10

Sorry for the title, it is not very evident and intuitive but I really do not how to tell it better...

Well, you know, several times, or better, many times, we use this form:

If I want to say:

"development of special weapons was the first point in Hitler's program..."

I will say this (a better form):

"special weapon development was..."

OK...

is it

"special weapon development"

or

"special weapons development" (note the plural...)

what's the grammar rule in order to understand how to use this very used form?

12

As a rule, the singular form is used for the first part of a compound noun. So, when in doubt, use the singular. There are three kinds of exceptions:

  1. If the singular would be ambiguous, as in "a singles bar": a single bar means just one bar.
  2. If the plural used to be a singular possessive, which sounds the same: I think "ladies man" (a man who likes flirting with women etc.) comes from the possessive "lady's man", which is also used. It might also be partly due to category 1, since a "lady man" is now generally an effeminate man.
  3. Okay I lied. This is not really a category. There just are exceptions. Often (but not always) the plural is used because a certain word is usually heard in plural in a certain sense, such as "trades union" and "weapons development". I also believe "clothes rack" is fairly acceptable nowadays. It seems the trend is towards using the plural more than in the past, which some traditionalists abhor.
  • OK... well, I knew that I had to use singular but I know that some compound used plural too, that's why I asked... well it seems that in most case I must pay attention on how it sounds... ahahah – Andry Jan 4 '11 at 8:02
  • I think "ladies man" is more likely to come from a plural possessive than from a singular possessive. There are a number of examples of plural posessives being used as adjectival phrases rather than as determiner phrases, such as "children's clothing," "a women's magazine," "a men's shoe store" or "an old wives' tale." – sumelic Mar 28 '17 at 18:57
  • @sumelic: It seems ladies man, ladies' man, and lady's man all exist. I wouldn't know which is "original", if any; but I do suspect there to be a category of words where plural and singular possessive are confused. – Cerberus Mar 28 '17 at 19:11
  • Since clothes doesn't have a singular (a cloth rack doesn't mean the same thing at all), clothes rack is inevitable, like jeans jacket. (Of course, there are other pluralia tantum you make singular for compound nouns, like scissor kick and bagpipe music.) – Peter Shor Jul 23 '18 at 14:57

protected by MetaEd Oct 24 '18 at 21:26

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