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?


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.

  • @MaulikV As well as a million slang terms. Some of which are highly offensive – Cruncher Apr 25 '14 at 15:31
  • @MaulikV "Policeman" is neither slang nor offensive. It's some of the other million slang terms that are offensive. – David Richerby Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 at 20:14

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!
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.


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 Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 at 23:58

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