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    #1

    Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Hello people,

    The title is what I have been seeking for fairly long but I haven't been able to find any refference.
    My question is: when putting 2 nouns together to form one noun phrase, what decides the first noun should be singular or plural?

    Here are some examples that puzzle me...

    1. Book shop
    This is simple as only the second word changes according to the number. i.e. book shops.
    2. Security company / Securities company
    This is understandable too as the first noun changes its meaning.
    3. Emission cut / Emissions cut
    I'm in trouble with this pattern as the essensial meaning of the first word stays the same.

    It would be great to hear if there are any concerete rules behind. Any advice would be much appreciated.

  1. Raymott's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Kengo View Post
    Hello people,

    The title is what I have been seeking for fairly long but I haven't been able to find any refference.
    My question is: when putting 2 nouns together to form one noun phrase, what decides the first noun should be singular or plural?

    Here are some examples that puzzle me...

    1. Book shop
    This is simple as only the second word changes according to the number. i.e. book shops.
    2. Security company / Securities company
    This is understandable too as the first noun changes its meaning.
    3. Emission cut / Emissions cut
    I'm in trouble with this pattern as the essensial meaning of the first word stays the same.

    It would be great to hear if there are any concerete rules behind. Any advice would be much appreciated.
    There are no rules. Someone comes up with a term, it catches on, and that's what it is - whether it is singular or plural. The decision is made by usage and consensus.
    "We will be trying for a 5% carbon emission[s] cut in the next five years." Both are acceptable.
    "The government is introducing a Carbon Emission[s] Tax." The correct version is whatever the government decides to officially call it.

    As you've indicated, there is sometimes a good reason to use one form if the other form already means something different.

    I'm sure others could offer further insights.

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    #3

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    There are no rules. Someone comes up with a term, it catches on, and that's what it is - whether it is singular or plural. The decision is made by usage and consensus.
    "We will be trying for a 5% carbon emission[s] cut in the next five years." Both are acceptable.
    "The government is introducing a Carbon Emission[s] Tax." The correct version is whatever the government decides to officially call it.

    As you've indicated, there is sometimes a good reason to use one form if the other form already means something different.

    I'm sure others could offer further insights.
    Hi Raymott,

    Thanks for the clear explanation. Sounds like the key is simply knowing.
    Would you say it's a good idea for non-native speakers to stick with the singular form unless one's 100% sure that it must be the plural form like the example of security and securities?

    More comments would be welcome.

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    #4

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Kengo View Post



    More comments would be welcome.

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    (1) The VIP member has given us excellent advice.

    (2) If you have time, I most respectfully suggest that you google

    attributive nouns (that is, nouns that function like adjectives in front of

    other nouns). I think that you will find a wealth of information.

    (3) I think (repeat: think) that Americans (more than the British) prefer the

    singular attributive noun, whenever possible.

    (a) Maybe the term started as customers' parking lot. Then people decided that

    the apostrophe was not necessary, so the term became customers parking lot.

    Today in 2011, I have noticed that most stores have this sign: customer parking.

    (4) Sadly, there is no one rule. So may I make a suggestion. Keep a notebook and

    jot down examples that you read. After you have collected a few hundred citations,

    you will start to get a "feeling" for attributive nouns. If you have decided to speak and

    write American English, you may wish to limit your collection to examples taken from

    the American media. Thanks to the Web, you can read all the American newspapers

    that you wish. In fact, one day you should read The New York Times and look for

    all the attributive nouns that you can find. That newspaper lets you read a few

    articles for free. You may wish to read a quality British paper (such as The

    Guardian) and notice how the British handle attributive nouns.

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    #5

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Kengo View Post


    More comments would be welcome.

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    (1) I just googled and found:

    veterans' hospital
    veterans hospital
    veteran's hospital
    veteran hospital

    (I think that -- maybe -- "veterans hospital" is the most common.)

    (2) I then checked out an American government website for Veterans Affairs.

    (3) I also noticed that The New York Times often referred to VA hospital

    [Veterans Affairs hospital].

