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My friend said to me one day: "We have a mice problem at UNI". Is "a mice problem" grammatical as opposed to "a mouse problem"?

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    It is grammatically correct to say it either way. It is probably more common to use the singular. – horatio May 20 '14 at 16:25
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    If you just want to be consistent with the wording you normally use in such situations, try switching from mouse/mice to rodent/rodents. If you would normally say "We have a rodent problem," it would make sense likewise to say "We have a moue problem"; likewise, if "We have a rodents problem" sounds natural to you, "We have a mice problem" would be the corresponding choice. Most English speakers would opt for rodent/mouse. – Sven Yargs Jul 1 '14 at 14:47
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The word "mouse/mice" in the phrase "mouse/mice problem" is an attributive noun (also known as a noun adjunct). Generally, in the English language, attributive nouns take the singular (as in marriage certificate and bottle opener—see this dedicated article by Nordquist for more examples). Nevertheless, the above link about attributive nouns also cites a study stating that "[i]t is normal that the first or attributive noun of a sequence will be singular. Yet studies of recent English . . . have noted the apparently increasing variety of formations with a plural attributive noun [emphasis mine]."

One could argue that some attributive nouns are apt to take a plural form; "a lice problem" might sound more natural than "a louse problem", especially because an infestation issue implies numerous vermin. However, the wording "a mice" at the beginning of "a mice problem" can certainly sound awkward, even though "mice" is being used as a modifier. My best recommendation would be to use whichever phrasing sounds best in the particular context, or better yet, reconstruct the phrase to read "a problem with mice".

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    Incidentally, Google's "N-gram" of the American English corpus showed a large curve for "mouse problem", but did not even register the phrase "mice problem" (this merely indicates that it is extremely rare in written English, not that it is grammatically incorrect). If you require more information on this topic, this link discusses plural "anomalies" like singles bar and rewards card in depth: quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/compound-nouns – Theodore Broda May 20 '14 at 18:02
  • +1 for a lice problem. a geese problem falls into the same 'better as a plural'. – Frank May 20 '14 at 18:36
  • To me, Mouse problem seems more natural than mice problem :-); lice problem seems more natural than louse problem; but goose problem seem more natural than geese problem :-). Perhaps, One mouse in the house is a problem (for my wife); one goose in the yard is a problem (for my dog), but one louse ain't botherin' nobody (until six days later when it has begun to multiply into lice!) – Good A.M. Mar 12 '15 at 17:34

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