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In instructional videos I see on the internet, the teacher says "in the U.S and Canada, they automatically use police as plural noun", if it is already plural, then what's the singular of police?

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3 Answers 3

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Police is a plurale tantum, a word with no singular form.

The police are here.  ← This is okay.
*A police is here.     ← This is not.

Most of the time, if you'd like to talk about a single officer of the law, you say a police officer, or just an officer:

A police officer is here.  ←  This is okay.
Several officers arrived.  ←  This is also okay.

The latter sentence is fine if it's clear from context that you mean a police officer.

But in any case, you can't say *a police.


In this answer, the * symbol indicates that a phrase or sentence is ungrammatical.

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  • @MaulikV As well as a million slang terms. Some of which are highly offensive
    – Cruncher
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 15:31
  • @MaulikV "Policeman" is neither slang nor offensive. It's some of the other million slang terms that are offensive. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 15:45
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    Just to confuse the issue, "The Police was an awesome band" is perfectly fine, but then I've turned it into a singular proper noun (the band named "The Police") instead of the standard dictionary definition for "police."
    – Brian S
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 20:14
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When speaking of a particular police deparment/agency/service as a group, the singular form for the group will be something like "Police Department".

The police are coming through the door!
versus
The Police Department is hiring.

The actual term for a given police department is determined by the official name. For example, the Dallas Police Department or the University of Maryland Police Force.

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Snailplane's answer is fine. But since you are asking about the singular term for the word police, it's...

Policeman - A male police officer
Policewoman - A female police officer.

So, as your title asks...

police are - correct
a police policeman/woman is - correct

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    In English a policeman can be male or female because it refers to the race of man, not the gender.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 16:12
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    If someone says "a policeman is coming," and it turns out that the officer is female, I will think that they made a mistake. I will think: "oh, it was actually a police<i>woman</i>." I am 30, male, middle class American from Houston, Texas (but Midwest linguistic heritage).
    – njahnke
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 16:45
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    @njahnke If someone says "a policeman is coming" and a female officer shows up, I will think that they were using what they perceived as a generic term. Similar to saying "I will flag a waiter" and calling over a female waitress instead. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 16:56
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    The use of "man" (and the "-man" suffix) as a generic term was, certainly, common, and still does happen to a fair degree. The feminist movement has had wide success (at least, where I live, and apparently where @njahnke lives) in convincing a lot of the English-speaking population to move away from this habit, however. There are a number of people who consider it to be perpetuating a negative tradition, and a number of major style guides consider it invalid form. All that said, it may be more important to note that policeman is the singular form of policemen, not police.
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 18:34
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    @RenéRoth Probably because it's wrong; policeman or policewoman is the singular form of policemen or policewomen, respectively, and not of police.
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 23:58

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