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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Plural Forms of Compound Words

Time for a pop quiz! Which of the following is correct?

●   Attorneys general
●   Attorney generals

If you said "both," you answered correctly! (Note: According to the tenth edition of The Gregg Reference Manual, "attorneys general" is the preferred form, although both are recognized plural forms of "attorney general.")¹

Generally speaking, the plurals of hyphenated or spaced compounds are formed by pluralizing the main element of the compound. These are some examples provided by Gregg:

●   fathers-in-law
●   senators-elect
●   lookers-on
●   runners-up
●   bills of lading
●   letters of credit
●   editors in chief

When a hyphenated compound does not contain a noun, the final element can be pluralized. Gregg provides the following examples (note that these words do not require apostrophes):

●   go-betweens
●   get-togethers
●   hang-ups
●   show-offs
●   hand-me-downs
●   know-it-alls
●   so-and-sos
●   has-beens

Like the compound "attorney general," some compounds have two plural forms. Here are two additional examples (the first form is preferred):

●   courts-martial, court-martials
●   notaries public, notary publics

Let's conclude this grammar tip the same way we started—with a quiz! 

Here's a tricky question for you: What is the plural of "filet mignon"?

Scroll down for the answer!






Answer:  Believe it or not, the plural is "filets mignons"!

Go ahead—look it up!

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1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th ed.
        (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005), p. 175-176.