Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

troops vs soldiers

Listening to the news, I am wondering why there was a change of usage for troops and soldiers. Since the US involvement in Iraq, we are now sending “10,000 troops” over there, rather than 10,000 soldiers.

According to, a troop is Military. an armored cavalry or cavalry unit consisting of two or more platoons and a headquarters group.

Therefore, nothing has changed: troops still means a group. However, in the last few years it has come to be synonymous with “soldier.” Perhaps I missed something living abroad for so long.

Any clues would be helpful as I teach English and found this usage has changed.

Thanks. Barbara

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They use “troops” because It is a generic term for members of all services. The word “soldier” refers _only_ to Army personnel, and their may be personnel from the other branches there as well. Air Force personnel are only called “airman”, regardless of gender. Navy and Coast Guard personnel are “seaman”, again, regardless of gender. Marines personnel are only referred to as “Marine“. (You _really_ don’t want to get that one wrong.)

A group of personnel from more than one branch of service can be called “servicemen”, service members” or “troops”

user108514 Dec-28-2019

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I think it's kind of misleading on purpose when someone calls them troops. No one wants to hear 10,000 men going to war that's too individualized, too hard on the parents. They call them troops to make it sound let's gruesome so they can get away with sending more men to war

user107557 Jan-07-2019

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They're not synonymous. A troop is a company of armor, cavalry or recon platoons or detachments; its plural is troops. Troops, a collective noun, are also members of an armed/fighting force. Via reverse etymological derivation, as a root of troops, troop has also come to mean one member of such a military unit. Soldier has many connotations/denotations. US marines were once "sea soldiers;" Salvation Army members were called soldiers; enforcers (e.g., onorata societa) have been called "foot soldiers." Foot soldiers for Rome were called in Latin "infantry," as they were so close to the emperor as to be considered his children. German WWII paratroopers, Fallschirmtruppen, in the strictest sense weren't soldiers, because they were part of the Luftwaffe (air force): but, of course, they were troops. Imho, Lou K., Mil/intel historian, MS, Wayne State U.

Cal1 Aug-26-2017

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A "troop" more 3 or more soldiers.

David Higgens Aug-11-2016

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I agree with the original poster to the extent that a number should not come directly before the plural form, "troops." If you can't say 1 troop, meaning one person in the armed forces, then you can't say 4 troops, meaning 4 people in the armed forces. This was a recent editorial decision with only some of the news agencies, and one that I do not agree with.

We should not say, "4 troops were killed" in any case. It may be true that a Marine or a soldier would want "troops" replaced by "Marines" or "soldiers," and saying 1 Marine and 1 soldier is grammatically possible in English.

A possible compromise might be "4 of our troops were killed," which sort of skirts the grammar issue by picking individuals out of a group using the word "of," as in the examples given in the previous post by Warsaw Will. 4 of our flock, 4 of our team, 4 0f our pride (or lions) are all possible even though the group word cannot mean one individual.

FarmerJoe Nov-01-2014

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"a great number of the troops were killed and wounded"
"The militia hung upon their rear; and many of the regular troops were killed and wounded."
"in which many of the provincials, and more of the regular troops were killed and wounded"
"About two thousand of the British troops were killed ..."
" In this assault about 60 of our troops were killed"
"and great numbers of the American troops were killed or taken ..."

These all come from American books. And they are all from the first half of the nineteenth century! In fact, judging by Ngram, the expression "troops were killed" appears less frequently in twenty-first century books than in early nineteenth century ones. On the other hand, the use of "soldiers were killed" (in those books included at Ngram) increased at about double the rate of "troops were killed" during the 2000s.

This does not cover media use, of course, but it does show that the use of the word "troops" to mean "soldiers", rather than a specific group of soldiers, is nothing new, and while I can see that "collateral damage"really is a euphemism, I can't really see how "troops" would be seen as a euphemism for "soldiers", anymore than "soldiers" is a euphemism for "men".

I wonder if there's any proof Bush asked the US media to use "troops" instead of "soldiers", or whether this is just another of those internet myths. And I also wonder how real this perceived change actually is.

At the NYT, a site search brings up 108 hits for "soldiers were killed in Iraq" as opposed to 56 for "troops were killed in Iraq". At CNN, it's 89 for soldiers, 49 for troops. At Fox News, which might have been expected to be more sympathetic to Bush's alleged request, it's 68 for soldiers as opposed to 36 for troops, and at the New York Post, it's 14 to 10. Hardly overwhelming evidence.

Warsaw Will Aug-04-2014

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I believe the media uses the word Troops for drama effect. I picked that up during the first Gulf War -- I felt is was incorrect, but for media propaganda it was easy to get away with. I knew what they were doing from the very early reports of the war; when they had their first reports of U.S. casualties. They would say or write something like "..several troops have been reported killed or wounded.."

I remember sitting their thinking "several troops??!! man their wiping us out what's going on?" come to find out it is 1 soldier killed and 3 others wounded. Of course just 1 lost life is terrible, that is bad enough, but when you use the word Troops in place of Solider it delivers real drama to the effect.

It goes back to the old headline attention game.

I still cant stand to the media's use of the word, to me its not right.

