Police is a rather unique uncountable plural noun in the English language. It should be treated like people for grammatical purposes, for instance The people were standing in a crowd. The police were standing around them. Essentially, police is an irregular plural of policeman or policewoman, but it can also represent police as an institution or a single body – however it is quite a rare word because it is always treated as a plural.
Uncountable plural nouns are different to compound nouns, which may represent a group or plural. For instance, a crowd is a group of many people, but is treated as a singular: The crowd dispersed. An uncountable plural noun like police, however, is never treated as a singular: The police are in the street. Much like people would be used.
There are not many words like this in the English language. Most plural nouns take a singular form. Similar words, with an uncountable plural use, often refer to one item made up of two parts. You should be familiar with these plural nouns, always treated grammatically as plurals even though they are sometimes a single item:
And of course, police is one of these. So, for a few example sentences:
- The clothes were thrown across the floor.
- These pyjamas are very ugly.
- The blue shorts are too short.
- How strong are those binoculars?
- The police are coming to help.
- The outskirts of Brighton are very beautiful.
- The goods were very expensive.
Another interesting tricky plural noun is entrails. It represents a group (of guts) but is treated as a plural. The police were baffled because the entrails were everywhere.
The use of police can cause some argument amongst English speakers, though. One question it raises is whether or not police can be used in a singular form, particularly in American English. You may hear, often in movies depicting impoverished ne’erdowells, people refer to a policeman as a police, and it is used as a colloquialism in certain areas. For instance, is HBO’s incredibly popular TV series The Wire police officers often referred to one another as police in the singular as a description – he is police, that police is dead. But for the purposes of learning accurate English, you will be safe if you always treat police as an uncountable plural, even if it represents a compound noun.
I have prepared some exercises on countable and uncountable nouns that include tests for uncountable plurals, available here.