How COMPOUND NOUNS form their plural

1. Normally the last word is made plural; e.g.

1. boy-friend boy-friends 6. foot-man foot-men
2. break-in break-ins 7. Chief minister Chief ministers
3. travel agent travel agents 8. Major-General Major-Generals
4. step-son step-sons 9. maid-servant maid-servants
5. step-daughter step-daughters

BREAK-IN = an illegal forced entry of a building or vehicle, typically to steal something. FOOT-MAN = is a male domestic worker

NOTE-I: But where MAN and WOMAN is prefixed, plurals are formed differently; e.g.

a) When both the nouns are main nouns, both nouns are made plural; e.g.

i) man driver — men drivers
ii) woman doctor — women doctors

b) When only the second noun is main noun, the second noun is made plural; e.g.

i) man eater — man eaters
ii) woman lover — woman lovers
iii) man hater — man haters

NOTE-II: When the first word is made plural; e.g.

i) court-martial – courts-martial (COURT-MARTIAL = a judicial court for trying members of the armed services accused of offences against military law)

ii) Knight-Errant — Knights-Errant (KNIGHT-ERRANT =  a medieval knight who travelled around doing brave things and helping people who were in trouble

2. With compounds forms of ‘Verb + er, Nouns + adverbs’ and ‘Noun + preposition + noun’ the first word is made plural w; e.g. 


i) hanger-on — hangers-on (HANGER-ON = a person who tries to be friendly and spend time with rich and important people, especially to get an advantage; e.g.

Wherever there is royalty, there are always hangers-on)

ii) looker-on  — lookers-on (LOOKER-ON = someone who watches something that is happening in a public place but is not involved in it; e.g.

At every gathering for dances, sports, or games of any kind there are more lookers-on than participants.

iii) runner-up — runners-up
iv) passer-by — passers-by


i) coat-of-mail — coats-of-mail (COAT-OF-MAIL = a jacket covered with or composed of metal rings or plates, serving as armour)
ii) Commander-in-Chief — Commanders-in-Chief
iii) lady-in-waiting –ladies-in-waiting (LADY-IN-WAITING = a woman whose job is to help a queen or other woman of high social position)

iv) man-of-war — men-of-war (MAN-OF-WAR = an armed sailing ship)
v) sister-in-law — sisters-in-law
vi) ward-of-court — wards of court (WARD-OF-COURT =a minor or one legally incapable of managing his own affairs, placed under the control or protection of a guardian or of a court; e.g. Rohit was made a ward of court.)

NOTE: We say spoonfuls and handfuls, because spoonful and handful are regarded as one word.

3. Initials can also be made plural; e.g.

i) MP – MPs (Members of Parliament)
ii) VIP – VIPs (very important persons)
iii) OAP – OAPs (old age pensioners)
iv) BA – BAs
v) ATM – ATMs

Previous post


Next post

Nouns that are always plural and take plural verbs

Maha Gupta

Maha Gupta

Founder of www.examscomp.com and guiding aspirants on SSC exam affairs since 2010 when objective pattern of exams was introduced first in SSC. Also the author of the following books:

1. Maha English Grammar (for Competitive Exams)
2. Maha English Practice Sets (for Competitive Exams)

No Comment

Leave a reply