Noun modifiers (trouser press)

 

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Q:

What about the "trouser press"? Shouldn't it be plural according to Quirk [A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman, 1985]?  Or is that form in use because it existed before the “transition” moved in?

Helen Tooke
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A:

“Trouser press” seems to follow the traditional rule of a singular adjective. Still, “trousers” is a word that doesn't normally have a singular form, like pants, shorts, slacks, and jeans—but look how inconsistent: we have “pants hangers” and “slack hangers.” We'd say “Put your sweaters in the sweater drawer and your shorts in the shorts drawer.”

Tell your students that the English language is not always consistent. There's a rule for this feature of noun modifiers, but the rule is changing, as language does. You might remind them of the inconsistencies of English spelling and pronunciation, too, which they have no doubt already noticed.