It’s not uncommon during the editing process to change a singular noun to a plural noun at the last minute. Maybe your boss asked you to add a second special offer to your monthly print ad. Maybe you’ve decided the badminton write-up will include the JV team as well as the varsity. Maybe you want to avoid the awkwardness of having to say “he/she” in second reference instead of “they.”

A cartoon blob shrieking about changing a single noun to a plural without adjusting the rest of a sentence.

Plertz learns she is expecting twins. As you can imagine, the change from baby (singular) to babies (plural) gets her tentacles in a twist.

Or maybe you just realized that the pivotal scene in your soon-to-be-published sci-fi fairy tale contains a factual error…

“Plertz looked up through the skylight and focused on the moon above. That orb had watched her take her first faltering, slithering steps on the red dust of Mars and it was still standing vigil as she gave birth to her twins.”

Mars has two moons — Phobos and Deimos — not one. If only you could just add an “s” to moon and be done with it. But no, you have to reconsider every word nearby because changing a singular to a plural often causes a ripple effect in surrounding sentences. “Moon” becomes “moons.” “That orb” becomes “those orbs.” “It was” becomes “they were.”

To help you remember this, imagine the ripple effect on Plertz when she learned she was carrying two little bundles of Martian joy instead of one. She had to run extra errands: buy more diapers and baby food at the market, open a second college fund at the bank, and trade in her compact rover for a midsize that can fit two baby safety pods in the back seat.

When you change a singular noun to a plural or a plural to a singular, check surrounding text to make sure that you’ve run the extra editing errands:

  • DO change the verbs to agree with the nouns, as appropriate.
  • DO change the pronouns referring to the changed nouns.
  • DO make sure that any synonym for the changed noun — such as orb as a synonym for moon — gets changed as well.

Need help writing or editing for your website or blog? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].

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