World Cup 1, Grammar 0

In watching bits and pieces of the World Cup, I have noticed something peculiar about how the commentators refer to the United States:

It’s usually “The USA are doing so and so” (like creating a lot of drama early and then rallying late) as opposed to “The USA is doing so and so” (like that skanky-looking chick from the bar last night–you know, the one who was playing erotic Photo Hunt).

I admit that you probably have to be a word nerd for such a triviality to cross your radar. Fortunately, I am the proud owner of three dictionaries and two editions of the AP stylebook, meaning I’m just the person for the job.

At first I thought the are/is thing was an interesting commentary on how to view the nature of governance in our country. Saying “are” would seem to imply the person thinks it’s a looser collection of individual entities, “is” that it really is a unified whole. Needless to say, this made me feel pretty deep, almost like the first time I understood that the flux capacitor is … what … makes …. time travel possible.

Like most of my deep moments, though, this one was fleeting, as I realized what’s actually going on here:

Bad grammar.

Thanks to my AP stylebooks, I know that you say “10 percent of the members are here” but “10 percent of the class is here.” When it comes to “percent,” whether the verb is singular or plural depends totally on the noun following the “of” phrase.

Can’t we reasonably apply the same logic to United States of America? “America,” being a singular noun following an “of,” would thus mandate that a singular “is” follow the acronym USA.

Exciting, right?



  1. Evelyn

    I thought the is/are thing was a British vs. U.S. thing. I've often heard things like "the team are winning" or "the family are going…" spoken by people who have a British accent.Oh, and Jerry just added (which contradicts your rule above): wouldn't you say "10% of the members represents a small number", even though members is plural in this case?Check out those reference guides of yours and see what you can find on both of these. What better way to spend a fine afternoon in Palatine?

  2. Joshua

    While this particular instance may be a case of bad grammar, there is historical precedent for the nature of governance interpretation. Prior to the Civil War, “these” and “are,” were the primary usage, reflecting the diffuse nature of authority embodied in the Articles of Confederation. After the Union victory, the usage shifted to the more familiar “the” and “is,” reflecting the more centralized model of rule.

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