British English tends to treat team names, band names, and company names as plural, but American English tends to treat them as singular.
It’s true. You aren’t imagining the difference. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but British English tends to treat team names, band names, and company names as plural, whereas American English tends to treat them as singular. And it often jumps out at me when I see it.
Company Names: Singular or Plural?
For example, I took a screenshot of a headline from the British publication “The Guardian” a few years ago because I knew I would write about this someday. It read, “Amazon aren’t destroying publishing, they’re reshaping it.” That headline is treating the company name, “Amazon,” as plural, but in American English, we’d definitely treat it as singular and write, “Amazon isn’t destroying publishing.”
Team Names: Singular or Plural?
Looking at “The Guardian” today, I found this example of how team or group names are handled differently. There are a group of six footballers, or as we’d call them, soccer players, who were featured in a documentary about the team called Manchester United, and they’re known as the “Class of ‘92.” Today’s headline reads, “Manchester United’s ‘class of 92’ unveil plans to open university.”
In American English, we’d treat “class of 92” as singular and say the “class of 92” unveils plan to open a university.”
For example, imagine a graduating class giving a gift to their school. We’d say something like, “The class of 2017 unveils its lion statue.” Or if we were talking about a group of athletes, we might say something like, “The dream team is reuniting this year.” As I said, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but an American would be unlikely to say, “The dream team are reuniting this year.”
I searched the Corpus of Contemporary American English and get 15 results for the string “the dream team is” and only one result for “the dream team are,” and that one example was from someone who spoke English as a second language.
Band Names: Singular or Plural?
Finally, here’s an example with a band name that felt so weird to me that I had trouble understanding what it meant at first. The headline is about the band Nirvana, and the article is about music history and the rise of grunge and the fall of a genre known as “hair metal” (which I’d roughly define as ‘80s metal bands with big hair, like Poison, Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, and Guns N’ Roses). In the headline, “The Guardian” treats “Nirvana” as plural, writing “Nirvana kill hair metal.”
As an American, I’d write, “Nirvana kills hair metal.” I have a hard time even processing “Nirvana kill hair metal.”
If you’re having trouble immediately determining whether a sentence is using singular or plural, try substituting pronouns.
“They kill hair metal” is plural, and “It kills hair metal” and “He kills hair metal” are singular.
Of course, Americans also often treat names that sound plural like they’re plural. So we’d say, “The Beatles are the greatest band of all time.” But in general, we are much more likely to treat names as singular.
That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: Just as with company names and team names, British writers tend to treat band names as plural whereas American writers tend to treat these names as singular.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” and her 2018 tip-a-day calendar.