I’m sure you’ve heard about the golfer who had a problem with his socks — he had a hole in one. This dad joke (just like some shirts I’ve had since college) never gets old. But what happens if you get multiple “aces,” as they’re called in golf?
The golf industry is booming right now (at least in Indiana, where I live). It’s an outdoor sport that doesn’t require people touching each other or being close to each other. Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis has had a streak of holes-in-one ... hole-in-ones ... which is it? Meridian Hills had eight of them in eight weeks. Let’s get to the bottom of this caddyshack conundrum.
Just as golfers can’t agree on whether or not plaid pants are cool, people who write about golf can’t agree on the plural of “hole-in-one.” When the PGA refers to the term, it writes “holes-in-one.” The Indianapolis channel that covered the Meridian Hills hole-in-one streak wrote “hole-in-ones.”
“Golf” magazine also refers to a plural hole-in-one as “hole-in-ones.” I couldn’t find any record of AP, Chicago or MLA preferences on the subject.
I’m going to side with the PGA on this one, and here’s why: there’s a grammatical precedent when it comes to other terms to pluralize the first word in the plural forms of compound nouns such as this one. For instance, multiple instances of “attorney general” becomes “attorneys general.” If you have more than one “brother-in-law,” you would correctly say “brothers-in-law.” Why is that? It’s because the primary part of this compound noun. I would argue that “hole” is the most important part of “hole-in-one.”
We have even more compound nouns that follow this pattern. The plural form of “passerby” is “passersby.” “Court martial” becomes “courts martial.” The same goes for “whiskeys sour,” “pounds sterling” and “notaries public.” These “head-first” compound nouns pluralize what you are counting: whiskeys, pounds, notaries, etc. In the case of “holes-in-one,” you are counting the holes; therefore, “holes-in-one” is the correct term.
If you have any further questions in regard to head-first compound plural nouns, I suggest you consult any of the past poets laureate or perhaps phone the university and ask for any of the professors emeritus on duty.
—Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.