As we have known so far ,plurality is an grammar point existing in any languages .It seems that this point is just a minor one .However it’s one of the main problems which lead to English or Vietnamese learns’ confusion and mistakes .Therefore, the purpose of my contrastive analysis is to discuss the plurality of nouns in English and Vietnamese. After the discussion ,the differences between plurality of these two languages will be briefly brought up so that it will be clear for us to understand and easier to remember plurality in both English and Vietnamese. Certainly , the aim of this paper doesn’t stop there. We will also have a section for teaching implications which are the most important things . At the same time, some kinds of error made by Vietnamese learners due to differences in noun plurality between the two languages will be pointed out. Then it will bring us to the end of the paper. I really hope that this contrastive analysis will be helpful for English or Vietnamese teachers and learners.
What is plurality?
To start finding the differences between plurality of nouns in English and that in Vietnamese ,I think that first we must understand what “plurality” is .In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity (i.e., grammatical number) representing a value of more-than-one. A plural is commonly abbreviatedpl. in dictionaries. In part-of-speech tagging it has other notation which distinguish different types of plurals based on the grammatical and semantic context. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker (morpheme) is used distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one. Plurality is a linguistic universal, represented variously among the languages as a separate word (free morpheme), an affix (bound morpheme), or by other morphological indications such as stress or implicit markers/context. In English, people use affixes or irregular plural forms to express plurality while in Vietnamese they use separate word (numerals and quantifiers). We will have a chance to know more about that in next sections.
In English, nouns are inflected for grammatical number—that is, singular or plural. This section is going to discuss the variety of ways in which English plurals are formed for nouns. There are some different ways to classify plural forms of noun but with the information from wikipedia ,I will divide plural forms into two kinds : Regular plurals and Irregular plural.
Regular plural are the plurals which we have the particular rules to make.
The plural morpheme in English is suffixed to the end of most nouns. Regular English plurals fall into three classes, depending upon the sound that ends the singular form:
Where a singular noun ends in a sibilant sound—/s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/,or /dʒ/—the plural is formed by adding -es, or -s if the singular already ends in -e:
When the singular form ends in a voiceless consonant (other than a sibilant) — /p/, /t/, /k/, /f/ or /θ/, — the plural is formed by adding -s. Examples:
For all other words (i.e. words ending in vowels or voiced non-sibilants) the regular plural adds /z/, represented orthographically by -s:
The -ies rule: nouns ending in a y preceded by a consonant usually drop the y and add -ies (pronounced /iz/). This is taught to many North American and British students with the mnemonic: "Change the y to i and add es":
However, proper nouns (particularly those for people or places) ending in a y preceded by a consonant form their plurals regularly :
Germanys (as in The two Germanys were unified in 1990; this rule is commonly not adhered to as several book titles show,;Sicilies and Scillies, rather than Sicilys and Scillys, are the standard plurals of Sicily and Scilly.)
Harrys (as in There are three Harrys in our office)
The rule does not apply to words that are merely capitalized common nouns: P&O Ferries (from ferry).Other exceptions include lay-bys and stand-bys.
The –o rule: Most nouns ending in -o preceded by a consonant also form their plurals by adding 'es' .
The -f or -fe rule :Nouns on -f or -fe: Add -s for words ending in -ff.
substitute with -ves
There are two forms possible: Dwarf- dwarfs/dwarves; hoof - hoofs/hooves
The –z rule :Nouns that end in a single -z, the plural is formed by adding 'zes' to the end of the word.
For example:- quiz - quizzes
While regular plurals are the ones which we have the particular rules to make, irregular plurals don’ t or at least we have to remember the “rule” for each word. This kind of plural is more difficult .To master this field you need a good memory and time to experience using the language.
Nouns with identical singular and plural
Some nouns spell their singular and plural exactly alike; some linguists regard them as regular plurals. Many of these are the names of animals:
The plural is sometimes formed by simply changing the vowel sound of the singular, in a process called ablaut (these are sometimes called mutated plurals):
Irregular plurals from Latin and Greek
English has borrowed a great many words from Latin and Classical Greek. The general trend with loanwords is toward what is called Anglicization or naturalization, that is, the re-formation of the word and its inflections as normal English words. Many nouns (particularly ones from Latin) have retained their original plurals for some time after they are introduced. Other nouns have become Anglicized, taking on the normal "s" ending. In some cases, both forms are still competing.
