10 Irregular Plurals Games

By Alex Case
Fun competitive activities for nouns which don’t take -s like “women”, “children”, “mice” and “crises”

The topic of irregular plural nouns should probably be taught more, as mistakes like “My child” for “My children” are more likely to cause misunderstanding than other more common textbook topics like past tenses, and all levels of student have problems with some irregular plurals. This article gives ten ways to make the topic manageable and fun, divided into activities useable to present the point, to help students memorise the plurals, and to give them a chance to communicate using them. Most can also be used with a mix of regular and irregular plurals.

Irregular plurals presentation games

Singular or irregular plural simplest responses

Students listen to words like “postman” and “loaves” and race to hold up the right one of the “singular” and “plural” cards that they have been given. They can then listen to the word in context to check. Although this is a very simple game, it also works well with more difficult plurals for higher levels like “crises”. If you want to deal with words which don’t change to make the plural like “sheep”, tell them to raise both cards when they hear words which could be either singular or plural, then lower one when they hear the context.

Irregular plurals call my bluff

Find at least ten words which are useful to learn but they are unlikely to know both the singular and plural of such as “alumnus” and “alumni”. Give each group at least of those three singular and plural pairs with definitions and ask them to change something about what they have been given to make it false before they read it out to another group (e.g. making up a fake plural, switching the two forms, or making up a false definition). The other group then listens and tries to spot which part is not true.

Irregular plurals what’s my line

Find at least ten words which students know or need to know the singular of but are unlikely to know the plural of, then make different versions of the worksheet in which only one person has the correct plural to each word. One student asks for a plural that they don’t have on their worksheet and all the other students say a possible plural form, making up something fake if their worksheet doesn’t have it. The person who asked the question then guesses which person had the answer on their worksheet and so said the true plural.

Irregular plurals mazes

Find at least eight irregular plurals that follow the same pattern, e.g. have the same spelling as the singular. Put the singular versions of those plurals in a jagged line from the top left corner to the bottom right corner of a table, then fill all the other boxes of the table with words which have different kinds of plurals. Students try find a line of words which make plurals in the same way as the word in the top left corner, ending up in the bottom right corner if they have done so correctly. You can then also get them to write the plurals of the words which are not in that line to check that they are different.

Irregular plurals drilling games

Irregular plurals quick reaction games

Irregular plurals ball games

Especially with young learner classes, this is often best done with a ball or balloon, perhaps making them bounce it without catching it as they take part in chains like “Man”, “Men”, “Child”, “Children”, “Fish”, “Fish”, etc. If they would be motivated by scoring, this can be done with the rules of tennis, badminton, volleyball, etc. It could also possibly be done with an invisible imaginary ball.

Irregular plurals clap clap clap

A less physical fast reaction game is to clap three times after each word to give students a little but not too much thinking time, as in “Person” “Clap clap clap” “People” “Clap clap clap” “Foot”, etc.

Irregular plurals reversi memory game

Make a pack of ten to twenty cards with the singular on one side and the irregular plural on the other, and ask students to spread them out on the table, either side up. One student then tries to guess the other side of all of the cards without making any mistakes, stopping when they say a wrong plural or wrong singular. Cards which were guessed correctly stay the other way up to be done in the other direction next time. The winner is the person who does all the cards in one go with no mistake or has done the longest chain of guesses without a mistake during the game when the game is stopped.

This works best with words which are also difficult to remember the singular of like “alumnus”. For other kinds of words, it might work better with cards with an irregular plural on one side and a plural synonym that is regular on the other (“people” with “humans” etc).

Irregular plurals communication games

How many with irregular plurals boasting game

Students choose nouns with irregular plurals and try to find examples for which their number is higher than their partner(s), that they live with more people or that they have more knives in their kitchen.

How many with irregular plurals warmer or cooler

Students try to answer questions about numbers with irregular plurals like “How many teeth does a typical adult have?” and “How many mice have I caught in my mousetrap?”, with hints about how far off their guesses are like “(The real answer is) much higher” and “(It’s) slightly less” until they guess the exact number.

Good and bad irregular plurals questions challenge

Students rank questions with irregular plurals like “Do you care about having good kitchen knives?”, “Can you recommend a good place to see the autumn leaves?” and “Have you been stopped by many policemen?” from one point for easy questions even with strangers to five points for (almost) taboo. They then decide how many points they want to try for with the next question they are asked, with no points if they are actually too embarrassed to answer it. They can then make their own questions of each level for another round of the same game.

Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET August 2023
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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