Submitted by phil  •  April 11, 2009

Teams — is or are?

So I frequently write headlines such as “Manchester United are in the quarter-finals” but I always wonder if it should actually be “Manchester United is in the quarter-finals”. I think I actually use them interchangeably depending on what mood I’m in. I guess the question is whether a soccer team is a group of players (”are”) or if it’s an entity (”is”). Which is it?

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"...this is a bogus distinction drawn by (mostly) British scholars in the 19th century who were intent on creating a grammar for English so complex that they alone could speak it — and most of it had no history in the language."

This might indeed be a valid historical observation, but that does not obviate whether there is a correct way (and an incorrect one) in this case.

I would state it this way: A team's name is essentially the name of a set. A plural name for a team causes the name to be more of a contemplation of the members of the set.

A set is a single thing, and so should be treated as a singular noun. A team name that contemplates the members of the set is more akin to a similar contemplation, such as "men," "kids" and "blondes." When you speak of the men in the room, you are describing a set, but you are contemplating the individuals in that set. So that would take a plural verb.

So, the musicians ARE happy, and Led Zepplin IS coming.

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Sometimes, it's a blue pill/red pill situation - prefer British English? United are training,
American? Jazz is in the play-offs (I honestly don't know if they are).
Myself, I tried and couldn't say "I don't know if it is" - a team is a group.
Other times, however, you might mean team as an entity - an organisation, then you'd say "is" - 'Luton Town is going into administration'
(I don't think it is, at least yet, it has been relegated into semi-professional ranks, though).

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The real point of all of this is that this is a bogus distinction drawn by (mostly) British scholars in the 19th century who were intent on creating a grammar for English so complex that they alone could speak it - and most of it had no history in the language. The reality of this is that if you are thinking of the team, organization, government, etc. as one unit then it takes a singular verb. If you're thinking of it as the individuals who form that group, then it takes a plural verb - your choice... just as it is your language. It says what you want it to say.

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However, while a singular verb for a collective noun is used in American English, in British English the plural would be used. So, technically, it's "Manchester United ARE in the finals", but "the Orlando Magic IS not". Scyllacat's link actually discusses this in some detail, as you may have already read.

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Sorry. Hopeless American, I don't know these names you're talking about. :) But it sounds like you understood what I was saying.

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D'oh, quoted the wrong word, should not be "it's" but "are", sorry :-)

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Thanks! So if the team's name is plural, then "it's" are but otherwise it's "is". So for national teams like Brazil or Spain then it's "are" but Juventus and Real Madrid are "is"?

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"Team" is a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_noun" rel="nofollow">Collective Noun</a> and team names should, therefore, receive a singular verb if they are not specifically plural. Thus, I think "Manchester United is" is correct. Similarly, although you would say "The New Orleans Saints are" or "The Atlanta Falcons are," you would say, "The Orlando Magic IS."

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