In the English language, we usually use “s” or “es” to show the plurality of a noun. However, some nouns have irregular plural forms that can really throw us off. For instance, is it correct to say “deers”?
It is not correct to say “deers”. Deer is the plural of “deer,” and refers to one deer and many deer. “Deer” can be either singular or plural because “deer” is an irregular noun. Irregular plural nouns like “deer” typically do not follow the standard rules while changing into their plural forms.
Instead, they have their unique regulations, and you need to keep track of them or memorize them as you read them in sentences (source).
Continue reading to learn more about the irregular noun “deer” and how to use it in a plural sense. We will also cover how to use this noun with articles and in the possessive form.
The Noun “Deer”
Etymologists have reconstructed the Proto-Germanic form of our word “deer” as “deuzam,” meaning “animal” (source). This became Old English “deor” and Middle English “der,” meaning “beast,” typically referring to any four-legged animal (source).
Over time, deer came to refer only to wild animals that people hunted, shifting to use for only the red deer before becoming more general again. In Modern English, the word “deer” gradually came to refer to several species of the family of cervids, including white-tailed deer, red deer, mule deer, caribou, and elk (source).
The noun “deer” can now refer to some 43 species of the family Cervidae, suborder Ruminantia (order Artiodactyla), class of Mammalia (source). However, it most often refers to white-tailed deer, red deer, or mule deer.
Is the Plural of Deer Deers?
Normally, a noun that has a multiple of something is a plural of that noun. For example, many cats are roaming around the streets. Here, “cats” is the plural of “cat” that indicates there is more than one cat in the example.
In the case of deer, the plural of “deer” is still “deer,” though some dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, recognize the plural form “deers.” However, as we mentioned at the start of this article, “deer” is the preferred plural form for “deer.”
So Do You Add an “s” to “Deer”?
Generally, we create the plural form of most nouns simply by adding the letter “s” to it. Thus, when we add “s” to the singular noun “cat,” it becomes ”cats.” Similarly, “dog” becomes “dogs” and so on.
Some words become plurals by adding an “es” at the end; these include words ending in -ch, -sh, -s, -x, or -z (source). For example,
- I saw a witch flying on a broom. The three witches were making a brew.
- John packed his things in the brown box. Mary had many colorful gift boxes at her store.
- The children took the bus to school every day. The school operates a fleet of 10 buses.
- Do you need one brush or a dozen brushes?
These previous examples are all regular plural nouns. However, English has several nouns that have irregular plural forms. Irregular plurals are nouns that do not become plural by adding -s or -es. Usually, “deer” is one of them.
Early English dictionaries like Noah Webster’s recognized “deer” as either the singular or plural form of the word (source). However, current dictionaries like The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Collins Dictionary, and dictionary.com now list the additional plural spelling of “deers.”
Still, the Corpora of Contemporary Modern English only has 76 entries for “deers” compared to 19,727 for “deer” (source). Most of the entries for “deers” involve direct speech quotes, and some of those are from children.
What Is More Than One Deer Called?
The commonly accepted plural of “deer” is “deer.” However, dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and dictionary.com have recently recognized the less common spelling “deers,” so there are those who will find it acceptable in American English. Still, most will prefer “deer” since dictionaries list it first, and it is the only listing for British English.
Some irregular plural nouns remain the same even when we use them in the plural sense, as we’ve illustrated below.
- One deer, many deer
- One sheep, a hundred sheep
- One fish, two fish, many fish
Sometimes, when using “deer” or “fish” as mass nouns referring to multiple species of “deer” or “fish,” we might use plural forms like “deers” or “fishes.” However, while rare for “deer,” you’ll almost never see this for “sheep” (source).
For another article on a similar irregular noun, be sure to read “Is It Correct to Say ‘Sheeps’?”
You have to look carefully at the context in which someone used them to determine if they are in their singular or plural form. Let us look at some examples that illustrate this for “deer.”
Deer: Singular in a Sentence
In the below examples, “deer” is singular, which is clear from the use of the helping verbs “was” and “is” as well as the indefinite article “a.”
- A deer was seen roaming in the jungle today morning.
- Bambi is a white-tailed deer.
Deer Plural in a Sentence
Similarly, helping verbs like “are” and “were” help us identify that “deer” is in the plural form in the following sentences:
- We know that deer are great at climbing and swimming in the forest.
- White-tailed deer were almost hunted to extinction in the 1960s.
As you can see, we use “deer” in both singular and plural forms and determine the noun’s nature in context.
The Use of Articles With “Deer”
Articles function largely as adjectives in the sense that they modify nouns in sentences. Thus, the article helps us indicate if the noun is a specific one or one of many. In the case of “deer” and other similar irregular nouns, contextual clues like articles help us specify if the word is in its singular or plural form.
