my question is how am I supposed to recognize a singular form of a noun which plural form ends with "ies"? As you can see "cookies" are a "cookie" when singular, but at the same time "flies" stand for a "fly". It seems there's no rule for this, so I am rather asking for a list of exceptions if you will. Thank you.

  • whoever downvoted this, please explain yourself – Trident D'Gao May 10 '12 at 4:36
  • I understand your quandary, but asking for a list is probably going to get your question closed... – deutschZuid May 10 '12 at 4:50
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    You're supposed to know the same way you're supposed to know the spelling of any other word: by learning it, and failing that, by looking it up in the dictionary. That makes this question general reference. (And even if it weren't, it's asking for a very long list—not one that can reasonably be compiled in a single answer—which makes it a bad fit for this site.) – Marthaª May 10 '12 at 5:04
  • Martha, is there a dictionary of plural forms in English? If so, I'd be glad if you could name it. By which I mean not a regular dictionary that has all the trivial forms, but rather a special one that focuses on a exceptional cases like ones that are in question. – Trident D'Gao May 10 '12 at 5:15
  • @bonomo, no, there is no dictionary of plural forms in English. Like some other posters told you, "cookies" and "flies" are not "exceptional cases." Exceptional cases for human beings are both Marys, the Kennedys, etc. – Alex B. May 10 '12 at 15:41

It turns out that you don't need to worry too much: it's something in the order of 100 times more likely that the base word ends in -y.

Common exceptions are:

  • a few common monosyllabic words ("die", "lie", "tie", "pie") and compounds ("untie", "underlie"...);
  • a few loanwords from French ("sortie", "crêperie", "cameraderie"...) plus one or two older loans that are now fairly well integrated (notably "calorie")
  • a few informal words, which can actually often be spelt either way ("hippy/hippie", "sweety/sweetie", "movie", "druggy/druggie"...)
  • the odd other word ("eerie", "zombie")

Overall, no need to lose too much sleep.

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  • well, first of all thank you for understanding of my concerns, some people around don't seem to see this problem worth of discussion whatsoever, second, you insight's are really helpful, at the very least you gave few examples to google around, and at last, the problem I am dealing with is in domain of natural language processing, where I have to explain to a computer how to make a "cookie" out of "cookies" and a "fly" out of "flies", and that guys is not very cooperative, but nevertheless, thanks again! – Trident D'Gao May 10 '12 at 5:28
  • A list, finally! Great work. +1 won't do justice. – Kris May 10 '12 at 5:29
  • @bonomo If only you had stated that in your Q., people would've been maha impressed and you'd have got better response. :-) – Kris May 10 '12 at 5:32
  • Neil, we've only solved one part of OP's problem, that of finding the correct singular for a given plural. – Kris May 10 '12 at 5:35
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    Kris - wasn't that the problem? what was the other half? – Neil Coffey May 10 '12 at 16:49

Cookie and fly are both regular English plurals.

The simplest and most common rule for plurals is add an 's'.
If the word ends in a 'y' remove it and add an 'ies' so fly->flies, spy->spies. The exception to this is if removing the 'y' leaves a vowel then you add an 's' to the 'y' so day->days

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  • The OP is asking the other direction....what if you see a word like 'bogies' that seems to be used as a plural...is there a way to tell if the singular is 'bogy' or 'bogie'? – Mitch May 10 '12 at 3:30
  • well well, what I was asking is a quite opposite situation, given a plural form "cookies", now how am I supposed to get a singular out of it, should I replace "ies" in "flies" with "y" or with "ie", now what should I do with "cookies"? – Trident D'Gao May 10 '12 at 3:31
  • @bonomo - generally you can't. That's even how some words came about. The 'pea' really has a singular the same as the plural 'peas' but people assumed that remove the 's' was the singular and created a new word – mgb May 10 '12 at 3:42
  • nice, now does anybody have a list of exceptions at hands? :) – Trident D'Gao May 10 '12 at 3:46

The correct and practicable solution to your problem can only be a database lookup. No single algorithm will work, however complex it may be.

Have all the words, each with its corresponding plural forms (there will be more than one in some cases) in a db table. Index it on the plurals. Easier than it appears to be.

There will just be one hitch, still. What if two different words have the same plural form? I leave that as a separate exercise (that is to say "I don't know").

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  • why do I need to keep ALL words in my db? while for most of them the plural/singular form can be calculated. i'd think i need to keep only exceptions there, which is what my question was about actually, i just thought maybe somebody has a list of them – Trident D'Gao May 10 '12 at 7:18
  • Because you'd not know the "only exceptions" -- that is about getting real. – Kris May 10 '12 at 7:26
  • i am not getting you. cat/cats - a regular case, don't need to keep it, dog/dogs - same thing, mouse/mice - irregular - get into the database, what's the problem here? – Trident D'Gao May 10 '12 at 7:29
  • On a different point, if anyone has such a list, they are more likely to be on SO or programmersSE than EL&U. – Kris May 10 '12 at 7:30
  • How'd you "know" flies was not regular? What is the algorithm that filters a word as a regular plural? Or even a plural at all, for that matter? No way. Programs do not have intuition -- we build that into them. On the other hand, by trying to define regular and irregular forms, we are building complexity into it. – Kris May 10 '12 at 7:38

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