Just plain Sam Aug-03-2014

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The Bush administration (George W.) asked (probably not the right word) the U.S. press to refer to
our soldiers (generic) as troops, in an effort to dehumanize their deaths (under his command). And like the sheep they are, they capitulated. And like the sheep we are, we didn't object.

seeker of truth Jun-16-2014

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Ah, the seventies and eighties! That's when the rot set in. I think they've probably been saying that every century since Dr Lowth started laying down the law. Whether I'm one of 'the educated', or simply a member of (the) hoi polloi, I don't know, as I don't have much need for words like decimated or fortuitous.

And surely to a purist, decimate doesn't simply mean 'reduce by a tenth' but refers to a very specific form of military punishment, derived from the Romans, but practised in the Parliamentary army to deal with mutinies. Incidentally, its use in English to mean 'destroy large numbers' seems to have be almost as old as the punishment meaning (both 17th century).

Warsaw Will Feb-22-2014

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As for 'decimate', if I didn't use it to mean 'to reduce by one tenth' I wouldn't use it at all. Others are free to use it in any sense they wish.

Skeeter Lewis Feb-22-2014

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'Fortuitous' in the sense of 'accidental' was the usual meaning until the Seventies or Eighties in Britain and still is among the educated. But I never tell other people how to use the language. My rules are for myself. I permit myself to comment, however, on a site such as this.

Skeeter Lewis Feb-22-2014

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On the subject of troops: its use as a synonym for soldiers or armed forces in general, and not simply meaning a cavalry unit of a particular size, is the first meaning given at Oxford Online, and goes back to the sixteenth century:

"They were supposed by their imprecations to destroy kings with all their troops." - 1545

"They make frequent sallies, and beyond all expectation defeat Maurice's troops." - 1547

Examples with numbers can be found from the seventeenth century:

"The soldiers say it means ruin and the population cannot support such large forces shut up inside the walled towns, especially in Antwerp where there are one-thousand- eight-hundred troops instead of the usual garrison of five hundred." - 1607

"Colonel Nicolls had three hundred troops under his command, with four frigates, for the reduction of the Dutch at Manhattan" - 1669

"A force of about a thousand troops was raised and sent into Rhode Island" -1676

" a row of stone barracks, not inelegantly built, sufficient to contain sixteen hundred or two thousand troops" - 1700

"Commodore Hood then took possession of the fort, and landed several thousand troops, which had been sent by the Pacha of Rhodes" - 1700

"he conferred the command of the ten thousand troops destined for Holland on the earl of Marlborough" - Smollett, 1800

Troops to mean soldiers is as old as the hills, and I find all this talk of it being euphemistic, in the way of 'collateral damage', so much nonsense, just as insisting it can only be used for a cavalry group commanded by a captain, or whatever.

Warsaw Will Feb-22-2014

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@Skeeter Lewis - 'the social sciences have a lot to answer for linguistically' - Oh, dear! Mind you they've brought the word cohort out of the military scholarship closet: judging by Ngram, the use of cohort in books has more than quadrupled since 1960.

I was joking about 'decimate'. You don't seriously think it should be reserved for the disciplinary killing of every tenth member of a military group, do you? A use there's not much call for nowadays, and which hardly anyone uses.

Sorry, but it's the speakers of a language as a whole who decide on the meanings of words, not etymology or a few language mavens. And I welcome that - a kind of representative democracy rather than autocracy.

If we took etymology as our only guide, we could never say it was a terrible film or a terrific film unless we were terrified or an awful film unless we were struck with awe.

As for fortuitous, 'some years ago' turns out to be at least nearly ninety years ago, as Fowler was commenting on it in 1926. Although it is indeed sometimes used instead of fortunate, its most common use seems to be rather a combination of accidental and fortunate, as in this from James Thurber:

"... I was saved in college one night by the fortuitous appearance in the night skies of the most brilliant aurora borealis seen in Ohio since the Civil War" (MWDEU)

Lots of words in English have multiple meanings, and just because words take on new meanings doesn't mean they can't be used in their original meanings or that the original meaning are somehow diluted. Context will tell us which applies. When I hear that Cromwell decimated certain of his units, I know what is meant, just as I know that soldiers being decimated in battle means something else. The same goes for troops and cohorts.

Warsaw Will Feb-22-2014

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Porsche, I don't think my strictures about 'cohort' can be called an etymological fallacy since, as my research assistant Warsaw Will has pointed out, as recently as 1965 it was described as 'an American vulgarism'.

Skeeter Lewis Feb-22-2014

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Incidentally, Will, the social sciences have a lot to answer for linguistically.

Skeeter Lewis Feb-22-2014

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Decimated! Quite. An other one is 'fortuitous' which, some years ago, started to be misused for 'fortunate'. Originally, it meant 'accidental', pure and simple. A death could be 'fortuitous'. It didn't mean you were happy about it.
Some dictionaries cover their behinds nowadays by saying it means 'fortunately accidental', rather like 'serendipitous'.

Skeeter Lewis Feb-22-2014

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@Skeeter Lewis - "some descriptivist dictionaries" - Could you perhaps name a dictionary that isn't descriptivist.The OED, for example, never set out to be anything else. Even the American Heritage Dictionary, which set up in opposition to the allegedly free-and-easy Webster's Third edition, is basically descriptive, with its user panels.

Incidentally, the group of soldiers meaning seems to have predated the tenth of a legion meaning (Online Etymology).