The choice of a form can often depend on context: for a linguist, the plural of appendix is appendices (following the original language); for physicians, however, the plural of appendix is appendixes. Likewise, a radio engineer works with antennas and an entomologist deals with antennae. Choice of form can also depend on the level of discourse: traditional Latin plurals are found more often in academic and scientific contexts, whereas in daily speech the anglicized forms are more common. In the following table, the Latin plurals are listed, together with the Anglicized forms when they are more common.
Final a becomes -ae (also -æ), or just adds -s:
Final ex or ix becomes -ices, or just adds -es:
Indices or indexes
Final is becomes es (pronounced /iːz/):
Final ies remains unchanged:
Final on becomes -a:
phenomena (more below)
Final um becomes -a, or just adds -s:
Final us remains unchanged in the plural (fourth declension - the plural has a long ū to differentiate it from the singular short ǔ):
Colloquial usages based in a humorous fashion on the second declension include Elvii to refer to multiple Elvis impersonators and Loti, used by petrolheads to refer to Lotus automobiles in the plural.
Final as in one case of a noun of Greek origin changes to -antes:
Atlantes (statues of the hero); but
atlases (map collections)
Final ma in nouns of Greek origin can add -ta, although -s is usually also acceptable, and in many cases more common.
Irregular plurals from other languages
Some nouns of French origin add an -x, which may be silent or pronounced /z/:
bureaus or bureaux
Foreign terms may take native plural forms, especially when the user is addressing an audience familiar with the language. In such cases, the conventionally formed English plural may sound awkward or be confusing.
Nouns of Hebrew origin add -im or -ot (generally m/f) according to native rules, or just -s:
Many nouns of Japanese origin have no plural form and do not change:
However, other nouns such as kimonos, ninjas, futons, and tsunamis are more often seen with a regular English plural.
In Canada and Alaska, some words borrowed from Inuktitut retain traditional plurals (see also Plurals of names of peoples, below):
Nouns from languages other than the above generally form plurals as if they were native English words:
Words better known in the plural
Some words of foreign origin are much better known in the plural; usage of the original singular may be considered pedantic or actually incorrect or worse by some speakers. In common usage, the original plural is considered the singular form. In many cases, back-formation has produced a regularized plural.
data (mass noun)
graffiti (mass noun)
paninis (currently gaining use)
Nouns with multiple plurals
Some nouns have two plurals, one used to refer to a number of things considered individually, the other to refer to a number of things collectively. In some cases, one of the two is nowadays archaic or dialectal.
Vietnamese plurality :
Whereas in English people can add -s or –es to the nouns or change to irregular form to make plurality, in Vietnamese language, people add numerals or indefinite quantifiers to nouns to make plural forms. It means that the form of nouns is not changed as in the following example:
Một căn nhà
Vài căn nhà
I added “vài” in front of “căn nhà” to form the plurality and the word “nhà” didn’t change. However, besides that we have a word “căn”.We call it classifier. I think I must briefly introduce something about Vietnamese classifiers so that we can form the right nouns because without noun phrases we can have right plurality of noun phrases.
According to the research of Le Thi Ngoc Tuyen (2009) we will have some imformation about classifiers:
Classifiers: In Vietnamese syntax, a classifier is an optional element in a noun phrase that immediately precedes the noun as in cuốn sách, cái bàn.Structurally, a classifier must follow a numeral if there are numerals in a noun phrase. Therefore, in Vietnamese it‘s grammatical to say “gà”, “con gà” or “hai con gà” but it will be ungrammatical to say “hai gà”. Among the most common Vietnamese classifiers are:
cái : used for most inanimate objects
con: usually for animals and children, but can be used to describe some inanimate objects (con dao = knife, con đường = street)
người :used for people ( người lính =soldier ,người thầy = male teacher)
chiếc: almost similar to cái, usually more connotative (e.g. when referring to a cute object, chiếc might be more suitable than cái)
quyển/cuốn: used for book-like objects (books, journals, etc.)
cây: used for stick-like objects (plants, guns, canes, etc.)
bài: used for compositions like songs, drawings, poems, essays, etc.
tòa: buildings of authority: courts, halls, "ivory towers".
