The the Cambridge dictionary demonstrates that compound nouns can be pluralized by adding an s to the first word.

a security (FINANCE, STOCK MARKET): a financial investment such as a bond or share that is traded on a financial market

a securities agreement/audit/dealer

a securities business/company/house

We can figure out that a securities dealer who buys and sells many different kinds of securities.

But, we say "gumball machine" (a machine that holds many different kinds of gumballs), but not "gumballs machine".

This website says there is no rule.

I suspect the following.

It seems that technical or business terms such as "a securities agreement/audit/dealer", "systems analyst", "sales clerk", etc., tend to focus on the accuracy, therefore they focus on the exact meaning. We say "a securities dealer" because it is more logical that a dealer buys and sells many kinds of securities.

But for common terms, not technical ones, such as "gumball machine", "beekeepers", etc. The accuracy is not important. People keep them simple for every ordinary person to use.

Is there a rule for pluralizing compound nouns?

  • 2
    Note: we say project manager, not projects manager. No s.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 25, 2018 at 16:44
  • 1
    That site is wrong.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 25, 2018 at 16:45
  • 3
    I’m afraid there is no hard and fast rule. The general rule is to use the singular, but there are many exceptions, and it seems to me that plurals are becoming increasingly common in newly coined words. My (unsubstantiated) gut feeling is that the rule that nouns are singularised when used as the first element in a compound is losing productivity. You can still be confident that in closed compounds (written as one word, without hyphens or spaces), the first noun will be singular. The only exception I can think of is menswear, but that’s from a possessive men’s wear. Nov 25, 2018 at 17:08
  • 3
    @DanBron The site actually says "project managers" is the correct term. Or why people who manage projects in the corporate world are called ‘project managers’ instead of ‘projects managers’? The OP had misunderstood
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 19:04
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? When are attributive nouns plural? Feb 5, 2020 at 17:41

1 Answer 1


As Janus Bahs Jacquet notes in the comment section, there is no 'rule' governing the number of a noun used attributively. The topic has been covered various times on this site, including here:

When are attributive nouns plural?

And you will find many online discussions if you run a search on "attributive nouns singular or plural". For example, ThoughtCo's page Attributive Nouns in Grammar contains this quotation from Geoffrey Leech (co-author of A Communicative Grammar of English):

"It is normal that the first or attributive noun of a sequence will be singular," says Geoffrey Leech. "Yet studies of recent English . . . have noted the apparently increasing variety of formations with a plural attributive noun" (Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study, 2010).


The following passages from two reference works add confirmation of this trend towards plurality. Practical English Usage by Michael Swan has a section on English variation and change. In the sub-section Some more examples of changes in modern English (p296) he states:

Plural noun modifiers are becoming more common. For example antiques shop is now as common as antique shop, and drugs problem is replacing drug problem.

Adding my own example: a Google search returns twice as many results for sports teacher as for sport teacher.

Merriam–Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (p145) discusses the issue with reference to the term awards banquet:

It seems that the norm has been to have singular nouns used as attributives— billiards, for instance, even lost its -s to give us billiard ball and billiard table. What seems to be a fairly recent trend toward using plural attributives in contemporary English has attracted some attention and raised a few eyebrows.

The entry goes on to list several plural attributives such as weapons system and communications technology. It continues:

Many of these combinations come from specialized fields of endeavor, and the plural form seems to be chosen to differentiate the meaning of the combination with the plural form from whatever the singular attributive might connote. In a more general case, like that of awards banquet, perhaps the intent is simply to stress plurality: more than one award will be presented.

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