"police are" or "police is"

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3

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?

jinhyun

Posted 2014-04-25T14:36:42.300

Reputation: 435

Answers

18

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.

snailplane

Posted 2014-04-25T14:36:42.300

Reputation: 30 097

@MaulikV As well as a million slang terms. Some of which are highly offensive – Cruncher – 2014-04-25T15:31:48.110

@MaulikV "Policeman" is neither slang nor offensive. It's some of the other million slang terms that are offensive. – David Richerby – 2014-04-25T15:45:02.903

2Just 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 – 2014-04-25T20:14:06.437

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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.

gpavek

Posted 2014-04-25T14:36:42.300

Reputation: 69

1

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

Maulik V

Posted 2014-04-25T14:36:42.300

Reputation: 66 188

If someone told me, "A policeman is coming", and then a woman showed up, I would just assume he was using the word generically. I'd think nothing of it, unless maybe I had some reason to believe that the person knew which specific police officer was going to come. – Jay – 2015-05-26T15:28:32.980

@AdmiralAdama Hmm, I'm an adult and I say "policeman". I almost never say "police officer". Why waste breath on the extra syllables? – Jay – 2015-05-26T15:29:22.733

"policeman or policewoman is the singular form of policemen or policewomen, respectively, and not of police" Well, that's being awfully pedantic. If ten people from the police department show up, you say, "The police arrived." If one person shows up, you say, "A policeman arrived." It functions in practice as the singular for "police". – Jay – 2015-05-26T15:35:58.717

3In English a policeman can be male or female because it refers to the race of man, not the gender. – JamesRyan – 2014-04-25T16:12:50.947

3If 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 – 2014-04-25T16:45:03.577

5@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 – 2014-04-25T16:56:45.957

@JamesRyan I'm not sure about it! It's new to me if it is so. – Maulik V – 2014-04-25T17:02:50.613

2The 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 – 2014-04-25T18:34:11.217

1Why the downvotes for this answer? – René Roth – 2014-04-25T18:39:26.437

4@RenéRoth Probably because it's wrong; policeman or policewoman is the singular form of policemen or policewomen, respectively, and not of police. – KRyan – 2014-04-25T23:58:17.923

"Policeman" is a word, but from my experience only children use it. Adults would say "police officer", "officer", "cop", or maybe something else. – RedDragonWebDesign – 2014-04-26T02:56:27.870

@KRyan I don't agree. Since the word police is an epicene, the singular term for that would be gender specific. If you dig in further, the opposite of police may not be police officer because officer there holds some authority and when we refer to a policeman, he can be someone with a very low designation in police department and cannot be referred to as an officer. – Maulik V – 2014-04-26T04:41:24.760