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Born out of a lighthearted comment I made earlier today, stating that the plural form of Mini Cooper would be Minis Cooper, I've been curious if there is a specific name for this type of plural. My assumption of the origin of Sergeants Major (and Minis Cooper: more at end) is that the compound word Sergeant Major is in a "noun adjective" format, which is unusual. If you look down the chain of command:

Sergeant/Sergeants
Staff Sergeant/Staff Sergeants
Gunnery Sergeant/Gunnery Sergeants

Clearly the intention of the structure it comes from confirms Sergeants Major.

So the meat of the question, are there more "noun adjective" compound words that would modify the noun to create the plural version and is there a defining term?

Sidebar: The Minis Cooper comment comes from the car's origin. Most people would be familiar with Ford Mustang/Ford Mustangs, but the Mini Cooper isn't originally made by Mini. It was originally manufactured by British Motor Corporation (BMC). Mini was the type of car and Cooper was it's designer and version. Which places Mini Cooper potentially in the "noun adjective" format.

  • As I remember it the Cooper version of the Mini was originally a reworking of the Mini by a company called Cooper who upgraded the engine and suspension, fitted a roll bar and upgraded various other features like the headlamps turning the city runabout into a competition car. Thus you are probably right that it should have been Minis Cooper. That would also have solved the problem of how to refer to more than one Mini Cooper S. ;-) – BoldBen Aug 26 at 23:09
  • @BoldBen - Correct, I was a bit brief about the origin. Full short story is John Cooper, an F1 designer also owns Cooper Motor Company liked the Mini which had been in production by BMC/Austin/Morris, whatever they felt like calling themselves and the area you were in, for a few years. Cooper wanted to go fast and told his friend over at BMC who was also the Mini's designer about his idea to go fast. Short story shorter, everyone said yes to every idea and here we are in 2020. – McFuu Aug 27 at 0:58
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    I'll note that terms such as "attorneys general" typically result from using a <noun> <adjective> word order, vs the more common <adjective> <noun> word order. – Hot Licks Aug 27 at 1:40
  • head-first compound/plural noun – KannE Aug 27 at 6:37
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In the phrase sergeant major, the noun is sergeant and the adjective is major.

In normal adjectival use, the adjective comes before the noun, and this is called a prepositive adjective:

  • red slippers
  • heavy cars
  • tired workers

However, some adjectives come after the noun, and this is called a postpositive adjective or a postnominal adjective:

  • sergeants major
  • attorneys general
  • notaries republic
  • heirs apparent
  • professors emeritus
  • poets laureate

In both cases, it's generally the noun that becomes plural, not the adjective.

Some of the postpositive pairs, like attorneys general, are used so often that it doesn't sound completely strange. But it's not a form that's entirely common, so pluralizing the first word (the actual noun) rather than the second word (the actual adjective) as if it were a single compound unit isn't entirely natural.

The following is said in a Wikipedia article on the subject:

Recognizing postpositive adjectives in English is important for determining the correct plural for a compound expression. For example, because martial is a postpositive adjective in the phrase court-martial, the plural is courts-martial, the suffix being attached to the noun rather than the adjective. This pattern holds for most postpositive adjectives, with the few exceptions reflecting overriding linguistic processes such as rebracketing …

With some such expressions, there is a tendency (by way of regularization) to add the plural suffix to the end of the whole expression. This is usually regarded by prescriptive grammarians as an error. Examples are *queen consorts (where queens consort is considered the correct form) and *court-martials (where the accepted plural is courts-martial, although court-martials can be used as a third person present tense verb form).

This rule does not necessarily apply to phrases with postpositives that have been rigidly fixed into names and titles. For example, an English speaker might say "Were there two separate Weather Undergrounds by the 1970s, or just one single organization?". Other phrases remain as they are because they intrinsically use a plural construction (and have no singular form), such as eggs Benedict, nachos supreme, Brothers Grimm, Workers United.


Minis Cooper is an interesting thought experiment.

I would say that Mini Cooper is now a proper name (note the capitalization). As a proper name, despite its possible postpositive-adjective origin, the rules for its specific pluralization should follow the normal convention for proper nouns: add an s after the complete phrase.

Just as we have five John Smiths (and not five Johns Smith) we have five Mini Coopers.

Also note that the military ranks mentioned in the question are only capitalized when used as part of somebody's title. Normally, they are common nouns—and they remain in lowercase.

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I cannot give you a name for the construction but I can provide one requested example. The Brothers Grimm, referring to the fairytale authors, is an obvious example. Although it came from the German Die Gebrüder Grimm, it has persisted in English thereafter.

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  • You would also, at one time, have had unmarried sisters with the surname Jones called "The misses Jones" by people with pretensions although ordinary folk called them " The Miss Joneses" – BoldBen Aug 26 at 23:13
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    en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_plurals has many examples of compounds where the first word is the head, but offers no term. Attorneys general; but “general” in the military has been adopted as a noun, thus lieutenant generals. – Xanne Aug 27 at 0:02
  • @Xanne Which makes "Sergeants major" even more of an outlier since "major" is also the name of a rank. Of course a lieutenant general is more of a general than a lieutenant but a sergeant major, being non-commissioned, is more of a sergeant than a major. – BoldBen Aug 27 at 2:25

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