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plurals of compounds

The rules for pluralizing compounds vary according to the structure of the compound. In most cases, the last word or final element is pluralized.

The guidelines below show the most common approach in Canadian English for various types of compounds.

No nouns

For compounds that do not contain any nouns, pluralize the last word (or the final element in a single word):

  • drive-ins
  • go-betweens
  • hand-me-downs
  • two-by-fours
  • lineups
  • singalongs

Two nouns

For most compounds formed from two nouns, pluralize only the last word (or the final element in a single word):

  • trade names
  • child laborers
  • major-generals
  • light-years
  • tractor-trailers
  • newspapers
  • footprints


If the first of the two nouns is man or woman, pluralize both nouns, whether the compound is written as one word or two, since both nouns are of equal significance:

  • menservants
  • women authors

Noun with attached modifier

For most compounds formed from a noun followed by an attached modifier, pluralize the noun (or the first noun, if there is more than one).

Noun followed by a prepositional phrase:

  • daughters-in-law
  • attorneys at law
  • leaves of absence

Noun followed by an adjective:

  • governors general
  • poets laureate
  • accounts payable
  • courts martial

Noun followed by an adverb:

  • hangers-on
  • runners-up
  • passersby

Exception 1:

For compounds ending in ‑ful, it is more common to add an ‑s to the end of the word:

  • spoonfuls
  • cupfuls
  • handfuls

Exception 2:

In some cases, the compound as a whole has a figurative meaning that goes beyond the literal meaning of the individual words.

Since none of the individual words in such a compound has particular significance, it is usual to pluralize the final word rather than the first noun (although sometimes both approaches are accepted):

  • jack-o’-lanterns
  • jack-in-the-boxes
  • johnny-come-latelies
  • will-o’-the-wisps