The Grammarphobia Blog

Troops, troopers, and bloopers

Q: In considering whether “troop” can refer to a single soldier, would “trooper” come into play? In my hazy understanding of things military, an individual member of a “troop” can be called a “trooper” (as in “watch your step, trooper”).

A: Where these words are concerned, we have derivations on top of derivations! It’s true that “trooper,” which entered English in 1640, was derived from the noun “troop” with the addition of “-er.”

Originally, in the mid-1500s, a “troop” was a body of soldiers, and the later word “trooper” meant “a soldier in a troop of cavalry” or “a horse soldier,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Today a “trooper” can mean a state police officer, a paratrooper, or a soldier in a horse, armored, or air cavalry troop.

And, as you’ve noticed, the singular “troop” is sometimes used to mean one soldier—a usage perhaps influenced by “trooper”!

This is ground we’ve covered before on our blog. As we wrote in 2013, the OED says the colloquial use of “troop” to mean a single member of a troop is irregular.

The usage is derived from the use of “troop” as a collective plural, or in some cases may be an abbreviation of “trooper,” according to the Oxford lexicographers.

Is the use of “troop” for a single member of a “troop” a blooper? As we say in our post last year, it’s a colloquial usage that’s not considered standard English—at least not yet. Stay tuned!

We also wrote a post in 2006, updated in 2009, explaining (among other things) the difference between “trouper” and “trooper.”

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