What is the plural possessive form of the word "British"? I believe British is both singular and plural. Is that right? I could get around the possessive problem by using "The British empire's...", but how would I do it with just the one word?

  • Since British is also an adjective, there may not be a need for a possessive form. Saying the British's sense of irony seems less British than the Britons' sense of irony and many British people might only say the latter for a particular small group, while for the population as a whole may prefer the British sense of irony – Henry Feb 15 '19 at 0:54
  • Please give an example sentence in which you would use it. You will find that any such example is contrived and would be expressed differently in English. – David Feb 15 '19 at 20:35

It appears as if you're asking about this meaning of the word British


the natives or inhabitants of Britain

In that case, it's a mass noun, meaning you cannot say "a British," in the same way that you cannot say "a water" or "a sugar." In other words, it's a singular noun, but it represents multiple things.


Janus Bahs Jacquet has pointed out that if British is a noun, it must be plural, since we would say, "The British are coming" not "The British is coming." Furthermore, "what [British] really is is an adjective modifying a deleted head noun, and as such, it can also be singular, and it can also be countable, though a generic head noun (one) will usually be supplied in that case."

The possessive form would be the British's, but this looks and sounds a little awkward, so it's probably best to avoid it. You could use the British people's instead.

This ngram, the British's, the British people's suggests that the British's popularity is rising and the Bristish people's is falling. This is surprising, but it might suggest that there's more support for the British's than I realized.

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  • Just adding to that n-gram, "The Brits'" appears to be the most common way to phrase that currently - even if it is slightly colloquial. books.google.com/ngrams/… – user274438 Feb 14 '19 at 17:08
  • This is not correct, I’m afraid. British as a noun is not a non-count (or mass), singular noun – if it is to be analysed as a true noun at all (highly doubtful), it is unquestionably plural in the sense given here. This is easily confirmed by the fact that it takes plural agreement: it’s “the British are a European people”, not “the British *is a European people”. But what it really is is an adjective modifying a deleted head noun, and as such, it can also be singular, and it can also be countable, though a generic head noun (one) will usually be supplied in that case. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 '19 at 16:40
  • That sounds compelling @JanusBahsJacquet. Seems like you should add that as an answer. – Juhasz Feb 15 '19 at 16:43
  • I don’t think it really warrants a separate answer, because I agree with your conclusion: the British’s is in theory all right, but in practice awkward and probably best avoided in favour of the British people’s or the Britons’ or the Brits’. That is so regardless of which actual word class British itself belongs to. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 '19 at 16:51
  • OK, I'll update my answer to include your remarks about the deleted head, @JanusBahsJacquet. – Juhasz Feb 15 '19 at 17:10

I should note that if you want to talk about British people, the following would also be a correct plural possessive:

The Britons' food preference.

From Merriam-Webster's definition of Briton:

1 : a member of one of the peoples inhabiting Britain prior to the Anglo-Saxon invasions
2 : a native or subject of Great Britain especially : ENGLISHMAN

Briton is often shortened to Brit.

Using this noun can help to distinguish it from British, which could be confused with either the country or the adjective. This noun is also countable and, unlike British, you can say a Briton or a Brit.

So, it may be preferable in some contexts.

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