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Sorry for the title, it is not very evident and intuitive but I really do not how to tell it better...

Well, you know, several times, or better, many times, we use this form:

If I want to say:

"development of special weapons was the first point in Hitler's program..."

I will say this (a better form):

"special weapon development was..."


is it

"special weapon development"


"special weapons development" (note the plural...)

what's the grammar rule in order to understand how to use this very used form?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

As a rule, the singular form is used for the first part of a compound noun. So, when in doubt, use the singular. There are three kinds of exceptions:

  1. If the singular would be ambiguous, as in "a singles bar": a single bar means just one bar.
  2. If the plural used to be a singular possessive, which sounds the same: I think "ladies man" (a man who likes flirting with women etc.) comes from the possessive "lady's man", which is also used. It might also be partly due to category 1, since a "lady man" is now generally an effeminate man.
  3. Okay I lied. This is not really a category. There just are exceptions. Often (but not always) the plural is used because a certain word is usually heard in plural in a certain sense, such as "trades union" and "weapons development". I also believe "clothes rack" is fairly acceptable nowadays. It seems the trend is towards using the plural more than in the past, which some traditionalists abhor.
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OK... well, I knew that I had to use singular but I know that some compound used plural too, that's why I asked... well it seems that in most case I must pay attention on how it sounds... ahahah – Andry Jan 4 '11 at 8:02

I'm afraid "development" is still singular, not plural there. So "development was" is appropriate.

"Development" is the subject, you see, not "weapons".

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I do not think the OP was worried about the verb's being plural or singular, but rather about using weapon or weapons in the example given. – Cerberus Jan 2 '11 at 21:08

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