The term "troop" can mean a group of soldiers, or it can mean an individual soldier (perhaps in this usage it was originally short for "trooper").

In fact, in modern usage, the plural "troops" almost always refers, not to multiple groups, but to multiple individuals. "Obama's surge sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan" means 30,000 soldiers, not 30,000 troop-sized groups of soldiers.

Are there any other nouns like that in English, where it can refer to either a group or an individual member of that kind of group? I'd be especially interested in hearing of examples where the plural form of the noun almost always refers to individuals (not groups) in modern usage.

  • 2
    There are lots of words that don't get conjugated to plural, lime "moose", but I feel like you are asking something else
    – Andrey
    May 7, 2015 at 18:16
  • 1
    Are you sure of what you're saying? To me 30,000 troops mean 30,000 "armies". A troup is similar to platoon.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 7, 2015 at 18:29
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    @Mari-LouA The military meaning of '30,000 troops' is 30,000 soldiers.
    – Mitch
    May 7, 2015 at 18:31
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    @J.R. Nope, those examples can be used as "non-count" (also known as "uncountable" or "mass") nouns. "Troop" is never a non-count noun. It must be pluralized (with a trailing 's') to mean more than one troop. It's just not immediately clear without context if "troop" is being used as a group noun or not.
    – Spiff
    May 7, 2015 at 19:33
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    Troop doesn't mean an individual soldier. It just looks like that when troops is used as "soldiers". Troop means "a body of soldiers" itself. So you cannot say "He is a troop". I'm not sure if it is used as the shortened version of "trooper". (Trooper is derived from troop though)
    – ermanen
    May 7, 2015 at 20:36

3 Answers 3


"The canon" can mean the body of works accepted as canonical by a group; "a canon" can mean one precept of a group; and "the canons" can mean the collection of all precepts which a group follows. In some cases, "the canon" will be the same as "the canons" of a given group, if all of their canonical works concern their canons. Of course, for many groups which have a canon, their canon is a greater collective body of works which do not solely concern their canons. But I think it's similar in usage to your "troop" example.

  • Cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them.
    – Hot Licks
    May 7, 2015 at 22:23
  • Sounds like the Star Wars Extended Universe...
    – Oldcat
    May 7, 2015 at 23:43

To answer this question directly: synecdoche is a very common figure of speech:


A figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa

To most of us, the individual soldier (the daughter, husband, sister or father) is exceedingly more important than the rest of the troop! I perceive very conversation about the troops as a conversation about my brother.

A mother might legitimately say to her only child:

You are my brood!

A pastor might legitimately say to one of his parishioners:

Right now, you are my flock!

The rest of this answer bears more upon the flawed premise of the question. The phenomenon is actually a specialized usage of the plural form of troop with no real analogy in the singular. The plural troops can refer to a group of soldiers synecdochically in terms of its plural number:


1 (troops) Soldiers or armed forces:

ODO, emphasis mine

This plural usage is common in news reports of troop deployments and movements, as in this Washington Post article:

On Jan. 10, 2007, President George W. Bush announced a dramatic shift in U.S. strategy with the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Iraq.

Timeline: The Iraq Surge, Before and After, emphasis mine

This plural usage can create the impression that the singular troop might refer to a single soldier, because the expression 30,000 troops does, in fact, refer to 30,000 soldiers.

Also, some general expressions create the same impression with a plural usage:

"Support our Troops!"

This expression is clearly understood to mean: Support our soldiers! The analogy between the plural troops and the plural soldiers in this specialized usage generates the pseudo-impression of a potential singular usage. Although there may be rare misapplication, the singular troop is not routinely used to refer to a single soldier.

The singular troop is almost exclusively used to refer to a group:

2.0 A cavalry unit commanded by a captain.

2.1 A unit of artillery and armored formation.

2.2 A group of three or more Scout patrols.

3.0 A group of people or animals of a particular kind:
a troop of musicians


Particularly in military parlance, the plural troops does not refer to soldiers, but rather to a specific number of groups of soldiers, as seen in Remarks on the Organization of the Corps of Artillery in the British Service:

... the Corps appears to have consisted of ten Effective Battalions, one Invalid Battalion, fourteen troops of Horse Artillery, including two attached to the Rocket Service; and of twelve troops of Artillery Drivers; and to have amounted to 26,023 men, including 727 officers.

Emphasis mine

When the Random House Dictionary defines troop as "a single soldier", it is actually documenting the pseudo-impression caused by the specialized plural usage of troops:

  1. a single soldier, police officer, etc.:
    Three troops were killed today by a roadside bomb.

Dictionary.com, emphasis mine

This irregular documentation, in a less-than-prestigious dictionary, could eventually lead to a sad transforming trend, but in the singular, the expression would still be soldier or trooper, rather than troop. The singular troop does not actually reference an individual member of that kind of group, but the plural troops can reference the number of individuals in the group as a synecdoche.

  • I'd say that with synecdoche there's generally an awareness on the part of the speaker that they're using the term somewhat figuratively, but that doesn't seem to be happening when using "n troops" to mean "n soldiers" or when using "one U.S. troop" to mean "one U.S. soldier". As for prestigious dictionaries, the OED apparently added the "troop=soldier" sense in 1993, with attestations back to 1832. ( english.stackexchange.com/a/102507/1081 ).
    – Spiff
    May 7, 2015 at 21:51
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    I'm glad you are looking closely @Spiff. Please, look a little closer still: "Draft Additions 1993 Chiefly in sing. [Irreg. < the collect. plural: in some cases perhaps abbrev. of Trooper n.,] A member of a troop of soldiers (or other servicemen); a soldier, a trooper. colloq. (chiefly Mil.)." The OED makes it clear that it is a limited, colloquial, collective plural usage, and that it is irregular! That is why OED is prestigious :-)
    – ScotM
    May 7, 2015 at 22:06

Everything you say is completely wrong. "troop" does not, particularly, mean "one person". By all means, it is occasionally used that way .. but so what?

"Are there any other nouns like that in English" Your understanding is totally incorrect. English is almost infinetly flexible.

It is absolutely, totally, completely normal to use singulars as plurals (and vice versa) in English. It's so commonplace you can't give an example. Further, "that's nothing", it's completely and totyally normal to totally transpose grammar groups in English -- to use nouns as verbs or adjectives, and so on: every possible combination.

it's just absolutely normal in English.

So in answer to your two questions (1) as it happens, you're utterly wrong about the current usual usage of troops, troop, etc. (2) it's absolutely, totally, an everyday thing to use words in "completely the unusual way" in English .. transposing between singular-plural is not even worth mentioning; absolutely bizarre transpositions are completely commonplace.

"Are there any other nouns like that in English, where it can refer to either a group or an individual member of that kind of group" ... there would be 10s of thousands of examples, and it's just of no consequence; this sort of "bending" is the norm in English.

  • 2
    This isn't a case of using singulars as plurals, it's a case of the exact same noun being used as a countable group noun (a group noun that must be pluralized to mean more than one group) and as a countable non-group noun for members of that kind of group. "flock" never means "bird". "gang" never means "thug". "army" never means "soldier". And yet "troop" can mean "soldier". I assert that this is not synecdoche.
    – Spiff
    May 7, 2015 at 20:20

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