BE/AE Agreement

Peter A. McGraw pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU
Thu Apr 3 18:41:03 UTC 2003

Not long ago there was a brief discussion on this list of the difference
between British and American English in the treatment of formally singular
nouns that represent collective entities.  In the course of this, I made
the following observation:

"On a trip through Heathrow Airport many years ago I was struck by an ad for
a construction firm.  The firm's name was Billy something--Barnham?
Something like that.  The ad said: "Billy Barnham built this terminal.
Billy Barnham build everywhere."  I've never run across a variety of AE
where this would be acceptable."

Jesse Scheidlower (who had started the thread), subsequently noted:

"It's a general feature of British English that various kinds of group
nouns tend to take plural concord, e.g. "British Telecom are profitable
this quarter", "Manchester United have won the FA cup" [the frequency
of this sort of construction in World Cup coverage, mentioned by another
posted, is surely due to the reporters' being British in the examples
in question], "The government are divided about how to...", etc."

I don't think anyone challenged the last sentence in my post, but I
recently ran across a quote that does.  An article about the Pennsylvania
Railroad's crack streamliner The Broadway Limited in the magazine Classic
Trains quotes a 1953 written statement to employees by PRR Executive Vice
President James Symes:

"I happen to know from authentic sources that the New York Central are
going 'all out' in attempting to re-establish the Twentieth Century Limited
to its former position in the New York to Chicago Service"  (Joe Welsh, The
Broadway's best years," Classic Trains, Winter 2002, pp. 33-34).

In a quick search for a couple of examples of equivalent British usage, I
looked at the BBC's web site and discovered to my astonishment that the
usage I noticed at Heathrow Airport 20 or more years ago (which, it now
appears, was also the  usage of at least some Americans as late as 1953)
has been abandoned, at least by the BBC.  On the web site today, the
singular noun-plural verb usage pops up immediately in several headlines
involving national sports teams:

Pakistan total 278-7 in their Sharjah Cup match against Zimbabwe

Fiji play down virus fear

But businesses (and political groupings) now appear to have "gone
singular," viz.:

Al-Jazeera halts Iraq broadcasts

British Airways cuts more flights

EU acts on French deficit

Previously, according to parallel examples I've seen through the years,
these would have been "Al-Jazeera halt," "British Airways cut" and "EU act."

Can any of our British list members confirm this development across the
Atlantic?  Does anybody know of an article treating this subject?

Peter Mc.

                               Peter A. McGraw
                   Linfield College   *   McMinnville, OR
                            pmcgraw at

More information about the Ads-l mailing list