How singular vs plural can lower your TOEFL score
TOEFL, TOEFL Writing, TOEFL Integrated Writing, TOEFL Independent Writing, TOEFL Speaking

Around the world, there are all sorts of languages that have different rules, and many of them don’t have singular or plural forms. Instead, the knowledge about the number of items is either assumed or stated. However, in English it is important to state whether something is singular or plural, and failing to do this is considered a serious grammatical error.

If you aspire to do well in TOEFL, you absolutely must be able to distinguish between plural and singular form without trouble. This is especially true for the writing test, where your grammar will be closely scrutinized for errors. Here, making a mistake with singular or plural would be very costly.

In this article, I will further illuminate this issue and advise you on how to do well at TOEFL by avoiding this sort of common mistake.

Plural vs. Singular: The Basics

In the English language, we change nouns according to whether they refer to one single item or more than one item. For example, when we talk about the idea of a book, we can either say “one book” or “two books.” When there are more than two, we still say “books.” This is the plural form, and it is marked by adding an “-s” to the end of the word.

  • When I was a student, I withdrew many books from the library.
  • Next week, I intended to withdraw a book from the library.

In those examples, the first one uses plural form because the word “many” tells us that there is more than one book. We don’t know how many, but it is definitely more than one. On the other hand, the second example uses singular form because of the article “a.” This little word tells us that there is only one single book going to be taken out from the library. Sometimes we don’t say “one” – we say “a” or “an.”

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There is a slight complication with this system. Certain words cannot just take an “-s” on the end of them. There are words that end in “y” for example, such as “curry” or “theory.” In this case, we typically add “-ies” to the end of the word. As such, “curry” would become “curries” and “theory” would become “theories.”

These words still adhere to the basics of the plural vs. singular rule, though. Another type of word doesn’t, and that is the uncountable noun. Some words just cannot be turned into plural form, and therefore they are troublesome for many TOEFL exam takers. Words such as “water” are uncountable because would not say “two waters.” Similarly, nouns that refer to ideas like “trouble” are usually uncountable and therefore exempt from this system as well.

Mistakes with singular and plural forms

The main mistake that TOEFL candidates make concerning singular and plural form is to use the wrong noun for the situation. Mostly, when it concerns numbers, this is not a problem. People seldom say “I read four book.” However, when we use other kinds of words that imply the noun should be plural or singular, mistakes can occur.

One such mistake is to use a word that tells us that the noun should be in plural form, but to then use the singular form of the noun. Take words like “some,” “many,” or “a few,” for example. These tell us that the noun must be in plural form, but it is common to see the following mistakes in English learners’ writing:

  • There are some problem with the issue of free speech.
  • Many country around the world have laws protecting free speech.
  • Every year, a few famous case arise of people being prosecuted for their speech.

In each of those three examples, the noun appears in a singular form despite the preceding word clearly stipulating that it must be in plural form. The third example was a little harder to see because there is an adjective in between the word “few” and the noun “case.” However, any of these errors would draw serious negative attention from the examiner, and you should avoid it completely.

Another problem that arises in this regard is when a word changes form as it is turned from singular into plural. This can cause confusion and it allows TOEFL exam takers to make silly mistakes. Take, for example, the word “person,” which is “people” in plural form. We can say “a person” but we must say “some people.” This unfortunately trips up many candidates when they are writing quickly in the test, and they make a mistake with it. You cannot say “a people” or “many person.” We can see that in these examples:

  • Many person felt angry about the government’s decision.
  • Many people felt angry about the government’s decision.

This may sound obvious, but of course under exam conditions it is much harder to use the right language. Also, there are situations where it may seem unclear. For example, what about the word “each”? When we say “each” then there are clearly more than one of something concerned… So, do we say, “each person” or “each people”?

The answer is: “each person.”

When we use this word, it is like saying “a person.” We are referring to one out of a group of something, so we use the singular form rather than the plural, which we would use to talk about the whole group.

Avoiding these mistakes

The rules for using plural or singular form are actually pretty simple, and most TOEFL candidates do know them. If they were tested on a simple grammar quiz, they would probably pass easily. However, it is easy to make mistakes during the rush and stress of a big exam like TOEFL. As such, you need to practice extensively before the test to make sure that you know this stuff thoroughly. The more you practice, the more likely you are to succeed.

Using plurals correctly is something that also comes through exposure to the language. If you listen to and read English every day, you will find that these forms start to seem natural, even if you don’t have them in your own language. Eventually, you will find that it sounds really funny to hear someone say “each people” because it is now completely unnatural to you.

Finally, you must practice for the TOEFL test by learning to assess your own writing. This means that you shouldn’t just finish writing and put away your paper. Instead, you need to learn how to edit and proofread it effectively. This is harder to do than you might imagine, but it’s not impossible. In fact, with practice, you can learn to spot some of the errors that you make quite easily. Let’s say that you make ten mistakes in your essay but you can find and correct six of them yourself. By doing that, you have given yourself a much better chance of scoring highly in the test.

The first step towards doing that is getting an expert to check your writing, so maybe you should try our TOEFL writing correction service, which will point out mistakes like those discussed above. Once you know the type of errors you are commonly making, you can find them more easily by yourself.

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