The overwhelming use of cohort today has nothing to do either with the military or with sidekicks, but with statistical analysis and social science. Out of 360 instances of cohort at the British National Corpus, 97 are 'a cohort of' (only one of which appears to have a military connection), 11 are 'age cohort', 29 'birth cohort' and 29 are 'cohort study':

See also examples at the Economist:

The use you don't like seems to have started in the States in the 1940s/50s, including several outings in the linguistically rather fussy New Yorker, one being by JD Salinger (who seems to have had a bit of stick for starting the fashion). The Times Literary Supplement of Nov 1965 is on your side, calling it "the new American vulgarism of 'cohort' meaning 'partner' " (from MWDEU). But it seems pretty commonplace nowadays, and in a Usage Note at the (nominally conservative) American Heritage Dictionary they say:

"Seventy-one percent of the Usage Panel accepts the sentence 'The cashiered dictator and his cohorts have all written their memoirs', while only 43 percent accepts 'The gangster walked into the room surrounded by his cohort'."

You can read about 'cohort' in the Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories at Google Books:

and in The American Heritage Book of English Usage, also at Google Books:

I can't help thinking that cohort is in a class with decimated.

Warsaw Will Feb-21-2014

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It's true that some descriptivist dictionaries list the wrong use of cohort. But then, to misquote Mandy Rice Davies, they would, wouldn't they?

Skeeter Lewis Feb-21-2014

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@Emil E or M,

I don't think anyone here would care if you were single or not because we, the regulars here—Warsaw Will, AnWulf, Jayles, Hairy Scot, porsche, Skeeter Lewis, Dyske, myself, and others—that is, would not like a vain, supercilious, pretentious, bombastic (or grandiloquent, magniloquent, or orotund if those are more suitable) partner who can barely write a complete sentence, which treads over itself, i.e. a run-on sentence, competently and without verbose garbage and who patronized porsche for addressing Skeeter Lewis and not you. This I confirmed, for Skeeter was the first to use "cohort" on this page.Maybe you should reflect on "who you Think you are" before replying with such condescension. Also verbosity is not equivalent to vocabulary, lexicon, or, for those Anglishers, wordstock. Stop using a thesaurus, learn the definitions of words properly.

Remember your respect on the board.

Good day.

Jasper Feb-21-2014

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re: cohort. This is from Oxford Dictionaries Online:

They give three meanings: the first is the one given by Skeeter Lewis.

cohort - 2.[treated as singular or plural] a group of people with a shared characteristic or a common statistical characteristic:
"a cohort of civil servants patiently drafting legislation"
"the 1940-4 birth cohort of women"

cohort - 3. often derogatory - a supporter or companion:
"young Jack arrived with three of his cohorts"
"a long-time cohort of the band"

Warsaw Will Feb-21-2014

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Emil I am, therefore I am not Skeeter, your coequal is not in your verbosity, though your rebuke is exactly comparable to the ineffectual transfer of mitochondrial me-curium you are in possession of, of corse you mistakenly cast ambiguously towards my person, it has to be beguiling of who you Think you are... No offense taken though I am emotionally unavailable for this period, till I wait the Oedipus? Remember your Henry Higgins on this billboard ... Emil M

Emil E Feb-19-2014

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Skeeter, that's very interesting and informative. I was not aware that cohort could also be a group. But, I must take issue with your part of your comment. Referring to a single person as a cohort is not misuse. Claiming so does not even qualify as prescriptivism; it is simply an etymological fallacy.

porsche Feb-19-2014

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Another term that gets misused to mean a single person is 'cohort' which is a tenth of a legion or, more generally, any group of soldiers.

Skeeter Lewis Feb-19-2014

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It is used so we don't know how Many men were lost when published, when sent in Troops sounds like Men not a man, when deaths are tallied Troops becomes a soldier, It's very confusing, just like Allies, when that is used you have to know witch country is saying the statement, to England were the Allies, to the US, England is the Allies, Makes Allies sound like the enemy, So much for Learning the Facts, it's what happens when multi cultures are mixed, You get stupefied to say the least....

Emil E Feb-19-2014

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It is used so we don't know how Many men were lost when published, when sent in Troops sounds like Men not a man, when deaths are tallied Troops becomes a soldier, It's very confusing, just like Allies, when that is used you have to know witch country is saying the statement, to England were the Allies, to the US, England is the Allies, Makes Allies sound like the enemy, So much for Learning the Facts, it's what happens when multi cultures are mixed, You get stupefied to say the least....

Emil E Feb-19-2014

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I am absolutely positive in my mind that the media uses the word "troops" in place of "soldiers" because "troops" sound less human than "soldiers". When x number of troops are shot to death, it sounds better than x number of soldiers were shot to death. It's a sick psychological game. "Troops" sound more like objects, whereas "soldiers" obviously paints the image of an actual person in peoples' minds. Our evil government couldn't care less that they are sending our young people all of the world to be slaughtered in all these useless wars. They only care about their greed and power. :-|

JohnJ Apr-04-2012

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As a former Armored Cavalry TROOP Commander, allow me to clarify the difference between the terms Troop, Trooper and Troops.

