Quoting this Wikipedia article:

Another adjective with a special postpositive meaning is proper: in phrases like the town proper, Sweden proper, it means something like "strictly defined".

My question is: is it correct to use the noun in plural form here? For example:

def find_dir(args):
    '''Find the directory, which contains the compilers proper'''
    # ...
  • Two points: 1) it's possible to use "proper" that way with a plural noun (a simple example I can think of right now is "persons proper"; it's "persons" rather than "people" because of the legal context); 2) I'm sorry to say that your example sentence doesn't make much sense to me. Oct 11, 2015 at 19:31
  • Compilers come packaged up with standard libraries. The "compiler proper" (or more than one for that matter), would be "the compiler without the library (or libraries)", presumably they are placed in different "directories". Oct 11, 2015 at 23:08
  • @VictorBazarov Thanks! Now the OP's example makes some sense to me. Still, I'm not sure why it isn't just "compiler proper" (instead of "compilers proper"). Being a bit curious, I searched, and found this text (in MIPS Compiling and Performance Tuning Guide): The compilers proper, often called “front ends,” translate source code into intermediate code. The available compiler front ends are cfe (C), ccom_mp and accom_mp (parallel C), fcom (Fortran 77), and upas (Pascal). ujoin, uld, umerge, and uopt comprise the optimization subsystem of the compiler system. Oct 11, 2015 at 23:35
  • I now see how my comment was a bit ambiguous. When I said "they are placed", I meant compilers and libraries. Since on many systems compilers come from the system vendor, the vendor places all compilers in the same directory. Some of the compilers can even use other compilers to do their magic. Oct 12, 2015 at 11:22

1 Answer 1


Yes, you can pluralize the nouns in phrases that use postpositive adjectives.

For example, matters unknown, things innumerable, accounts payable, poets laureate, attorneys general, and so on.

In the sentence given by you, compiler is the noun, multiple compilers are being referred to and the proper postpositive adjective is being applied to them, hence, compilers proper would be correct.

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