What is the plural of "detective sergeant". In an episode of Endeavour, Series 5, episode 4, Superintendent Bright used "detectives sergeant" but this seems wrong, you wouldn't say "chiefs inspector" would you?

Chief Superintendent Bright, Thames Valley, Detectives Sergeant Strange and Morse, and Detective Constable Fancy.


The origin of the noun detective, as in a policeman who 'detects' crimes, is the adjective:

1828, short for detective police, from detective (adj.) "fitted for or skilled in detecting" (by 1828); — Etymonline

It follows that, in detective sergeant, the word should also really be an adjective. That means the head of the noun group is sergeant, and detective is a simple attribute. Only the head should be pluralised, so it should be detective sergeants.

The script writers may have been confused by words like Knight Templar, in which the first word can be read as the noun and the second the adjective, in which case it should be Knights Templar.

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  • Because of potential confusion with Queen's regent (singular "regent of The Queen"), a better example might be Knights Templar. And personally I don't really care much about the (inaudible) hyphen in Presidents-elect. Whatever - those scriptwriters really should learn better English, in a job like that. – FumbleFingers Oct 14 '18 at 15:47
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    I have a feeling it's a hypercorrection from the rule in titles such as attorneys-general, governors-general, sergeants major, maybe even stuff like passers-by or courts martial. Also, @Jonno I have a doubt someone would be able to hear the difference between "detectives sergeant" and "detective sergeant". You would have to leave a strangely long pause between the two words to be able to distinguish the two esses. – Zebrafish Oct 14 '18 at 16:45
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    Superintendent Bright is deliberately using the wrong plural as a kind of self-parody. The script writers knew exactly what they were doing. – TonyK Oct 14 '18 at 20:24
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    Yes, "detective", as used by police forces, is an adjective - but one which is often given informal noun status in references such as "there are three detectives attached to the station". But each of those "detectives" has a full handle. Each will be either a "detective constable", "detective sergeant", "detective inspector", detective superintendent", or possibly "detective chief-superintendent". In all those cases "detective" is adjectival, though each, in shorthand can be described as "a detective". – WS2 Oct 14 '18 at 20:31
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    @TonyK: You might want to post that as an answer! – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 15 '18 at 13:52

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