This is purely a curiosity, but I'm fascinated by mid-word pluralization, even if the word in question is a compound word.

For example, passersby or standersby.

No others have occurred to me. Can you provide other examples, or a link to a resource that enumerates them?

I'm particularly interested in compounds that do not include spaces or hyphens.

  • 13
    Hmm, haven't seen "standersby" before, only "bystanders" (usually as in "innocent bystanders"; though, as every copper knows, nobody is innocent ;-) Jan 11, 2011 at 2:03
  • 2
    Especially bypassers, these guys always plot something sinister ;)
    – Septagram
    Jan 11, 2011 at 7:18
  • 5
  • @Rob Perfection.
    – Jay
    Jan 12, 2011 at 1:07
  • @JürgenA.Erhard That's exactly the mentality of why I get nervous around cops Sep 14, 2015 at 4:31

5 Answers 5


It could be any compound noun of which the head, the "main noun", is not the final part of the compound. This includes all compound nouns whose final parts are not nouns. "Bystanders" is normally not written as you did. In "passers-by", the final part is "by", which is not a noun. Note that there might be some controversy about the correct spelling of some such words, but I just try to be consistent. A few examples:

  • runners-up
  • fins-de-siècle (and many more French words)
  • houses of cards
  • Commanders-in-Chief
  • sons-in-law
  • attorneys at law
  • (tea)spoonsful
  • ...
  • 5
    Except for the word in-law itself, oddly :)
    – Kosmonaut
    Jan 11, 2011 at 4:06
  • 2
    @Kosmonaut: Hey I never realized that. I suppose no other choice was left when the head got dropped. Still, an amusing plural. Cf. syntax-less compounds like "drop-outs" — or is there some syntax? Is it a phrase noun (or what are those called)? Jan 11, 2011 at 4:17
  • 5
    And let's not forget attorneys at law. Hmm, on second thought, maybe we should just forget them.
    – Robusto
    Jan 11, 2011 at 4:35
  • 4
    I wonder if database counts as one of these.
    – Tragicomic
    Jan 11, 2011 at 6:43
  • 4
    This wikipedia article has a lot of examples of this kind if you scroll down to the seventh subhead (Plurals of compound nouns): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_plural
    – Tragicomic
    Jan 11, 2011 at 6:50

Men-o’-war is a nice one: shows that irregular plurals are just as susceptible to this construction.

Also: pickers-up, on the same pattern as passers-by.


And a few more from Wikipedia:

  • bills of attainder
  • directors general
  • fees simple absolute
  • ships of the line
  • ministers-president
  • knights-errant
  • procurators fiscal

Besides those in others' answers, there are: attorneys general, secretaries general, solicitors general, postmasters general, governors-general, etc.; [noun]s-elect; and Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller.

  • Though I would argue that all the 'general' compounds - eve "governer-general" are in process of changing to a regular plural.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 11, 2011 at 17:27
  • 3
    Polite disagreement here; "attorneys general" is going strong and reinforcing the rule.
    – The Raven
    Mar 28, 2011 at 22:50

Another example is culs-de-sac, the plural of cul-de-sac.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.