1) Troop: When referring to an Army company sized unit, a Cavalry unit is traditionally referred to as a "Cavalry Troop" (such as A Troop or C Troop, NOT A Company or C Company). Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery is organized into "Batteries" - all other Army branches are generally organized into "Companies".
2) Trooper: Trooper is an older term of rank used in Cavalry organizations to refer to Cavalry enlisted men in the ranks of Private through Specialist. It is not an "official" rank, but is used more as a term of respect in today's Cavalry and Parachute Infantry organizations to demonstrate the more elite status of the Cavalry or Airborne Soldier versus his peers in less demanding specialties. It is used more in the generic (as in "How many Troopers do you have fit for duty?") than the specific ("Is Trooper Smith fit for duty?").
3. Troops. Troops is a generic, inoffensive catch all term used to refer to military personnel by those not in the military. It encompasses all branches of the service, and is a verbal shorthand for listing total military strength without having to break down the end strength by individual service. For example, it is easier to say "There are 200,000 troops in the Afghanistan Theater of Operations" versus "There are 150,000 Soldiers, 40,000 Marines, 8000 airmen and 2000 sailors in the Afghanistan Theater of Operations.

Franchek Dec-26-2011

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troops also encompasses privateers. Every time we have pulled out troops we have sent an equal number of private security forces in like XE. BY securing funds for troops rather than soldiers, you are agreeing to keep paying for mercenaries.

Fred_fromLB Sep-11-2011

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The thing everyone appears to be overlooking is that the word army is a generic word to describe a group of soldiers or military people. It's been that way for centuries.

Now the entire preference of what you want to be called does not override fact. And the fact is that anyone who goes to war is a soldier. Here's a great example of why: we're all humans but we each break down into men and women and then there's children, teens, adults and seniors.

Now in the Navy, an aviator gets upset if he's called a sailor because he's a pilot. A Navy Seal is not a sailor either, he prefers Navy Seal. Army Rangers prefer Ranger over soldier. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. If you signed up in the military, you know there's a chance you might go to war. Soldiers fight no matter what service they're from. Soldier IS a generic term and always has been.

I've never before in my military career heard the term 'troop' used in defining military members I've been around. But a troop IS a group of soldiers. So if you're okay with the word 'troop' or 'troops' being used, then you must be okay with 'soldier' being used.

Our preference does not change fact or the dictionary.

Yvette Aug-07-2011

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And these are journalism majors that presumably took English in college! It's no ones fault except the talking heads refusal to actually learn proper grammar.

gbroward Jul-30-2010

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Gilbert, as inarticulate as Bush may be, and as much as I blame him for many, many things (and I really do), I'm afraid you really can't blame him for this whole troop/troops thing. It predates his term by years/decades/centuries. Scroll up to my previous post.

Furthermore, and I'm sure this will start another argument (at least, I hope so:), I think that criticism for his use of "decider" is misplaced. I would propose that adding -er to the end of ANY verb to create a noun is ALWAYS correct in English, even if it's not in the dictionary, even if it's never been done before for a particular word by any single human being ever, even if it results in a stilted, awkward-sounding word. The -er paradigm itself is a universal method of nounification. And, by the way, nounification is a real word, too. I just coined it. Making up such words in context is also allowed in English, actually, in every language. That's how ALL language was created in the first place, right? Like it or not, Bush WAS the decider, I guess we were the decidees. If you want to join the many other criticizers in making him the critizee, go right ahead.

porsche Dec-05-2009

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I have not reached for my dictionary. In the old days, and I am an old guy, a “troop" was a unit with a given number of soldiers, a trooper is one soldier, consequently 2 or 3 troopers is the same as 2 or 3 soldiers. Trooper is synonymous with Soldier. The problem today is that since Bush made up his own vocabulary and it was quoted/repeated so much that it became accepted and therefore real. The best example is his use of the non-word “decider." To a degree that is so stupid. However, on the other hand the English language evolves at an incredible rate so I expect the improper use of troop will become proper in the future. This is true because everyone is using it incorrectly these days. I will not be a surprised to see the new meaning for troop in future dictionaries, just because the media has fallen to such low levels of unprofessional journalism. Brave to Barbara for bringing up the issue. Brave to everyone who commented.

gil6625g Dec-05-2009

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Bah, correction/clarification:
I agree with whomever else said it; “troop” means a group of soldiers, and “troops” means groups of soldiers, for now.

bjhagerman Oct-29-2009

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Well, JC, you've apparently been well and truly brainwashed. Even bought into the rivalry with the Navy tactic they use to increase solidarity.
Anyway, I agree with whoever else has said that, for now, "troop" means a group of soldiers, and "troops" means groups of soldiers. However, if common usage dictates that a "troop" means a single soldier, then the purists will just have to whine about the degradation of the language as it gets added into the dictionaries.

bjhagerman Oct-29-2009

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the army has soldiers.
the air force has airmen
the marine corps has marines
the navy has homosexuals

when it is a joint force we are called troops..

you will never hear a Captain in the Army refer to his soldiers as troops...we are SOLDIERS past and present who live by the SOLDIERS CREED and our WARRIOR ethos.

jc1 Oct-28-2009

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Although I came across this conversation much later than posted, this issue has been bothering me for years, and I have even been lectured by people that "troop" is and always has been the name for an individual soldier. People are clearly not grammatically trained enough to understand singular and plural forms. It's not the first time and I'm sure won't be the last that I will be lectured by people who are barely literate about "the correct form." The real issue seems to me to be the kind of corporate speak that organizations develop over time as a kind of substitute for real English, I suspect for reasons other than grammatical incompetence-- reasons like wanting to make official communications less formal, wanting to have a group inspeak that outsiders cannot totally decipher, and frankly the lack of demands on anyone who speaks in public or communicates to the public to make sense. People for some reason accept euphemisms as more "friendly" than real English, even when, as in this case, it totally obscures the facts being presented to a person who understands basic grammar. Like others, on hearing this word used in the singular, I always wondered if 10 troops were dead, how many men were in each troop. Luckily I am no longer plagued with that problem, as others who don't understand English grammar have corrected my uneducated guesses. Hooray for egalitarianism!

