The Grammarphobia Blog

A singular attitude

Q: In Woe Is I – recommended by folks from the Mount Hermon Writers Conference – you give this example: “The cops’ attitude was surly.” Shouldn’t it be the “cop’s attitude” or the “cops’ attitudes”? Please, where am I going wrong? Love the book!

A: I’m glad you’re enjoying the book.

The word “cop,” as you know, is singular, and “cops” is plural.

The possessive form of “cop” (singular) is cop’s, and the possessive of “cops” (plural) is cops’.

I used the plural possessive cops’ with the singular “attitude” here because the cops in question shared a single attitude – a surly one!

I hope this clears things up!

All this “cop” talk reminds me of a writing tip from Mark Twain about using short words: “I never write ‘policeman,’ because I can get the same price for ‘cop.’”

In case you’re interested, I had a blog item a couple of years ago about the origin of the noun “cop.” (No, it doesn’t come from the copper buttons on a police officer’s uniform. Or from the acronym “constable on patrol.”)

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