English has three articles: “a,” “an,” and “the.” We use the definite article “the” to indicate a specific noun and one that the reader should be familiar with. In contrast, we use the indefinite articles “a” or “an” to indicate a generic noun or one whose identity is unknown. Sometimes, we do not use articles before nouns.
Count and Noncount Nouns
Knowing if the noun is a count or noncount noun also helps determine article usage. Count nouns refer to items we can count, like deer, desks, apples, and oranges. They can be either singular or plural.
Conversely, noncount nouns refer to items that we cannot count, and American English treats them as singular. We also call them mass nouns, and they include words like “luggage,” “water,” and “rice.”
Using the Indefinite Article With “Deer”
Since “deer” starts with a consonant sound, we use the indefinite article “a” before it to indicate one of many deer. In contrast, nouns that begin with a vowel sound will have the indefinite article “an” before them.
Note: it’s not whether the first letter of the noun is a consonant or vowel but whether it makes a consonant or vowel sound.
- Bambi is a deer.
- I saw a deer in the park today.
- He is an honest man.
You can read our article “An Hour” or “A Hour”: Proper Article Use Before Hour. to get more information on how to use “a” and “an.”
Using the Definite Article With “Deer”
We use “the” to indicate a particular person, place, or thing. Note that we can use it with both singular and plural count nouns.
- The deer was chewing on the roses in my garden.
- The deer were grazing in the woods.
In the first sentence, we use “the” to indicate one specific deer, while in the second sentence, “the” refers to a specific group of many deer. The verbs “was” and “were” let us know if “deer” is singular or plural in each case.
As we mentioned earlier, we do not always use articles with nouns. However, we sometimes use generic noncount nouns as well as plural count nouns without articles. This is also where you are more likely to see the rare plural form “deers” to refer to more than one species of deer.
- Deer are gentle creatures.
- We often see deer near the watering holes in the jungle.
- We eat rice every day.
In the first two sentences, we omit the article because we are referring to the deer species in general. In the third example, “rice” is a noncount noun and does not need an article preceding it.
Wrapping up Articles With “Deer”
Now that we have explored the articles and how we use them, here are a few final examples of how we can use both definite and indefinite articles with “deer” in various ways.
- There is a deer in our garden. (any deer)
- The deer is in our garden. (a previously mentioned or specific deer)
- Deer are in our garden. (generally saying any group of deer)
- The deer are in our garden. (a specific group of deer)
What Is the Possessive Form of “Deer”?
Possessive nouns demonstrate ownership of something. However, confusion can arise regarding the proper use of the apostrophe for the possessive noun. Irregular nouns like “deer” that can be either singular or plural might seem particularly confusing at first until you understand the rules.
Most nouns simply accept an apostrophe-s (‘s) at the end for the singular possessive, and plural nouns ending in “s” add an apostrophe after the “s” to indicate the plural possessive. We can easily apply the former rule to “deer” but not the latter unless we choose to use the rare plural form “deers” (source).
- The deer’s tail was white.
- The dogs’ owners chatted while the dogs played.
However, there is another rule that applies to irregular plural nouns that do not end is “s” like “children,” where we can add an apostrophe-s to form the plural possessive.
- The children’s library is closed today.
- The deer’s tails were white.
Using the rules mentioned above, the possessive form for the noun deer in both singular and plural forms will be “deer’s” (source).
In the singular form, we simply apply the rule of adding the -‘s at the end of the noun “deer” to form the possessive “deer’s.” In the plural form, normally, “deer” is still “deer” and hence does not end with “s.” This means that we can form the plural possessive by adding the -‘s once again to get “deer’s.”
Again, context cues like helping verbs, articles, and related nouns help us determine if “deer’s” is in the singular possessive or plural possessive form. However, in a sentence like the one below, it could refer to either one deer or many deer since the verb “were” refers to the noun “tracks” and not “deer.”
- The deer’s tracks were easy to follow.
However, we can avoid such ambiguity by adding more information to the sentence to let readers know if the “deer” is singular or plural. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
- The lone deer’s tracks were easy to follow. (singular)
- The herd of deer’s tracks were easy to follow. (plural)
The rules for irregular plural nouns can be somewhat inconsistent, which can make them very confusing. In the case of “deer,” the plural generally stays in the same form as the singular noun. Hence in both single and plural forms, it will be “deer.”
However, since several reputable dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, contain entries for “deers,” it’s hard to argue against using it. However, it is always listed after “deer” for the plural form, indicating that “deer” is far more common for the plural.
Regarding the possessive noun, it luckily follows the straightforward rule of adding an apostrophe-s to both singular and plural forms of the noun. So, “a lone deer’s tracks” and “a herd of deer’s tracks” are both correct.
Remember that it is all about context. Once you understand how to frame these nouns in sentences to convey the right meaning, you will be as sure-footed as the deer.