Bill1 Jun-15-2009

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I'm sorry, but the word "troop" has always referred to a group: i.e., more than one individual. And it just looks ridiculous to say "4 troops were killed", as it does on aol today. "Soldier" is as fine a word as any to use: it does not need to define which division of armed forces one comes from, they are all fighting for the same things, are they not? It does not need to define man or woman...they are all human beings putting their lives on the line for what they believe in. It works, and it is not confusing. And it couldn't look ridiculous if it tried...God Bless our Soldiers, every one!

dy Jan-26-2009

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I wanted to add that although the military people say that "troop" is singular, our dictionaries say that it is a plural word- now I am back to being confused again.

Rorschach Sep-18-2008

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Well this is still quite confusing. The only military people who responded to this board have all said that a "troop" can be singular. Everyone else has had mixed opinions. I am still confused, but if our own military people say that it can be singuar, then it must be so- they would know, you know?

Rorshach Sep-18-2008

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Troops is a lot of soldiersss
and soldiers are less people then troops

Robin2 Sep-09-2008

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In the Marine Corps it is as follows: e-1 through e-3 is considered a troop e-4 and e-5 are Non-Commissioned Officers and above that in the enlisted side are Staff Non-Commissioned Officers. So when I say "get me 5 troops immediately", I am speaking of the junior Marines. Soldier is Army, and Marines do not take to being called that very well. It is just the way it is.

Brandon1 Sep-06-2008

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I too am delighted to find this discussion. The "troop vs trooper" change in the language has been bothering me personally so much that I did a google search on "troop vs trooper" and ended up here.
Until now I have been privately suffering over this dilemma. I have been soul-searching to ascertain exactly where I went wrong in my life to have misconstrued "troop" to mean a group of military personnel. Perhaps it was in my BoyScout Troop (I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the troop). Or perhaps it was while watching F Troop on TV. Or perhaps when I got pulled over by the State Trooper.
I have concluded that it is a PC thing. And I am delighted to find that at least some fellow citizens are mustering the troops.

Chris_A. Aug-23-2008

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Thanks Anonymous

now to another question
140.000 US troops in iraq and 1.250.000 civilian causalties in iraq.

2.819 people killed in 9/11 but 4144 American deaths in Iraq since war began

clinton almost impeached for lying about his sex life - Bush lying to the UN and reelected.

BTW are french fries still banned?

Klaus Aug-18-2008

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Actually, Klaus, that was NOT the original question. The original question ALREADY assumed that the word 'troops' in your context means individual soldiers, not groups. the original question only asked why.

anonymous4 Jul-30-2008

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Back to the original question:

Today (28-07-08) in BBC news: "(...)His death brings the number of UK troops killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 to 113."

Is the head count 113 then? Or some higher number because a troop referes to a unit

Wikipedia:"A troop is a military unit (...) "


Klaus Jul-28-2008

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The word troop comes from the French word troupe, which refers to a group of people, generally actors today. This from the original Latin: from the OED (free online edition):
ORIGIN French troupe, from Latin troppus ‘flock’.

In addition, it later acquired the meaning "to move", as in "the marching band trooped along in the heat..."

I personally do not remember the word used for a single military individual until THIS war, but there are quite a few who recall it during Vietnam. I have yet to research that usage in the media. I know it has irritated me only lately.

It would appear the word trooper derived from the above, to mean a member of a troop, especially a cavalry soldier. It is probable that in military usage, trooper was again shortened to be "troop" and thus we have the word being simultaneously singular and plural!

Judy1 Jul-13-2008

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From the 1930 Webster's Collegiate Dictionary:

troop (troop), n [F. Troupe.] 1. A collection of people or, formerly, also, of things; a company; number. 2. Soldiers collectively; an armed force; - generally used in pl. 3. Mil. A division of a cavalry squadrom commanded by a captain and corresponding to the company in infantry; formerly, also, a battery. in the United States army, four troops of 107 (formerly 65-100) men each constitute a squadron. Syn. see company.

Trooper n. 1. A cavalryman or his hourse. 2. A troopership 3. A mounted policeman. Australia

troopership. n. A military transport.

1943 Webster's Dictionary

troop n. an assembly of people; a herd or flock; a unit of cavalry, generally about 60; a company of Boy Scouts; pl. a large body of soldiers; an army; vi.i to march in a body; collect in crowds; v.t. to form into a troop or troops; unite with a troop.

