When to treat 'Police' as a singular noun and a plural noun?



I have seen that in some scenarios word police is treated as a singular noun and in some other scenarios it is treated as a plural noun. I don't know the exact difference!

Can anybody provide few examples demonstrating the scenarios when the word police is treated as a singular and a plural noun?

Does it depends on the context only to treat it as plural or singular?

Consider these examples:

  • The police are blocking off the street where the accident occurred

  • A police officer is getting information from the neighbors.

  • The police department is at the corner of First and Main streets.

  • The New York police force has a special counter-terrorism squad

  • The police force is responsible for catching criminals

In the above examples, I can see the usage of 'Police' word as both singular and plural.
I need to understand the exact concept when it will be as plural or singular?


Posted 2013-04-05T12:25:03.510

Reputation: 580

Note that there is a difference in usage between police and police officer. – FakeDIY – 2013-04-08T10:59:26.347

The word Police is plural because it is not used for one person of police but when we use this word it tells about the whole group of the police so it is plural. – None – 2015-09-26T01:13:25.050

Here are two examples: If there were a couple of uniformed individuals at your door asking for your spouse, you would say, "Honey! The police are here to see you!" If there was only a single uniformed person at your door, you could say, "Honey! There is a police officer here to see you!" or "...policeman..." or "...policewoman..." – Kristina Lopez – 2013-04-05T23:24:20.220



The word "police" is rather special: It has no singular noun form. Something like that police over there is securing the scene would be incorrect. One would always construct sentences in the plural form like so:

The police are out in force today.

Anything done by the police will reflect on them.

Other words that take no singular form would include pants, trousers, scissors, and clothes.

Confusion arises because "police" is also used as an adjective. Consider these sentences:

A police department is housed in that building.

The police chief was highly visible at the town meeting.

In these two sentences, we are not speaking of "a police". You could easily remove the word from both sentences and they would make sense semantically and grammatically. Instead, the word describes the department or chief. It gives us context.

"Police" also has a verb form. You may encounter it like this:

The Boy Scout troop must police the area before they leave to remove any trash.

The verb means "to investigate, to search, to clean up". This certainly does fit in with a subset of the duties of a police department.

Jonathan Garber

Posted 2013-04-05T12:25:03.510

Reputation: 3 314

I've never seen "a police" except as an adjective: "This is a police matter. Our village doesn't have a police department." – BobRodes – 2015-05-26T01:33:24.260

This is true for standard English, but there are non-standard usages of police as a singular noun. For instance, on the TV show The Wire, set in Baltimore, characters say things like "I'm a murder police" (meaning "I'm a homicide detective"). It's hard to tell if this is dialect, slang or jargon, but I believe the show is generally considered to be realistic in its use of language. – Nate Eldredge – 2013-07-13T16:48:20.313

In the The Wire's finale, the character Jay Landsman does use the phrase "a true murder police."

– John B – 2015-09-26T02:23:31.240

The word 'police' in the vast majority of instances is used neither as a singular noun nor as a plural noun. As '2 police/s' is non-standard, it is a non-count noun. Like 'furniture', the referent is notionally plural (the members of force H; the chairs and table in my room). Like 'furniture', 'police' is singular in form ('furnitures' is plural in form and in fact an example of countification: 'the furnitures of France and Italy'). But unlike 'furniture' and 'cutlery', 'police' takes a plural verb-form. – Edwin Ashworth – 2017-03-26T00:09:20.227

1I'm neither from Baltimore, nor a cop, but I've never heard a construction like "a murder police", and would balk (at least mentally) if I did hear someone use it. Was the Wire character being intentionally humorous, perhaps? – Dan Bron – 2014-10-16T11:18:31.723

Found this while looking for an explanation of the use of "a police" in an audiobook set in Baltimore. I think that usage is a regionalism. It was quite jarring every time I heard it (especially by a cop who grew up in New York. It's difficult for me to see someone coming in from outside and picking up that phrasing). – foggyone – 2014-11-20T20:10:30.700