By Curtis Honeycutt
Last week I discussed the topic of subject-verb agreement. Many of you wrote in and asked about sports teams, particularly sports teams whose names don’t end in “s”: are they considered singular or plural? Would you say, “The Jazz is winning the game” or “The Jazz are winning the game?”
This is a tricky one. When it comes to the Indiana Pacers, you would always say, “The Pacers are winning the game” because “Pacers” is obviously plural, therefore the noun takes the plural verb “are.” The same goes for the Panthers, Packers, Pirates and Patriots. You would never say “The Panthers is looking sluggish out there.”
When it comes to the official rules of grammar, allow me to punt to the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. Both guides suggest you treat all team names as plural, whether or not the team name ends in “s.” So, this means you should (according to the rules) say, “The Heat are winning the game.”
But what about soccer? And what about England?
Many soccer clubs go by their city or club name. So, you have teams being referred to as merely Liverpool or Watford (for city names), or Arsenal or Crystal Palace (for clubs who were originally named for the sports complex where they began). By the same rule, you hear soccer (or football) announcers say things like, “Arsenal are really having a tough go of it today.”
So, my big question is: does the same rule apply to your team when you’re referring to its location?
When referring to teams, locations and schools, use singular pronouns and verbs: “Harvard is bad at football.” Team names always take plural verbs: “The Crimson are good at math, but lousy at scoring touchdowns.”
However, British English sees things differently. The official British rules state a team is always plural, whether you’re referring to the team name or the city name. That’s why you hear British announcers say, “France are the World Cup champions.” This sounds strange to our American English ears because our rules are different.
So, if the American rule makes you develop a nervous tic, simply refer to teams by their city or state: New England is in the Super Bowl … again.