Judy1 Jul-13-2008

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I am delighted to see this discussion.
I first observed this use of the term "troop" a few years ago (around 2004). I was born in 1966 and I can definitely say that for the first 35+ years of my life, the term "troop" in common usage (not military usage) referred to a group of soldiers (or "servicemen" or "military personnel" or whatever you want to call them). The point is that it was a plural term such as "pack" or "flock." The standard dictionary definitions indeed clearly indicate that "troop" refers to a group, and not to a single person.
I understand from this discussion that "soldier" refers to Army, and not e.g. the Marines. That is a fair distinction in military lingo, but it does not address the issue of the general usage of the term "troop" for a couple of reasons. First, even if "soldier" is not the correct term for a singular fighting person, then there should be another appropriate term, such as "serviceman" or whatever we want to call him or her. Second, the military usage of the terminology is somewhat of a Red Herring. Within a given profession, terms often have a different meaning, which is distinct from the common usage of the term by the general population. For example, I am a lawyer, and to me the term "complaint" has a very specific meaning within the Rules of Civil Procedure. However, I understand that to most people, the term "complaint" is a generic term that is very different from my technical use of that term. A layperson will often refer to a "fender, " whereas a person who works in a body shop might more precisely call it a "quarter panel." Hence, if the masses and the media refer to all fighting personnel as "soldiers," I do not think that presents a problem, even if it is not the terminology used among the branches of the armed forces. (Our language is already rife with ambiguity and nuance; a little more won't kill anybody.)
I do, however, also wonder about the PC-ness of this, and I have wondered whether this was orchestrated by the government and/or media. When I first heard of "four troops being killed," I thought they meant many more than four people, but rather perhaps four troops of 20 soldiers each. In this sense, the death of a "troop" is worse than the death of one "soldier." On the other hand, some have suggested that "troop" is more generic and impersonal than "soldier."
(Of course, "troop" may simply be a shorter way to say "trooper," which was originally used in the military, and then leaked out to the press and politicians etc.)
In the end, I do think that the term "troop" has been altered by the media over the past few years, and that we would be better if we could turn back the clock on this term, but the genie is probably out the bottle, and we are probably now stuck with the term "troop" either being ambiguous, or losing its original meaning altogether.

John4 Jun-30-2008

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I hate seeing the term "troop" used in the media to replace "troopers" --- it's so misleading. If the newspaper says 10,000 troops were killed -- I always wonder it they mean 10,000 men, or 100,000 men, or 100,000,000 men, and how many men are in a troop. If I were president of the universe, I would not allow "troop" to be used to refer to a single person.

Paula2 Apr-18-2008

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Today (04/08/08) General Petraeus,before the US Senate, is referring to US soldiers as "troopers". What's that all about?

tbentley Apr-08-2008

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I can't help thinking about my old girl scout troop -- the troop was the whole group of girls, and each individual was a scout. :) Somehow troop as a single unit seems wrong gramatically, even if it's become common usage for the military AND the press.

Maggie1 Jan-29-2008

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Frank, the use of "they" and "their" with a singular antecedent is not a mistake. It's been part of English for 500 years.

John4 Sep-07-2007

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The way I understand the matter of the manner by which one speaks English, it seems that people really believe that they can make up the rules all according to their whim, which is based on a lack of their understanding "the logic of language (grammar). Thusly, in the matter of the use of the noun, "troop" instead of "trooper", it is just plain, BAD GRAMMAR, made to be correct by a mass of people that do not understand collective nouns and the logic behind them.
Also, why do MOST people misconstrue the pronoun, EVERYONE, and believe that it is a plural pronoun, as in the sentence: EVERYONE DID "THEIR" BEST TO RECTIFY THE MATTER? The possessive pronoun object of "everyone" is "his/her", NOT "their", which is a plural possessive pronoun! The pronoun, "everyone" is a singular pronoun that takes the singluar possessive pronoun object, "his/her", not the plural, "their"! Any grammarians have a comment to make about this? Frank

xerxes93 Sep-07-2007

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I concur strongly with Steve above. A "Troop" is not a single person, it is a unit of soldiers! I have been researching the Army -Sioux wars of the 19th century. Historical analyses written in the early 20th century consistently use the term "Troop" in this regard, as it was used in the American Civil War. I must say that I have not yet found a specific definition as to how may bodies comprises a "Troop" and this is driving me nuts, which is how I stumbled on this conversation. Steve's definition above of two or more platoons is the most concrete definition I've seen so far. I am beginning to suspec that there is no definite number of bodies, in whatever capacity, associated with the term. Anyone with further insight, please help!!

jammer Aug-26-2007

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Just came upon this. I currently serve in the US Marine Corps. The term troop, in their definition simply means on military member (ie. 10,000 troops =10,000 military personnel). They use the term troop, like many others have said, to generalize all the branches of military (said as "catch-all"). The reason for this, again as previously stated, is that not everyone out there is a "soldier". Marines are Marines, Army is Soldier, Navy is Sailor and Air Force is Airman. Now, touching on what Mad Joe said, while calling a Marine a Soldier is the not the best thing to do, it generally (speaking of the majority of us who have good sense) won't start a fight as said before, but if whether you're a civilian or not expect an instant correction and possibly brief explanation of why. Me personally, I have nothing against any of the branches, may God bring all our people back home safely--Semper Fidelis.