    (4) Maybe someone who has had personal experience in this field will

    enlighten both of us as to which term is used by vets and their families.

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    #6

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Kengo View Post
    Hi Raymott,

    Thanks for the clear explanation. Sounds like the key is simply knowing.
    Would you say it's a good idea for non-native speakers to stick with the singular form unless one's 100% sure that it must be the plural form like the example of security and securities?
    No, unfortunately, as you can see from Parser's example of "veteran hospital" many nouns are also adjectives. A veteran hospital could therefore be an old, antiquated hospital. That is one problem with sticking to the singular as a default.

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    #7

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post

    (1) The VIP member has given us excellent advice.
    Yes, he has. I think it was optimal that the first response offered a simple yet practical view.
    (2) If you have time, I most respectfully suggest that you google attributive nouns.
    I did a quick web search and so much information appeared. This is certainly the word I needed to know.
    (3) I think (repeat: think) that Americans (more than the British) prefer the singular attributive noun, whenever possible.
    It's good to hear that as the difference lies everywhere.
    (4) Sadly, there is no one rule. Keep a notebook and jot down examples that you read. After you have collected a few hundred citations, you will start to get a "feeling" for attributive nouns.
    It must be an effective method. I'll definitely work on it and hopefully get myself that "feeling" too.
    If you have decided to speak and write American English, you may wish to limit your collection to examples taken from the American media. You may wish to read a quality British paper (such as The Guardian) and notice how the British handle attributive nouns.
    I imagine people with that feeling will just make up their own usage of attributive nouns which may not be always accepted. I will try and read both American and British papers as I would like to keep my English neutral.
    Hi TheParser,

    Thanks very much for your time.
    It is rare to receive such detailed advice on these subtleties - my native English speaker friends will say "Oh, don't worry." and I have actually been able to get by without learning this all. Again I see it comes from knowing.

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    #8

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    No, unfortunately, as you can see from Parser's example of "veteran hospital" many nouns are also adjectives. A veteran hospital could therefore be an old, antiquated hospital. That is one problem with sticking to the singular as a default.
    Thanks Raymott,

    I see TheParser's example provides another good reason to use the plural form, differentiating "veterans" meaning soldiers with an enough career from "veteran" possibly meaning old or experienced as an adjective.

    It's going to be a long time before I can comfortably cope with every combination...

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    #9

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Soon enough, reading a website about the "Veterans Affairs Hospital", I found one as "benefits system".

    I suppose this is basically the same pattern as "emissions cut" or "public works project", not "securities".
    "benefit" and "benefits" don't really differ sematically but it's the way commonly and officially used. "benefit system" or "beneficial system" is not grammatically wrong but will come across as odd or vague what it really means.

    Confirmation would be nice to receive.

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    #10

    Re: Grammar rules how to form a phrase using 2 nouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Kengo View Post
    Soon enough, reading a website about the "Veterans Affairs Hospital", I found one as "benefits system".

    I suppose this is basically the same pattern as "emissions cut" or "public works project", not "securities".
    "benefit" and "benefits" don't really differ sematically but it's the way commonly and officially used. "benefit system" or "beneficial system" is not grammatically wrong but will come across as odd or vague what it really means.

    Confirmation would be nice to receive.

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    (1) I, too, had always thought that the correct term was benefits system (a system

    of benefits). Well, I was wrong. I googled and discovered that benefit system is

    equally (more?) popular. Thanks for teaching me about that. (P.S. I think that

    beneficial system means something else: Walking two miles every day is a beneficial

    system (way) for maintaining a proper weight.)

    (2) I have exciting news. On the Web, I found two discussions that will be a

    dream come true for you. It really addresses this matter in detail. Members of

    usingenglish are allowed to link to other grammar helplines so long as we do

    not abuse this privilege. I am too stupid to know how to link, so please do this:

    1. Go to Google.
    2. Type in these words: Nouns as adjectives Topic Grammar Exchange.
    3. The first two results will knock your socks off! (excite and please you beyond words)

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