Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Can a plural noun act as an adjective? For example, can we say “superheroes fabric”? Thank you!
– Marta, UK
This is a good question, and the short answer is yes, plural nouns often act as adjectives, as in these examples:
- Teachers unions
- Girls hockey
- Nurses station
A related question is when should a noun acting as an adjective be plural, and when should it be singular? In other words, why do we say “teachers union” and rather than “teacher union”? And why do we say “wedding planner” rather than “weddings planner”?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. There is a tendency for nouns that refer to people – teachers, girls, actors, and superheroes! – to be plural when they act as adjectives. However, this is a tendency, not a rule, and you will find exceptions:
- Mother’s Day (not “Mothers Day”)
- Student council (not “Students Council”)
There is also a general tendency for nouns that are usually plural to remain in the plural form when acting as adjectives, as in these examples:
- Sports medicine (The plural noun, sports, is more common than the singular noun, sport.)
- Media frenzy (Media is plural. The singular form, medium, is rarely used.)
Again, there are probably exceptions. And while nouns that refer to animals are usually singular when acting as adjectives (goose liver, dog food, rat race), sometimes the plural is the preferred form (calves liver).
The bottom line is that this is a question that native speakers and even grammarians struggle with as well, because the answer is not predictable. Therefore, if you are wondering whether a noun in adjective position should appear in the singular or plural form, my advice is to check Google, see which form occurs with the highest frequency, and use it.
I hope this helps.
Source Merriam Webster Dictionary Online – Ask the Editor