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If you have several presidents awaiting inauguration, should we refer to them as Presidents Elect or President-Elects?

  • This is one of those weird cases of using Latin word order. True English would be Elect President, and obviously the plural Elect Presidents. So following that, put the s on President: Presidents Elect. – developerwjk Apr 28 '17 at 17:43
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    @developerwjk Or French, really, since that's how that pattern got into English — and why you often see it in contexts of official authority like Surgeons General, Postmasters General, courts martial, and attorneys at law. Norman conquest and all that. – hobbs Apr 28 '17 at 21:21
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    Please show research you have carried out. It may be found to be inconclusive, but reasonable research is expected on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 28 '17 at 22:16
  • Presidents-Elect. It is a postpositive adjective. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postpositive_adjective – Dog Lover Apr 30 '17 at 22:31
  • It's incomprehensible to me how any question of a hyphen arose there. Presidents elect is correct in this case, and if there were an alternative it would surely be preseident elects and never president-elects - and there isn't. I also don't understand how anyone could think any of this idiosyncratic. – Robbie Goodwin May 20 '17 at 20:12
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Presidents-elect. Pluralize the noun.

cf. Words that are pluralized in the middle?

see AP Stylebook:

  • Significant word first: adjutants general, aides-de-camp, attorneys general, courts-martial, daughters-in-law, passers-by, postmasters general, presidents-elect, secretaries-general, sergeants major.
  • Significant word in the middle: assistant attorneys general, deputy chiefs of staff.
  • Significant word last: assistant attorneys, assistant corporation counsels, deputy sheriffs, lieutenant colonels, major generals.

Addendum:

Language obviously changes over time. At the moment, traditionalists like AP Style prefer to pluralize president-elect as presidents-elect. Other arbiters of acceptable usage, e.g. Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary and reputable organizations like CBS News, ABC News and Pew Research Center consider president-elects the proper pluralization.

The U.S. Senate's website devoted to the presidential inaugural ceremonies pluralizes both ways on the same web page. This gives a very clear example that usage is in flux. See the two examples below. The differing pluralizations follow directly one after the other without any intervening text.

The following list provides information on Inauguration Day worship services attended by Presidents and Presidents-elect since 1933.

WORSHIP SERVICES ATTENDED BY PRESIDENT-ELECTS

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    This seems like a construct that's so rarely needed that there's not enough tradition to produce a consensus. – Barmar Apr 28 '17 at 20:24
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    @Barmar But is this not informed by whether you say, as I would, "attorneys-general", and "brothers-in-law", or whether you would say "attorney-generals" etc. – WS2 Apr 28 '17 at 21:41
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    @WS2 As I understand it, these are all ideosyncratic, you can't generalize. AP Style has apparently assumed that they should follow the same convention, Merriam-Webster differs. – Barmar Apr 28 '17 at 21:45
  • @KRyan, thanks for the edit. You cleaned things up nicely and have given me a good model for a more concise post. – user227547 Apr 28 '17 at 22:06
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    @choster et al., I have finally incorporated your helpful comments into my answer. It was very interesting to find "presidents-elect" and "president-elects" right next to each other on the Senate's webpage about the inauguration. I'm not sure whether you noticed. – user227547 Apr 30 '17 at 22:19
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Preferably, the same way you would write the singular noun (which can vary according to style), but with the head noun pluralized. So if you write President-elect, the plural is Presidents-elect; if you write President elect then Presidents elect.

For whatever it matters, the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 uses the terms "President-elect", "Vice President-elect", "Presidents-elect", and "Vice Presidents-elect". The 20th Amendment, on the other hand, uses the terms "President elect" and "Vice President elect" and makes no use of the plurals.

"President-elects" is valid in the sense that you can tack an -s onto any English noun and generally be understood, but it has a great deal of tradition working against it. "President elects", without the hyphen, also has the disadvantage of being confusable with President (singular noun) elects (verb).

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    Nice find on the PTA of '63! It's definitely a citation worth noting for this question. – John Y Apr 28 '17 at 22:20

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