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'Attorneys General' or 'Attorney Generals'

In the phrase attorney generalattorney is the main part, and the word general is descriptive—it tells us what kind of attorney we have to deal with.

By
Mignon Fogarty

Believe it or not, I wrote this segment last week, before all the news about the attorney general broke, because I kept hearing people talk about all the state attorneys general. 

For my listeners who aren’t in the US, the nation has one federal attorney general, but each state also has its own state-level attorney general. And I was really pleased because most people were making attorney general plural the right way—by making the word attorney plural.

The US has one attorney general, but we have many state attorneys general.

In the phrase attorney general, attorney is the main part, and the word general is descriptive—it tells us what kind of attorney we have to deal with. It’s the same rule we follow for similar phrases such as sister-in-law and editor in chief. You make the main noun plural:

I have two sisters-in-law.

The Atlantic has had 14 editors in chief.

Congratulations to all those news writers who have been getting the plural right recently.

Note: In British English, attorney-generals is also acceptable according to Garner’s Modern English Usage.

What Is the Plural of 'Deputy Attorney General'?

Update: After the podcast aired, we got an interesting follow-up question: What is the plural of deputy attorney general?

Although I couldn't find an answer in a style book, my gut instinct is that it would be deputy attorneys general because attorney is still the main noun and deputy is a modifier. When I can't find an answer in a style book, sometimes I search major newspaper websites to see what they use, and it looks like my instincts are right: the New York Times highly favors deputy attorneys general.

plural of attorney general

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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