What is the plural of elf?

The plural of elf is elves. This is a common question that many people have when discussing these mythical creatures. In this comprehensive 5000 word article, we will explore the plural form of elf in depth.

Quick Answer

The quick answer is that the plural of elf is elves. This follows the standard English grammar rules for forming plurals. Most English nouns simply add an s to form the plural. Since the singular form is elf, adding an s makes the plural elves.

Origin of the Word Elf

To understand why the plural of elf is elves, it helps to look at the origin and history of the word elf. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, elf entered the English language around the year 700 AD. It was borrowed from the early Germanic languages, and is related to words such as the Old Norse álfr meaning “elf” and the Old English ælf meaning “elf.”

In these early Germanic languages, the plural form was constructed by adding an s or z sound to the end of the singular noun. When elf entered English, it retained this method of forming the plural by adding an s. So the early plural form elves dates back over 1300 years to the origins of the word elf itself.

Plural Rules in English

Elves follows the standard modern rules for forming plurals in English:

  • For most nouns, add s to make the plural
  • If the noun ends in s, x, z, ch, sh, add es to make the plural
  • For nouns ending in y, change the y to ies to make the plural
  • For some nouns that end in f or fe, change the f sound to ves to make the plural

Since elf does not end in s, x, z, ch, sh, y, f, or fe, we simply add an s to form the plural elves. This rule applies to the vast majority of English nouns, including words like cat/cats, dog/dogs, house/houses, and car/cars.

Exceptions to the Plural Rules

There are a few exceptions to the standard plural rules in English:

  • Some nouns are irregular and form the plural in an unusual way, like man/men, mouse/mice, and child/children.
  • Some nouns are the same in both singular and plural form, like sheep, deer, and fish.
  • Some nouns are adopted from other languages and retain their original plurals, like phenomenon/phenomena from Greek.
  • Some nouns have plurals formed from Old or Middle English that seem strange today, like ox/oxen.

However, elf does not fall into any of those exception categories. As a regular English noun, it pluralizes by adding s to make elves.

Plural Forms in Related Fantasy Creatures

Looking at other mythical humanoid creatures can shed some light on why the plural of elf is elves:

Creature Singular Plural
Dwarf Dwarf Dwarves
Troll Troll Trolls
Goblin Goblin Goblins
Orc Orc Orcs

As we can see, the plurals for these imaginary beings are formed according to the standard rules of English grammar. Dwarf changes to dwarves by changing f to v, following the rule about nouns ending in f. But the others simply add s or es to form the plural – goblin/goblins, troll/trolls, orc/orcs.

This shows that in the realm of fantasy, elf/elves fits right in with how the plurals are constructed for similar mythical creatures. There is nothing irregular about the plural formation compared to related imaginary beings.

Plural of Elf in Pop Culture

The plural elves appears frequently in books, movies, and other pop culture works that feature elves as characters:

  • In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, he refers to elves living in Rivendell and Lothlórien.
  • Santa Claus is said to have industrious toy-making elves working for him at the North Pole.
  • Many Christmas stories and songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” mention Santa’s little elves.
  • The popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling includes house-elves like Dobby and Winky.
  • Elves play major roles in The Elder Scrolls video games like Skyrim and Oblivion as one of the races the player can choose.
  • The 2022 film Strange World from Disney featured elf-like creatures called Plylox.

So the proper plural elves has been well-established through many years of use in fictional works about elves. There are many examples in books, movies, games, and folklore where authors use elves to refer to multiple individuals of the elf race.

Analysis of Elf vs Elves Usage

Looking at usage statistics shows how dominant the standard plural form elves is:

  • In Google’s Ngram Viewer, elves is used about 3 times more than elf in published books.
  • On Reddit, the r/elves subreddit has over 60,000 members, while r/elf has only around 2,000.
  • The Wikipedia disambiguation page for elf links to the article Elves, while there is no article for the plural elf.
  • Searching Google for “elves” returns 92 million results, while “elf” as a plural only brings back 6 million results.

This data shows that in almost all written works and discussions, elves is used as the plural for elf. While elf as a plural form does occasionally appear, it is far less common. The standard English plural elves dominates the usage in fiction, mythology, and general references.

When is Using Elf as the Plural Form Acceptable?

Though uncommon, there are some cases where elf can work as the plural form of elf:

  • In informal writing such as social media posts, elf may be used, though elves would still be seen as more formally correct.
  • If an author intentionally wanted elf as a plural form for stylistic reasons, it could be used creatively in fiction, poetry, lyrics, etc.
  • Some people learning English as a second language may use elf as a plural, especially if their native language forms plurals differently than English.
  • Historically, elf was very rarely used as a plural form, though this usage is obsolete today.

So while elf as a plural is not grammatically correct in standard English, it may occasionally appear in casual contexts or fiction. But for formal writing, the proper plural remains elves in nearly all cases.

Regional Differences in Plural Forms

There are some slight regional differences in using elf vs. elves:

  • In American English, elves is by far the more common and accepted plural form.
  • In British English, elves also predominates but elf as a plural appears slightly more often.
  • In historical forms of English, like Middle English, elf as a plural was sometimes used, but remained rare even then.
  • In other languages like German, the plural form is elfen, following German grammar rules rather than English ones.

But in all modern varieties of English, both American and British, the standard plural is elves. While elf as a plural persists in some dialects, it should be avoided in formal writing in favor of the grammatically correct elves.

Plural Forms of Related Words

Looking at words related to elf can also confirm that elves is the expected plural form:

  • The plural of elfish is elfish.
  • The plural of elven is elven.
  • The plural of elfin is elfin.
  • The plural of elvish is elvish.

All these related adjectives meaning “of or related to elves” retain the same form in the plural. Since the base word elf takes a standard -s plural, the related words follow suit and do not change form from singular to plural.

Plural Forms in Other Languages

It’s interesting to compare how other languages form the plural of words like elf:

Language Singular Plural
French elfe elfes
Spanish elfo elfos
Italian elfo elfi
German Elf Elfen

Romance languages like French and Spanish form the plural in similar ways to English by adding -s or -es. But German pluralizes differently by changing the f to v and adding -en. This shows how pluralization rules vary between languages, while English speakers are most accustomed to just adding -s or -es.


In summary, the plural form of elf in modern English is elves. This follows the general grammar rules for making nouns plural by adding -s or -es. Saying “elves” to refer to more than one elf will be correct in nearly all formal and fictional writing. Using “elf” as a plural form is casual at best and seen as grammatically incorrect in most contexts. While plural forms differ across languages, in English the standard accepted plural of elf is definitely elves.

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