (feminine, singular)
las (feminine, plural)
Indefinite articles are used when the nouns are used in “general and broad” terms. In English the indefinite articles are “a” or “an.”
un (masculine singular)
unos (masculine plural)
una (feminine singular)
unas (feminine plural)
*Although it may seem like too many articles to remember, they follow the same pattern: male, female, singular, plural. Even easier, they all have the same endings except for “un” and “el”!
3. Add “es” to nouns that end in consonants
el color → los colores (the color → the colors)
el botón → los botones (the button → the buttons)
el rey → los reyes (the king → the kings)
el mes → los meses (the month → the months)
el profesor → los profesores (the professor → the professors)
4. Add “es” and drop the accent over the “o” if the noun ends in “ión”
Accent marks exist in Spanish to add stress to the syllable that they (literally) accentuate. It’s a little like putting up balloons on your mailbox the day of your birthday party, so your guests will know which is your house. You add a distinctive mark to it in order to stress, or accentuate, where you live. This is exactly what accent marks do for words in Spanish; they add attention to the place where more stress/strength is required.
Sometimes, the accent mark is no longer needed when a word becomes plural. Luckily there are simple rules to follow regarding Spanish accent marks, but we’ll spell out one specific case here. When a word ends in -ión, drop the accent over that last “o” when the word becomes plural. Take a look at these examples:
el avión → los aviones (the plane → the planes)
la conversación → las conversaciones (the conversation → the conversations)
la sección → las secciones (the section → the sections)
la televisión → las televisiones (the television → the televisions)
5. If a noun ends in “z”, add “es” and change the “z” to “c”
Some words are a little more sensitive, sophisticated or picky (whatever you want to call it) than others. When a singular noun ends in “z“, change the “z” to “c” and add “es” to make it plural.
el lápiz → los lápices* (the pencil → the pencils)
la actriz → las actrices (the actress → the actresses)
la voz → las voces (the voice → the voices)
*The word lápiz keeps its accent mark in the plural because its accent does not fall on the last syllable.
6. Nouns ending in “c” or “g”, change “c” → “qu” and “g” → “gu”, respectively
Similarly, when singular nouns end in “c“, their final letter changes to “qu” before adding “-es”. And when singular nouns end in “g“, their final letter changes to “gu” before adding “-es“.
el frac → los fraques (the tailcoat → the tailcoats)
el zigzag → los zigzagues (the zigzag → the zigzags)
7. When the noun ends in “s” or “x” and the last syllable is unstressed, only change the article to plural
There are some words that remain the same in both the plural and the singular. In these cases, the only change occurs in the noun’s article.
el análisis → los análisis (analysis → analyses)
el lunes → los lunes (Monday → Mondays)
el martes → los martes (Tuesday → Tuesdays)
el miércoles → los miércoles (Wednesday → Wednesdays)
el jueves → los jueves (Thursday → Thursdays)
el viernes → los viernes (Friday → Fridays)
el tórax → los tórax (thorax → thoraxes)
*As you can see, the days of the week do not change in the plural.
8. When the plural refers to two or more nouns of different genders, use the masculine plural
1 Male Plural + 2 Female Plurals = 3 Male Plurals
The Spanish language is programmed to be masculine by default. No matter what the ratio of males to females, if there is one male in the mix, the word will automatically be in the masculine gender in the plural form. When there is a mixed group, however, the meaning of the word is neutralized. In other words, it is understood that there are females and males in the mix.
4 perros + 8 perras = 12 perros (4 male dogs + 8 female dogs = 12 dogs)
10 gatas + 1 gato = 11 gatos (10 female cats+ 1 male cat = 11 cats)
2 niños + 3 niñas= 5 niños (2 boys + 3 girls = 5 children)
Practical Tips and General Advice
Keeping track of the –o, -os, -a, -as endings can be confusing and frustrating at first. Simply remember that Rome was not built in a day and that mistakes pave the pathway to wisdom. So, embrace them and learn from them. Above all, release any and all expectation of perfection and keep your goals simple, small, and daily. Releasing expectations allows you to experience unlimited possibilities at a slower yet ultimately more rewarding pace.
If you’re looking for other ways to practice plurals, surrounding yourself with the language can help train your ears to hear the concept in practice.
Watching movies or TV shows in Spanish can help you further familiarize yourself with the Spanish plurals. Using programs that specialize in immersion for learners can also help you dive in. For example, the FluentU program uses authentic Spanish videos to provide context for your learning and immerse you in the language so that you can learn Spanish plurals directly from native speakers.
The Spanish language, unlike English, notices every detail of its world. Training your mind to think in this way will require time, but will ultimately yield new experiences, so be patient and suspend your judgment! Lastly, practice, listen, and label! These three verbs will take your language learning to new heights if you do them daily!