Most of the time in the English language, when we want to say that there is more than one of something, we just add an –s to the end of the word.  Easy enough.  However, there are quite a few words that change entirely when they are made plural.  These words are quite tricky for children with language delays to learn because they don’t always follow any logical rules.  When children say irregular plural nouns incorrectly, they can sound much younger than they really are.  Here are some steps to help your child learn those crazy ones.

Irregular Plural Nouns Step One: Make a Word List

First you will need to compile your list of irregular plural nouns word pairs and create materials to help your child practice.  Come up with a list of word pairs that have irregular plural nouns.  For example, “foot” and “feet” would be one pair.  You can choose word pairs that you know your child has trouble with or select from a list of commonly used pairs.  Write down all of your words and decide how you will present them to your child.  If your child can read, you can just use written words on flashcards or index cards.  However, if your child is not reading yet, you can make a collection of pictures of each word that you can use as flashcards.  You can use the ones on the following page or you can make your own using images you find online or in clipart.  Come up with a list of about 20 words that you want to target.  Unfortunately, you simply can’t teach your child every irregular plural noun out there, but you can teach the most common ones now and then teach him others as he comes across them in life.  Here are examples of word pairs you may want to use:

Foot/feet Child/Children Cactus/Cacti Elf/Elves Fish/Fish Half/Halves
Leaf/Leaves Man/Men Mouse/Mice Moose/Moose Octopus/Octopi Person/People
Sheep/Sheep Shelf/Shelves Tooth/Teeth Thief/Thieves Wolf/Wolves Woman/Women
Goose/Goose Ox/Oxen Knife/Knives Scarf/Scarves Loaf/Loaves This/These

When you have a list of about 20 word pairs, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Irregular Plural Nouns Step Two: Drill Word Pairs

Now it’s time to teach each of these word pairs to your child.  You can explain any rules that you see, such as changing an “f” at the end of the word to a “v” but since there are very few such rules about these words, you will need to teach most pairs directly. Show your child the list of words or the picture flashcards that you have created.  Explain to him that most of the time when we want to say that there is more than one of something, we add an –s to the word. Then explain to him that these words are different and that they must change when there is more than one.  Go over the list with him to show him what you mean.  You can say “when there is one of these, we call it a foot.  But when you talk about two of them, we say ‘feet’”.  Then, tell your child it’s his turn to practice.  Try some of these activities to see what works best for your child:

  • Straight drill and practice: Say a singular word to your child and ask him what the plural pair is.  For example, you say “foot” and your child should say “feet”.  Just do this over and over again.
  • For a little more fun, you can play memory.  Turn over all of the picture flashcards and have your child turn over two cards.  Have your child tell you what’s on each card.  Make sure he uses the correct irregular plural nouns on those that need it.  If the two words match (are from the same pair), then he gets to keep them.  See which of you can get the most matches.
  • Get a fun app for your tablet such as Plurality for I-Pad.  This app will allow you to play memory games with irregular plural nouns.  This is a great way to drill and practice because kids will typically play on the I-Pad for very long periods of time.

Irregular Plural Nouns Step Three: Make Sentences With Word Pairs

Now that your child knows the irregular plural nouns, it’s time for him to start using them in sentences.  Show your child a pair of words from the last step.  Tell your child that you will need to create a sentence using both of those words.  You can get him started with a sentence like “I see one foot and two feet.”  Have him repeat the sentence back to you with the correct irregular plural noun.  Then, show him another pair and have him say the same sentence but now with this pair of words.  Once he gets the hang of it, see if he can come up with some more creative sentences, like “I fed the monster one cactus and he spit out two cacti”.

Irregular Plural Nouns Step Four: Correcting in Conversation

The only thing left is for your child to start using the correct irregular plural nouns in conversation.  Start paying attention to how your child is saying these words in conversational speech.  Chances are, he’s still using the incorrect word when he’s not focusing on it like when you practice with the flash cards and that’s ok!  Start by correcting those irregular plural nouns about 10% of the time when you hear them in conversation.  This means you’re not correcting him all the time (that would drive him nuts) but you’re slowly beginning to bring his awareness to the fact that he needs to be saying those correctly in conversation.  Gradually, increase the percentage of his irregular plural noun errors that you hear.  As your percentage increases, his accuracy should also increase.  Ease into this so that by the time you’re correcting him 90-100% of the time, he’s already doing it most of the time anyway so there aren’t many errors for you to correct.  Make sure you correct him in a gentle manner so that he doesn’t feel like you’re picking on him.

Where to Find More Info:

This guide, along with 38 others, is included in Ms. Carrie’s E-Book: Speech and Language Therapy Guide: Step-By-Step Speech Therapy Activities to Teach Speech and Language Skills At Home or In Therapy.  This guide includes detailed information on teaching various speech and language skills, including this one, along with worksheets, handouts, sample IEP goals, data collection, and video demonstrations.  For more information, click the button below:

Speech and Language Therapy Guide