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A doll house or a dolls house? Which is correct for the toy? ... There's that thing called Same Sex Couples Act; how about calling it Same Sex Couple Act?

The question is - when should I put attributives in plural? As far as I remember, Bill Bryson claimed in his Dictionary of Troublesome Words that - and that's what I vaguely recall from my classes - attributives should be in singular. Except for some exceptions. If so, what are they? I'm looking for some rule of thumb here other than "when in doubt, JFGI", of course.

NOTE: I leave out forms like a doll's house/dolls' house as they're pretty clear to me, as well as cases like The 'Big Boys and Their Motors' Club in which attributives are separate entities.

marked as duplicate by user140086, BladorthinTheGrey, Hugo, Rory Alsop, jimm101 Dec 19 '16 at 12:34

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I don't think that that problem is a matter of grammar. It is more a matter of lexicology or simply of the dictionary. I had a look at Oxford's Concise Dictionary, they have a doll's house and AmE a dollhouse. My guess is that there is no thumb rule, but perhaps you are right that nouns used as "subelement" to another noun are generally in singular. In any case, it is an interesting question. But I think one has to study this problem on one's own. One example: a shop for books is a bookshop. Though a bookshop has more than one book to sell "book" as element of the compound noun is singular. And a lover of books is a book-lover. As you see there is also the problem of spelling, one word, two words with hyphen or without. But I think in this respect English is tolerant.

  • Well, yeah, when the term is conventionalized into one word, everything is plain dandy. And I assume that's the direction the language will evolve in. Still... – jules Mar 29 '14 at 8:17
  • One never knows where the language will wind up. There are always options that can be taken, and may become normal. – John Lawler Mar 29 '14 at 16:43

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