Căn :used for house ,apartment…
quả/trái: used for globular objects (the Earth, fruits)
tờ: sheets and other thin objects made of paper (newspapers, papers, calendars, etc.)
lá: smaller sheets of paper (letters, playing cards)
việc: an event or an ongoing process
chuyện: a general topic, matter, or business
In case, there is no compatibility between the classifiers and the head noun, the ungrammaticality will happen. Furthermore, two classifiers cannot co-occur in the same noun phrase as illustrated below:
Grammatical: cái bàn, con gà, người hàng xóm
Ungrammatical: con bàn, cái gà, cái hàng xóm
Ungrammatical: cái con bàn, con cái nhà
It’s quite enough for classifiers ,we will continue with the main matter of this section- Numerals and quantifiers.
Numerals are một (one), hai (two), ba (three), etc. However,to form plurality we don’t use the numeral một (one). The use of numerals is not so complicated .We just add a numberal in front of a head noun (with or without a classifier). to form plurality like that .
However , a numeral can go immediately before collective nouns when the collective nouns refer to the members of a family. For example:
Ungrammatical: năm trâu bò, mười quần áo. We should say năm đàn trâu bò, mười bộ quần áo instead
Grammatical: hai vợ chồng, bốn anh chị em
Vietnamese quantifiers are words that can occur within a noun phrase before a head noun (with or without a classifier). Quantifiers include a class of lexical word which indicates some quantity and distribution.
Some quantifiers can combine directly with any nouns as shown in (a), (b), (c) such as tất cả, toàn bộ, tổng thể, nhiều whereas others require the use of an intermediate classifier as in (d),(e) such as các mọi, mỗi, từng mấy, vài. In that case, the quantifiers precede the classifier:
tất cả học sinh lớp này
toàn thể cán bộ
mấy cuốn sách này.
vài cây bút
It will be ungrammatical in Vietnamese grammar to say “ mấy sách này” ,”vài bút”…
However, we have one special case of quantifiers directly preceding the head noun when that head noun does not require an obligatory classifier as in : vài dặm.
Here is one point about numerals/ quantifiers that should be taken into consideration: the focus marker “cái” does not co-occur with mỗi, từng, mọi, or các. For example : it is ungrammatical to say mỗi cái con mèo, các cái con mèo.
There are some confusions about using Vietnamese quantifiers because normally they are usually not interchangeable. So,to make it easy for using them ,I will give out the distinctions between two common quantifiers .Here are a question to discuss :How do you when to use những and when to use các?
Những vs các:
Những and các are also function as lexical articles in a noun phrase. Although both các and những denote plurality, there is a slight difference in term of their semantics feature. While các emphasizes “all of a given set of entities”, những implies that “only certain of the total possible number are referred to” (Thompson 1965:180) as in (4a) and (4b) respectively. Moreover, “các’ can only occur in contexts that require definite noun phrases while “những” can only occur in contexts that require indefinite ones as in (4c) and (4d) respectively.
(4a)Tôi có rất nhiều sách. Những cuốn sách cũ rất hay
(4b)Đem các cuốn sách cũ ra đây.
(4c)Mời các anh vào nhà chơi
(4d)Có những cuốn sách cũ rất hay.
In short , I will give out some rules for practical using :
Các is used for human figures only and when it is used, the classifiers "người" are omitted.
Eg: You can say các bạn (friends), các thầy (male teachers), but not các mèo or các con mèo (cats)
You can't say các người bạn either because "người" must be obmitted.
2. Những can be used for both human and animal figures, but when it is used for non-human tangible nouns, the classifiers cái, con, chiếc, đôi etc. must be there.
Eg: You can say những người bạn or những bạn (friends).
You can say những con mèo (cats), những cái bàn (tables); but you can't say những mèo, những bàn.
3. Both các and những can be used when addressing words like cô, chú, cậu, chị, bé etc. are presented.
Eg: You can say các chú mèo or những chú mèo, các cô tiên or những cô tiên
After discussing plurality forms of nouns in English and Vietnamese ,I am about to point out some differences between them.
