Editorial Help Desk

Your Resource for Grammar and
MCPS Style

Word of the Month

Exonerate (verb). To relieve of a responsibility, obligation, or hardship. To clear from accusation or blame.

Tip of the Month

What is the plural of that noun?
Some nouns have only a singular form:
luggage, software

Some nouns have only a plural form:
scissors, pants

Here are a few tips for selecting the plural of a compound word.

  • If a compound noun has no hyphens, add the conventional plural form at the end of the word:

    grandchild        grandchildren
    playoff              playoffs
    firefly               fireflies

  • If a compound noun is hyphenated, add the plural ending to the most important or key word:
    governor -elect               governors -elect
    brother -in-law               brothers -in-law
    lady -in-waiting               ladies -in-waiting

  • The English language is full of exceptions to the rule, so using common sense is the best guide, in many cases:
    five-year-old                 five-year-olds
    forget-me-not               forget-me-nots

It is always a good idea to consult your dictionary if you need to settle the matter of choosing the correct plural. Another resource to play with is Google Ngram. This tool searches hundreds of books to help you choose the most current form of a compound noun. Just plug in the different versions you see used (each separated by a comma). For example, here are the results for potbelly, pot-belly
Give it a try

When in doubt, contact the Editorial Help Desk for help (Donna_M_Marks Pleasant@mcpsmd.org)
or call 240-740-2971.

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