If I intend to use a noun as an adjective, can I use the noun both in plural and singular form?

e.g. "noun modifier", "Bacon Batch", "A news reporter", "Sports center", "email address"

My feeling is that adjectival noun are usually singular. How come some of the above examples that are in plural? What if, says, "school uniform" or "Company law", If i really want to emphasise "schools" or "companies", could I use the plural form as an adjective?

Why some of the nouns can be used as plural while the other not?

  • The problem here is that these noun modifiers are almost always use in a generic sense, e.g., "school lunch program". Only in special cases do they refer to something more specific, e.g., "Harvard alumni". If you want to talk about something that pertains to more than one associated other thing, you will most likely need to revert to the possessive case: "the schools' cheerleader squads were in hot competition with one another." This is basically a matter of usage, and listeners likely won't get it if you try to break the rule. If you don't believe this, try it out on some test readers. Apr 13, 2015 at 6:14
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    "news" and "sports" are not plural. They are mass nouns. google.com/… Apr 13, 2015 at 7:18
  • @BrianHitchcock: in depends on what sense we mean "plural." They are syntactically singular, but morphologically plural.
    – herisson
    Sep 10, 2015 at 8:07
  • Wouldn't you use the plural of the noun? School uniforms instead of schools uniform? The confusion with the possessive would likely cause confusion.
    – jimm101
    Jan 8, 2016 at 14:06
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2 Answers 2

  • My feeling is that adjectival noun are usually singular

Right on

  • How come some of the above examples that are in plural?

Have you heard of "news" in singular?

  • If i really want to emphasise "schools" or "companies", could I use the plural form as an adjective?

Possible, but very reluctantly, check Google Books for precedents

  • I understand that it would be quite unusual, at least to my instinct, to use some nouns such as "schools" as adjective. However, is it possible to discern the reasons why some nouns cannot be used as such? As you mentioned, the reason for some extreme examples such as news may be more obvious, as we never use news in such way. But how about the majority of the "less extreme" nouns?
    – Alan
    Apr 13, 2015 at 2:00
  • In English, a singular noun used as premodifier can represent a multitude already: school uniforms can represent uniforms from several schools, if you know how to write your context. Apr 13, 2015 at 2:06
  • I am not sure about your comment here. My feeling is that it depends on the article rather than the noun itself so "the School uniform" mean a particular school while the School uniforms may mean "A school has more than one uniform" or "uniforms which students wear, generally speaking" So the noun itself does not seem to convey any real sense of multitude to me. Please correct me if I am wrong.
    – Alan
    Apr 13, 2015 at 2:11
  • See also: english.stackexchange.com/questions/238940/… that's a possible alternative Apr 13, 2015 at 2:19
  • Go to Google Books and dig a bit yourself to see various cases. Apr 13, 2015 at 2:20

Some singular uncountable nouns end in –s. They have no plural forms. Examples are: news, billiards, draughts, measles etc. (from this website)

So in your example, that is not actually a plural. Furthermore, there is no reason why a noun adjunct (adjectival noun) couldn't be plural. It's a noun after all, not an adjective(it just behaves like one).

Noun adjuncts were traditionally mostly singular (e.g. "trouser press") except when there were lexical restrictions (e.g. "arms race"), but there is a recent trend towards more use of plural ones (from here)

But it's not up to you to decide whether you want to use the plural or not. College uniform is correct, but colleges uniform / colleges uniforms are not.

Basically what all this means is that noun adjuncts should in fact always be singular, but there are some exceptions; just like the exceptions with irregular plurals and irregular nouns.

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