The United States is/are

Aaron E. Drews aaron at LING.ED.AC.UK
Mon Aug 21 10:39:56 UTC 2000

>It is often said that the United States went from being a plural to a
>singular noun during or straight after the Civil War. An American history
>professor I know tells me that this is a fact. Merriam Webster's Dictionary
>of English Usage says that the noun went from singular to plural around the
>turn of the twentieth century, except in Britain where the United States is
>still a plural noun. Has anyone looked into this question?

Harry Turtledove, in his afterword in _How Few Remain_ refers to the
change from plural to singular with regard to the Civil War.  Judging
from his other novels, I would suspect that he has actually
researched this or at least come across appropriate evidence in his
research. Although his linguistic facts are sometimes just a hair off
the mark.  You can probably find him on the web or through his

As for Britain (well, mostly England) referring to the U.S. in the
plural, it has nothing to do with being a Federal vs. a Confederal
system.  Countries and large collective nouns (teams, committees,
government agencies, etc) are treated as plural, although this is
losing its consistency in practice, I think.


Aaron E. Drews                               The University of Edinburgh      Departments of English Language and
aaron at                    Theoretical & Applied Linguistics

Bide lang and fa fair  \\  //
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