If I say "They were in cahoots", 'cahoots' makes most sense as a noun.

There are different kinds of nouns. I'm sure different linguistic systems divide them up differently. For instance, there are nouns that refer to objects (trees, rocks, people), nouns that refer to locations, to categories, to states of being (confusion, death) or to abstract concepts.

What noun category do people reckon 'cahoots' falls into?

Of course, you could probably mount an argument that 'in cahoots' is actually a kind of adjective. After all, if we say "He is in despair", we wouldn't consider 'despair' to be a noun, like a location.

  • The only clear category I can assign it is "abstract common plural noun. I say plural because the word is declined like a plural and the dictionary supports me in that assertion (though I have a twinge of conscience here, because even though it's declined as a plurarl, I'm not 100% that it's still understood so). I say common because it's not a proper noun (the name for some unique entity). I say abstract because ... reasons. Doesn't seem concrete to me.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:16
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    I would call it an idiomatic phrase. Cahoots only occurs in the phrase in cahoots (with), just like the nouns collaboration, company, and association do -- except other nouns can occur with or without prepositions, in many roles. Cahoots, like bucket in kick the bucket, is simply frozen. Knowing that it seems like a noun is of no utility whatever when dealing with an idiom, since all idioms by definition seem funny somehow. Jul 25, 2016 at 15:17
  • @John Lawler, one source I've seen asserts that you can say "go cahoots with". I've never heard that one, but I would credit "entered into cahoots with". And, yes, 'idiomatic' is fine, but the idiom still has a meaning, and so far as you can locate the meaning to 'cahoots', the word is acting like a noun…whereas, in 'kick the bucket', no one would ask, 'which bucket?' So it seems to me that 'idiom' is a convenient dustbin term, and different idioms behave differently.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 25, 2016 at 16:27
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    Precisely the point. Categories like noun are just convenient labelled bins, and "Idiom" is a dustbin, for the parts that don't fit properly into the other ones. Jul 25, 2016 at 16:30
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    Despair is certainly a noun in your phrase.
    – tchrist
    Jul 26, 2016 at 5:55

1 Answer 1


Syntactically, it's a noun, but a restricted one: it only occurs in the plural, and only in the phrase "in cahoots [with]". (The OED gives some examples of its use in the singular, including in the meaning "a confederate"; but I think that is obsolete - the examples given are mid-nineteenth century).

If you want to classify it, it must be an abstract noun, like "despair".

By the way, parts of speech, like "noun", are syntactic categories, not semantic ones. A noun is a word which can take on noun-like roles in a sentence. The classification that you are asking about, though, is primarily semantic.

  • sure, I understand the distinction. But can 'cahoots' take on all the possible roles of a noun? "I'd like three cahoots, thanks." "Give me my cahoots!" "They were very good cahoots." Surely the way nouns behave is constrained by their semantic qualities, otherwise you have surrealism. So surely their grammatical behaviour is partly a question of semantics.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:33
  • Can anyone explain to me why the comments won't let me put @Colin Fine at the start? Every time I put it, it gets deleted.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:35
  • @Dunsanist It's a well-documented and much-reviled feature of SE. If only you and user @User are involved in a conversation, any mention of @User will be deleted. Until a third party comes along, and now it's "legitimate" to differentiate. Now that I've commented, try starting with @Colin again. It'll work.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:37
  • @DanBron It doesn't yet work for me, but the next commenter will be able to '@' Colin directly. If you get a suggestion overlay then you can do it, if not, then no.
    – Mitch
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:46
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    No, @Dunsanist, not all nouns can take on all noun-roles: membership of part-of-speech categories is graded, and there are more central members which can fulfil any of the roles, and less central ones which can fulfil only some of the roles. "Cahoots", as you say, is very limited in its roles. Whether you regard that lmitation as semantic (conditioned by some semantic properties of the word) or lexical (directly properties of the word) is a matter of choice. and theoretic outlook. I don't think abstract vs concrete has many syntactic ramifications, though count vs mass does have some.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 25, 2016 at 15:26

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