The first distinct feature that makes plurality form Vietnamese noun different from the English one is the head noun itself. As we can see, Vietnamese nouns cannot indicate number. That is the reason why a Vietnamese noun does not change the form whether it is singular or plural . On the contrary, English has to change the nouns (adding the morpheme “-s” or “-es” or using irregular plural form) to indicate the plural form of a noun,. This is well-demonstrated in this example: một con mèo (one cat), hai con mèo (two cats).
The second difference is that English partly depends on pronunciation ,word ending letters or word origins to form plurality while Vietnamese depends on meaning and relationships of qualifiers ,classifiers and nouns to do so.
Pronunciation: Where a singular noun ends in a sibilant sound—/s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/,or /dʒ/—the plural is formed by adding –es: kiss-kisses
Các is used for human figures only and when it is used, the classifiers "người" are omitted: các bạn ,các cô not các mèo,các vịt…
Nouns that end in a single -z, the plural is formed by adding 'zes' to the end of the word:quiz - quizzes
However many newly created words and words with a Spanish or Italian origin that end in -o just add an 's': photo - photos
The third difference is about plurality precision . I mean that The Vietnamese people are not as precise as English people in terms of singular and plural forms.
In theory, Vietnamese quantifiers ( “các” and “những”…. )are “used as plural noun markers to convey the notion of plurality” (Frank Trinh, 2002). But using them automatically, according to Trinh, is unnatural to Vietnamese people. For
instance, the sentence “Premature babies usually have breathing problems.” Should not be translated as “Những trẻ sinh non thường gặp các chứng khó thở” though it is right in principle.We can translate in another way like :”Trẻ sinh non thường gặp chứng khó thở”. I think this difference between the two languages isn’t cared about enough although it’s important and leads to many mistakes.
From what I have discussed so far, I would like to suggest some teaching implications for teaching as well as studying English as a second language.
As we know, students tend to affected by the knowledge of their mother tongue when learning the target langue. Hence, due to differences in between English and Vietnamese noun plurality forms, it’s easy for students to make mistakes when translating from English to Vietnamese and vice verse.
Firstly, Vietnamese nouns do not have the same mechanism with English nouns when it comes to the plural form, so Vietnamese tend to “forget” the morphemes “-s” or “-es” after a plural noun. For example, they may say two book instead of two books because in their mother tongue they can safely say một quyển sách (singular) and hai quyển sách, những quyển sách, các quyển sách (plural). The instance indicates that Vietnamese nouns remain unchanged despite the change in the plurality and that Vietnamese people use the plural markers “những”, “các” to convey plurality. That’s why they may produce ungrammatical English phrases. To deal with this problem ,teachers should pay attention to plurality when teaching and give the students many word form exercises or speaking activities ,then spend time correcting the plurality mistakes .I think if teachers keep reminding the learners about that they will remember and can avoid this kind of mistakes.
Secondly, we will talk about the students who remember to use plural forms of nouns but they don’t know how to change the nouns. For example: “laps” or “lapes” ; “wifes” or “wives” .The reason for this problem is that plural forms of nouns in English is too difficult and complicated. In this case, I think the teachers must carefully explain the rules for forming plural nouns .After that they can give students plural form exercises. Moreover, when teaching new words ,they can add plural form of these new nouns. I think these suggestions will be useful for students to master plurality of noun in English.
In conclusion, plurality of nouns in English is formed by changed nouns (adding morphemes or changing to irregular forms) while that in Vietnamese by adding numerals or quantifiers. Through this paper ,we can see clearly the ways to form plurality of nouns in the two languages as well as the differences between them. Although I know that this research cannot cover all the aspects of noun plurality in Vietnamese and English, I hope to a certain extent it will help English or Vietnamese teachers and learners understand more about plurality of noun in these languages and avoid the mistakes related to this field. What I want to suggest more is that new researches focus on contrastive analysis view of plurality of pronouns or compound nouns in English and Vietnamese because pronouns and compound nouns are really important and commonly used like nouns. The next researches in the future will be longer and more difficult but they will give teachers as well as learners more knowledge and confidence in their language teaching and competence.
English Grammar Simple Pluralisation Guide.( 1999,September). Retrieved from http://www.learnenglish.de/grammar/pluraltext.htm
English plural .(nd). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 16, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_plural
Frank Trinh (2002). Vietnamese Translation in Australia: A missing Link.