How do you pronounce the plural of 'f" (f's)?

Is it /efs/ or /evz/?

Are there any fixed rules?


The plural of F is /efs/. This is the pronunciation listed in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, and it's also the pronunciation I use myself.

There is no fixed rule, and you'll just have to memorize this. Some words have a /v/ plural while others have an /f/ plural. Some words have both plural forms in use, although one or the other may be more common. Sometimes there are special considerations to be taken into account, as with dwarfs pre- and post-Tolkien.

Let's look at the examples given in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language on page 1587:

  1. /v/ only

    calf → calves
    elf → elves
    knife → knives
    leaf → leaves
    life → lives
    loaf → loaves
    self → selves
    sheaf → sheaves
    thief → thieves
    wife → wives
    wolf → wolves

  2. /f/ only

    belief → beliefs
    chief → chiefs
    cliff → cliffs
    muff → muffs
    oaf → oafs
    photograph → photographs
    proof → proofs
    safe → safes
    tough → toughs
    waif → waifs

  3. /f/ or /v/

    dwarf → dwarfs OR dwarves
    half → halfs OR halves
    hoof → hoofs OR hooves
    scarf → scarfs OR scarves
    wharf → wharfs OR wharves

Usually the spelling and pronunciation correspond pretty well for these plurals, but not always. Roof and handkerchief are sometimes pronounced with /v/ plurals, *rooves and *handkerchieves are not standard spellings; when you write them down you should always spell them roofs and handkerchiefs.

In general you'll have to memorize which words fall into which categories. Since the categories are just a little bit fuzzy and may change over time, that can be a bit tricky, but unfortunately there are no general rules.

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