CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

Proper nouns

Ever been a little confused when trying to determine whether a proper noun is singular or plural? Luckily, there are a few easy-to-remember pointers to keep in mind when writing about our favourite companies, places or bands.

Firstly, what is a proper noun? Well, a proper noun refers to a named common noun; for example, Puma, Sydney Opera House, the Great Pyramids and the Channel Islands. As shown here, a proper noun can be either singular or plural. So how do we use these in a sentence?

Puma is releasing a new football boot design.

The Sydney Opera House is celebrating its 40th birthday.

The Great Pyramids are located on the Giza Plateau.

The Channel Islands are a nice place to visit.

Seems simple so far, right? Singular proper nouns use the singular, plural proper nouns use the plural. However, contrasted to the two plural proper nouns above, other plural proper nouns need to use the singular is, as the name represents a whole, not merely a collection of individual entities; for example, Super Mario Bros, The United Nations, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Location Services.

Super Mario Bros is a classic computer game.

The United Nations is making no headway in discussions.

The Royal Botanic Gardens is a nice place to take a stroll.

Apple’s Location Services is on your iOS device.

So, when writing, take note of whether your proper noun is singular or plural and, if it is plural, deduce whether the name represents a whole or a collection of parts. That should tell you which form to apply when using the nouns in a sentence.

‘But what about band names or sporting teams?’ you might ask.
Sigh. That’s a completely different ball game.

When we start talking about bands or sporting teams, things get a little tricky. There is some debate that the usage of singular or plural differs depending on what style of English you use; British English, American English or a hybrid of the two like Australian English.

In British English, a level of consistency is widely employed, referring to most bands or sporting teams as plural, regardless of their singular or plural name. In American English, however, it seems to depend on whether the band or team has a plural or singular name, just like a common noun, regardless of how many individuals make up that group.

Examples of British English group references:

The Beatles are still immensely popular.

Monty Python are touring again! Wahoo!

The Rolling Stones are somehow still alive and kicking.

Manchester Utd are going to lose dramatically to Hull this week! (I wish.)

While in American English, it might look something like this:

ABBA is famous for the single Dancing Queen.

Guns N’ Roses are on this movie soundtrack.

Devin Townsend Project is too awesome for words.

The Sydney Roosters are the 2013 champions.

So who is right and who is wrong? Well, it’s actually just a matter of style choice. I personally use British English, so I would use the plural are when referring to bands and groups, regardless of the form of their name. However, it all boils down to you. Depending on where you live, work or study, pick the local style and stick with it. Above all, be consistent! There’s nothing worse than being inconsistent in your writing.

Happy writing, and fingers crossed for Hull!

UPDATE: Hull lost. (Sad face.)

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