In a map legend should the entries be singular or plural? What is correct? Road or Roads?

A Google image search for "map legend" lead me to conclude there is no consistent way of having a legend entry be singular or plural. The more authoritative maps I've seen have legend entries in singular. (USGS, National Geographic, etc)

So my question is, in what cases is a plural legend entry correct?

This guide says singular: http://gisgeography.com/map-elements-how-to-guide-map-making/ entry 32: Features in Legend are Present and Singular

Example of a legend with singular, and plural entries that I made. Legends - Singular entries and plural entries

  • 1
    I suspect it's a matter of opinion and down to whoever specifies a particular map. I prefer plural unless there is only one feature in that category e.g. Study Area.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 19:15
  • I don't think it's entirely opinion based, seems like a cartographer needs to chime in here because there are reasons I've heard that are valid but I can't remember enough of both reasons to answer it =P Consider that a Legend describes what's in the legend, and those items are singular (you see a single stream symbol), but on the map, the viewer sees many streams. Another discussion I find interesting is why to exclude the "Legend" title from a legend... < separate topic though!
    – SaultDon
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 21:17
  • I've spent a few hours looking on Google and on ESRI Geonet but I can't find anything definitive. Just the entry I linked in my original question. I recall seeing something on Geonet before, but now I can't find it. I posted this same question on GeoNet just now. geonet.esri.com/message/… Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 21:20
  • I asked Aileen Buckley ESRI Cartographer about this issue. She thought it was a good question, and she wrote a blog post about his topic on the ArcGIS Blog goo.gl/WtmuYC Can this question be re-opened? Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 21:58
  • Your question is re-opened. Thanks for following up with Aileen.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 22:06

3 Answers 3


I asked Dr. Aileen Buckley, Esri Cartographer for her advice. She wrote a blog post that explains when you should use singular and plural for legend items. I asked, ”Is there a cartographic convention or guideline for legend item labels being singular or plural? Do plural labels imply something different if there are both singular and plural entries?”

In summary;

"As a rule, legend item labels should be singular nouns."...

Also, ”Do plural labels imply something different?”

Yes, they do. The most common interpretation of legend item labels that are plural is that there are multiple things of the same type in a single location."

ArcGIS Blog post "Legend item labels – singular or plural" https://blogs.esri.com/esri/arcgis/2016/08/29/legend-item-labels-singular-or-plural/

From her post, this image shows where you should have plural legend entries. One restroom symbol implies multiple restrooms.

enter image description here


This is a great question. I agree that there is no standard for pluralising legend entries. Typically, I will use the singular form, but often I will make it plural. In your map, you may only have one waterbody shown. So, it doesn't make a lot of sense to call it "Waterbodies". However, I don't think it makes a huge difference, but I suppose, like anything, it depends on your audience.

Ultimately, what I put on my legends is what my client wants.

I recently have made a series of maps and the legend text was in Title Case, which is what I typically use. However, the client requested that only the first word should be capitalised. As they are paying for the maps, who am I to argue?


We create GIS file names in plurals; e.g. streams.gpkg

We also create GIS file names in singular; e.g. study_area.gpkg

Why any different in a legend.

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    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 2:47

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