In Praise of Grammar Girl

For this year’s World Cup, ESPN has hired an all-British play-by-play crew for television.  In fact, as I think about their announcers overall, most are non-Americans, which makes sense to me if you want that so-called “expert commentary” and want announcers that know about the players, most of which play in Europe.

As I watch the matches and listen to the commentary by the British play-by-play announcers, I am repeatedly struck by what seems like wrong noun-verb agreement when the talk about the teams.  It is all in the plural.  Thus, they use phrases like:

  • England drive towards the goal.
  • Ghana look tired as the 1st half comes to a close.
  • Italy dive any time an opposing player comes near them. (So true!).

Sorry, but these sentences sound a bit off to me.  I have a desire to say “England drives” and “Ghana looks” and “Italy dives” (All the time!!).

It’s as if the Brits are assuming a collective name exists after the country, but it isn’t said.  If a Brit were announcing ice hockey, for example, we might hear “The Washington Capitals are the best offensive team in the league” as often as we’d hear “Washington are the best offensive team in the league.”  The latter still sounds wrong to me.

To find out the right answer, I visited one of my favorite sites:  Grammar Girl.  Grammar Girl is run by Mignon Fogarty, who has also written an entire book on grammar called The Grammar Devotional.  I became enamored with Grammar Girl through her weekly podcast, on which she resolves age-old mysteries such as:

I’m still not sure when to use “lay” and when to use “lie,” but I do remember Grammar Girl pointing out that Bob Dylan’s song “Lay Lady Lay” should be “Lie Lady Lie” and Eric Clapton’s song “Lay Down Sally” should be “Lie Down Sally.”

Do you think Dylan and Clapton care?  No, probably not.

In case you are wondering — a) “alternatives” are different choice than your current choice, while “options” is used to describe all choices, including your current choice and b) yes, it is OK to split an infinitive in some contexts  (Shocking! I know.)

A good place to start with Grammar Girl is her Top 10 Grammar Myths.  I won’t give any away, but suffice it to say that a preposition is a word you can end a sentence with.

So what does Grammar Girl say about team names?  In her podcast and article from September 2, 2008, she writes:

Adding to the complexity of this issue is that Americans and Britons handle it differently.

Americans tend to treat collective nouns as single units, so it’s more common to use the singular verb unless you’re definitely talking about individuals. So in America you would be more likely to hear “The faculty is meeting today” than “The faculty are meeting today.”

In British usage, however, it’s the opposite; it’s more common to use the plural verb. In fact, some sentences that are perfectly correct in Britain would be considered incorrect in America. Take “Cambridge are winning the boat race.” Although I spent my elementary-school years in London, I have been fully Americanized, so this sentence doesn’t sound right to me. As an American, I would say, “Cambridge is winning.”

In short — the British announcers say it correctly for them.

And, if I want to say “Italy dives any time an opposing player comes near them” (It’s so annoying!), then I’m free to do so and will still be grammatically correct.


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