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My understanding of noun + noun as an English learner would always believe that the first noun of the construction I've mentioned above (noun + noun) is singular. So, I'd believe that Cloth shop is correct and Clothes shop is incorrect.

However, Swan's book: Advanced Oxford Grammar Course has changed my view that the first noun could be plural, though, I've never been familiar with it. I'll just copy what the book says regarding singular and plural as reference.

[1] The first noun is often like an object (of a verb or preposition). It is normally singular, even if it has a plural meaning.

  • a shoe shop = 'a shop that sells shoes'

  • a toothbrush = 'a brush for teeth'

  • a war film = 'a film about war'

[2] In a few noun + noun combinations, the first noun is plural.

  • antiques dealer

  • sports car

  • drugs problem

This is especially the case when the first noun is mainly or only used in the plural, or has a different meaning in the singular.

  • accounts department

  • customs officer

  • clothes shop

  • glasses case

  • savings account

  • arms trade

I'm pretty sure I've seen noun + noun (a cloth store) somewhere, even though the second noun is different from the example above i.e. (store and shop). My question regarding this problem, if my suspicion is correct that it's possibly possible to say cloth shop, what's the difference between that noun + noun and clothes shop?

1 Answer 1

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It is grammatically possible to say "cloth shop" but no one would ever actually say that.

A shop which sells garments that are meant to be worn is a "clothes shop" and that is the only form you will ever see for that meaning.

A shop which sells the material with which to make garments could be called a "cloth shop" and it would sell cloths, not clothes. But no-one calls that kind of store a "cloth shop." Instead it is called a "fabric shop."


Your baseline problem may be that you think the word cloth is the singular form of the word clothes. That is not correct. A cloth is a piece of fabric; cloths are multiple pieces of fabric. Clothes are garments, and it is always a plural noun; in order to refer to a single "clothe" you must use a construction like an article of clothing.

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    A "fabric shop" may also be called a haberdasher or draper in British English. Although a haberdashers is technically a shop that sells threads, buttons, trimmings etc for home dress making, they almost always sell cloth. In US English these items would be called findings and a haberdasher would sell clothing instead. In British English a clothes shop may also be called a clothier. Dec 27, 2021 at 1:22
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    "A shop which sells garments that are meant to be worn is a "clothes shop" and that is the only form you will ever see for that meaning." In the US such a place would often be called a "clothing store", a "fashion outlet", a "boutique", or a "men's store", But I agree that it would never be called a cloth shop or store. I agree that a store selling lengths of cloth would be called a "fabric store". Dec 27, 2021 at 1:23
  • First, I'd love to thanks for your answer. By the way, could I just ask the last question just a quick question to make sure that I've understood. I imply, from your answer and the Swan's book, that the 1st noun of noun + noun construction, can either be singular or plural depends on the meaning, usage, and context. Have I been in the correct way for comprehending this problem?
    – user516076
    Dec 27, 2021 at 10:21
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    @user516076 Yes, you are correct. There is no rule governing the first noun. Most often it is only traditional usage that decides on singular or plural, as in the examples given in your OP. Dec 27, 2021 at 11:59
  • @user516076 It’s always clothing store ɴᴏᴛclothes store.
    – tchrist
    Dec 27, 2021 at 19:21

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