David5 Aug-07-2007

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I thank God I have never been ordered into harms way by a war criminal president or killed anyone who has never harmed me or mine. This is semantics. Bush has ordered soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and troops, along with their corporate support staff who are not "troops" into harms way. They are all involved in an illegal, unprovoked, invasion, and occupation to invade, kill, steal, and lie about it. Get over the semantics and vote your elected officials out of office. America has been hijacked and we sit around arguing about trivia. That is not the American way.

Jack_Goldman Jun-15-2007

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AO May-31-2007

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PS. Regarding the Marines thinking that "Soldier" is demeaning, all who serve should consider themselves Soldiers, as in "Onward Christian Soldiers...Marching on to War"! I have never served, and regret that decision every day!
Thanks for reading my post!

gsthacker2 May-30-2007

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I just stumbled upon this "chat" and thought you'd like my take on this discussion. I have been insensed about this topic for a long time, and would like your opinion on a letter I sent to the Federal Communications Commission recently:

Dear Chairman, Please issue a "cease and desist order" to all Broadcast Journalists who daily exacerbate the anti-war movement, or liberal left-wing of the American Society, by misusing the word "Troop" or "Troops" in thier reporting of the Iraqi War death counts! This "Scare Tactic" is a gross misuse of the English Language, but also the Public Airwaves - to encite viewers, or sensationalize the News! The definition of "Troop" in the military sense is as follows:

TROOP: Military. an armored cavalry or cavalry unit consisting of two or more platoons and a headquarters group.

A Soldier is NOT a Troop!

News Journalists need to use the word "Soldiers", "Marines" or "Infantrymen", 'Airmen", or "Seamen/Sailors" when describing how many die each day in the line of duty. I "Support Our Troops", and wish to honor them (and thier families) with correctly worded and accurate reporting.

I hope you will treat this with the sense of urgency it requires - as Journalists, we need to be experts of the English Language.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this, it has been ignored far too long!

Kindest Regards for the job you all do!

Steve Thacker
Former Broadcast Journalist

gsthacker2 May-30-2007

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I think the question of modern usage has been solidly answered by at least 3 members of the U.S. military. As for etymology, I have read that "troop" is related to the word "trap," the implication being that the word "troop" refers to a group of people and that if you happen upon a group of people when you are alone, they will jump you (we're talking about 5th or 6th century England here). Does anyone know about that? Is it true?

AO May-27-2007

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Okay, I'm in the Army so I am speaking from experience. Soldier(s) refers to Army personnel. Troop(s) refers to any military personnel. We use all of the following: "I need one Soldier over here now.", "Send 20 Soldiers to headquarters." "Get me one troop to guard this vehicle." "There are 40 troops in the field at the moment." I'm sure that both troop and soldier, as with any other word, have more than one meaning and use. I believe that the original author's statement that "troops" has come to be synonymous with "soldiers" has resulted from a misunderstanding by the media and the public. Mainly due to the fact that the Army has the largest population of troops in Iraq. Therefore, the media tends to show more images of Army Soldiers in combat than other services. This in turn leads to the public having a mental picture of Soldiers when they think of the War. This leads to someone connecting "troops" to "soldiers". Now, I am not lessening the impact, nor the importance of other services in Iraq. The War couldn't be fought without the sacrifices of ALL branches of service. I'm just stating that the Army has more personnel over there... and this is due to the fact that the Army has the largest branch of the military. So, in conclusion: Soldier refers to Army. Troop refers to any military. An Airman can refer to himself as an Airman or a troop... but wouldn't state that he is a Soldier. And so it goes with the other services.

Rmysoldr May-26-2007

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doesnt troop come from trooper? i saw somewhere online that cavalry soldiers of private rank are called troopers. ive heard thats where it came from.. just a thought..

pastize May-01-2007

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What about "we employ 10 staff". I think this is similar to saying we are sending 10.000 troops to Iraq.

Torsten Apr-29-2007

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This fits the neo-con pattern of substituting Prussian sounding words for the usual latinate ones. Homeland (heimat) for country is another.

genedieken Apr-27-2007

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About "Troops". I have been wondering about this term (more so, how it has been used lately) for some time as well.

However, if ONE soldier was killed, one would not say "ONE TROOP" has been killed.

"Troop" will always be plural.


mcollinson Apr-23-2007

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10 000 troops could mean approximately 50 000 soldiers; I believe I recall that a platoon is around 24 soldiers and headquarters is around four officers, or something like that.

Isaac1 Apr-19-2007

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I believe Myron is correct...and so was Andy Rooney in a recent commentary. Troop is a group of military men or a group of military units. Trooper is a single member of the group. The use of Troop indicating a single soldier is the media saving space by not referring to them as Troopers.

jshelly123 Apr-18-2007

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Something that drives me up the wall are references to '15 personnel'...

SRahman481 Apr-11-2007

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Vivin is correct. I used to be in the US Army, left and am now in the US Navy. Soldier is a term for any Army member, Sailor for Navy and Marine.....well for any Marine Corp member. I belive the Air force term is Airman. I'm not sure though. It's been this for a long time, but this distinction is not very well known among civillians. Troop is the proper Catch-all for any military member.

If a civilian calls a Marine a soldier, the Marine will usually let the slip slide without a word.

If a known military member calls a Marine a soldier on the other hand, This usually sparks a brawl.

Mad_Joe Apr-08-2007

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"Troops" is a less personal word. It sounds far better to lose a certain number of "troops" in combat than it does to lose a certain number of "soldiers."

