Who's right?
August 11, 2005 4:35 AM   Subscribe

When Americans talk about things like bands and sports teams they use the singular but when people in the UK/Ireland do so they use the plural. Who's right?

For example, if I'm watching the Irish or British news they'll say things like 'Manchester United are top of the Premiership tonight....', but if I read an American newspaper or see the Sports news on CNN they'll say 'Manchester United is top of the league.'

You'll get the same thing with bands, e.g. 'Green Day is an American band' but that's definitely not what people say naturally on this side of the water.
posted by daveirl to Society & Culture (22 answers total)
Why does one of them have to be right? One way's correct in the UK, one way's correct in the US.
posted by Jeanne at 4:38 AM on August 11, 2005

I've gotta say the limey way seems more correct to me. Otherwise, Grand Funk Railroad's opus would be titled We Is An American Band.
posted by kersplunk at 4:45 AM on August 11, 2005

I'm British, and ack, this drives me insane.

My only rational explanation is that the British way takes the team/group name as a synonym for the collective members of the group, and the American way takes the name as a synonym for the organisation.

I'd say: 'Manchester United Football Club is...' referring to the club itself, but referring to the group of players, I'd say 'are'. Brits imply "members of... x", Americans imply "x ... club/band".

I'm waffling now.
posted by corvine at 4:47 AM on August 11, 2005

This is like asking whether "color" or "colour" is the correct spelling. It depends on which dialect you are speaking.

And for the record, "color" is correct, of course.
posted by grouse at 5:14 AM on August 11, 2005

We Is An American Band.

Would it? Would the 'are' not refer to the collection of individuals comprising 'We', rather than the singular 'band'
posted by biffa at 5:45 AM on August 11, 2005

I think both are right personally. ManU are or ManU is. I'm guessing technically that 'is' is more correct. It is a single team. But it depends to me on what the speaker is referring to or intends. Either the team or the group of individuals...so 'the team is' or 'they are'. Colour me openminded.
posted by peacay at 5:56 AM on August 11, 2005

American usage is a good example of metonymy. In this case, the name of the group is used instead of the names of the individuals who comprise it. Compare this to the common use of "The White House" or "The Pentagon" in similar uses, always singular (despite the fact that sometimes a great number of people are implied by those words).

British people just don't metonym very often (Yes, I just anthimerized verbed).
posted by Plutor at 6:09 AM on August 11, 2005

Jeanne has it. There is no abstract "right" or "wrong" here; it's like asking whether horse or cheval is the "right" name for the animal.
posted by languagehat at 6:18 AM on August 11, 2005

The American tendency may have its root in the name of the country-- there's a shift away from individual state soveriegnty in the 19th century that leads people to start saying "The United States are..." to "The United States is..." This could be pervasive enough to affect other collective nouns.

This is just a theory and could be easily disproved with research but would be hard to prove definitely.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:22 AM on August 11, 2005

There is definitely a right and wrong answer to this — grammatically at least — and the American way is correct. It drives me potty that British journalists can't use their pronouns correctly. Proper nouns for things like bands, sports teams, and companies are singular — there is only one Microsoft, only one REM etc. So it is only grammatically correct to treat them as singular nouns. I think corvine was right when she suggested British people use the name to refer to the many members of the team. It's more informal and warmer for the reader. Fans also like to think of themselves as part of the club, which is probably another reason why the usage goes unchallenged. I would have thought it was even more confusing for Americans, because some of your team names are plural — for example, Miami Dolphins. I assume you write about them (it!?) in the plural???
posted by londonmark at 6:34 AM on August 11, 2005

There is definitely a right and wrong answer to this — grammatically at least — and the American way is correct.

It sure is. But only in America. Collective noun in the American Heritage Book of English usage.
posted by grouse at 7:10 AM on August 11, 2005

Why are you "in hospital" in Britain, yet "in the hospital" in the US? What happened to the article in Britain? Two countries separated by a common language indeed.
posted by caddis at 7:13 AM on August 11, 2005

As an American, I've almost always heard sports teams in the US referred to as plural, probably because almost all sports teams are plural: The Yankees. The Cardinals. What about singular names, usually appearing in new "alternative sports?" I don't really know if I would say "The Chicago Fire are..." or "The Chicago Fire is." I'd bet I'd go with "are." But you're right, music groups are almost always treated as singular, except in a cases like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band or plural band names like The Beatles.
posted by zsazsa at 7:15 AM on August 11, 2005

Both are fine. The British way is to always recognise that the name refers to a group. So, if you really want to quibble about "Coldplay are a dreadfully insipid band" then quibble also about "The Beatles IS a vastly overrated band".
posted by Decani at 7:55 AM on August 11, 2005

posted by jjg at 8:20 AM on August 11, 2005

Londonmark, you made me think about the Miami Dolphins for the first time in my life.

If I were talking about the Dolphins as an abstract, then I'd say:

"The Miami Dolphins is a sports team based in Florida."


"The Miami Dolphins are playing a home game on Sunday."

I'd use the same construction with a team name like Jazz.
"The Jazz is a team based in..." but "The Jazz are playing against..."

Just one USian's opinion on the correct usage.
posted by luneray at 9:39 AM on August 11, 2005

It varies depending on how you use it--sotonohito had a good FPP yesterday that included this link.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:43 AM on August 11, 2005

posted by delmoi at 10:44 AM on August 11, 2005

I thought from the phrasing of the question that you were going to say: Why does the US say "sports" and the UK say "sport?" That's one I've always wondered about...

Example: BBC Sport.

And NBC Sports.
posted by GaelFC at 11:01 AM on August 11, 2005

According to The Little, Brown Handbook either is right depending on usage:
    Collective nouns such as army, committee, family, group, and team have singular form but may be referred to by signular or plural pronouns, depending on the meaning intended. Where the group acts as a unit, the pronoun is singular.
      The committee voted to disband itself.
    When the members of the group act separately, the pronoun is plural.
      The old group have gone their separate ways.
I seem to recall that the Allyn and Bacon adds that if one sounds too awkward, use the other one.
posted by synecdoche at 1:35 PM on August 11, 2005

I've got to question your premise here. I hear people in America use both singular and plural, and I think both are accepted.
posted by Hildago at 1:58 PM on August 11, 2005

On Wikipedia, there's only one English-language encyclopedia for all dialects, which causes problems. The usual truce is that articles referring to British/&c. topics use that spelling and grammar, and articles with an American focus use our spelling and grammar. It's awkward, but it's by far more stupid to see someone edit "colour" to "color" and tag the edit with "correcting spelling".

Since language affects thinking, I've always been fascinated by this. To say Microsoft is releasing a new version of Windows vs. Microsoft are ... seems to treat the entity "Microsoft" quite differently. I'm sure -- well, I can read Slashdot, I am sure -- that UKians can hate the Beast of Redmond with the same fury as the rest of us, but at least they're thinking of them as people, not a generic, unitary entity.
posted by dhartung at 2:18 AM on August 12, 2005

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