I also think the word "soldier" connotes more of a honorable, proud heritage than "troop." When TIME named its person of the year a few years ago, it was not the "American Trooper" who was honored, it was the "American Soldier."

Soldiers sound more impressive, more valuable than troops. I wonder if we can tell a media outlet's intentions from their usage of either words?

becker1 Apr-06-2007

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My Marine neighbor referred to himself as a troop. His interpretation was that troop could be used to refer to a single person and to a specific collection of people. His was a Viet Nam era experience.

Lorenzo1 Apr-01-2007

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In military terms, 'soldiers' tends to denote members of the ground forces, i.e. the army. Troops is more encompassing in that it can include Air Force and Navy personnel as well as others.

As Barbara in the first post pointed out, a 'troop' can also be used as a military unit. In the British Army, units such as the Cavalry and those units that are historically derived from the cavalry (such as the Royal Corps of Signals) use the term Troop in place of Platoon, Squadron in place of Company and Regiment in place of Battalion. Just to make it more confusing, an infantry battalion is the sub-ordinate unit of an infantry regiment (as in 'The First Battalion, The Parachute Regiment'). The British infantry can also use the term 'regiment' for a battalion-sized organisation. These regiments are, in reality, single battalion regiments.

That's what history does for you :-)

SFB Mar-30-2007

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I think the original use was plural, as in "F-Troop", and the reference to a member of a Troop was 'trooper'. However, 'trooper' has been shortened to 'troop' in the common vernacular.

Myron Mar-29-2007

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I'm in the US Army.

"Soldier" is a term used to refer to Army Personnel exclusively, just like you would use "Sailor", "Airman", or "Marine".

"Troop" is a catch-all term.

Vivin Mar-28-2007

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In effect from all the conversations, I see a miss. The point is that by definition the word meant something but by usage, by the battering of time (call it language rust), the meaning changed.
I don't think I would be wrong in saying, that from a puritanical perspective usage of 'troops' for 'soldiers' is incorrect and from the angle of going with the flow, it is accepted.

kcl.narasimham Mar-19-2007

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Wait a minute. I have to take issue with the fallacious question itself. It asserts facts that are simply incorrect.

First, says that the word "troops" DOES mean "soldiers". There are a whopping 23 different definitions from four sources, many of which include "soldiers" or "group of soldiers".

Second, this did not come about in "the last few years". This usage has been common since before any of us were even born.

That being said, it is still an interesting question. Reference to a specific number of troops, like "50,000 troops were sent" was publicly and commonly used in the media at least as early as the Vietnam War. Within the military, such usage was widespread during the Korean War, possibly earlier.

Troops was used more abstractly to mean a body of soldiers, (and, duh, NOT meaning a group of groups of soldiers!) by Roosevelt in World War II, and even by George Washington before the Revolutionary War.

"Troops", technically (if debatably) might have meant group of troops, but in usage, has really been referring to a collective group of soldiers or servicepersons, at least for the last few hundreds of years.


porsche Mar-18-2007

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I'm a former Airman who worked beside Soldiers, Sailers, and Marines. I don't know about proper definitions, but individually and generically, we were "troops." When our supervisors would talk about their supervisees, they would refer to us as their "troops." It's not a recent term. Go back to Viet Nam news reports, and they talk about "number of troops killed." A Soldier is widely considered as someone in the Army. According to the Oxford American Dictionary: "Troops -- soldiers or armed forces (UN peacekeeping troops)."

jonpaul.brown Mar-17-2007

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I suspect that Austin is right, but that if you ask the military, they will reverse the order, saying that troops is preferred because a soldier is a fighter and there are so many more things the military personnel do, like manage all the non-military personnel. Perhaps the military wouldn't even acknowledge the first argument, that there is less of an emotional connection to sending troops then soldiers. Of course, I bet if we scan the headlines, we only hear about soldiers dying. The news media don't mind tugging the heart strings.

John4 Mar-15-2007

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I suspect that Austin is right, but that if you ask the military, they will reverse the order, saying that troops is preferred because a soldier is a fighter and there are so many more things the military personnel do, like manage all the non-military personnel. Perhaps the military wouldn't even acknowledge the first argument, that there is less of an emotional connection to sending troops then soldiers. Of course, I bet if we scan the headlines, we only hear about soldiers dying. The news media don't mind tugging the heart strings.

John4 Mar-15-2007

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I wonder if there's something PC going on too. 'Soldier' typically only refers to members of the Army. Yet, the Marines, Air Force, and Navy have all sent service members to Iraq. Troops is sort of a catch-all term. I like what dyske said that it's less personal (in that it doesn't conjure up images of people), but I would go on to say that it is a bit more friendly. 'Soldier' has a very cold and mechanical feeling to it.

Also, 'soldier' tends to connote an infantryman who marches through the battlefield carrying his rifle. In modern warfare, this is just one of many different jobs to be had.

Austin1 Mar-14-2007

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This is quite interesting. “Troop” certainly sounds less personal than “soldier”, because no one says, “I’m a troop.” Saying, “We are sending 10,000 troops,” sounds less serious, because it sounds as if we are just sending guns or something. It is possible that they changed the usage for this psychological/emotional reason, like the way they refuse to use the term “civil war” to describe what is going on in Iraq.

Dyske Mar-14-2007

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