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I was trying to explain to a friend that someone is no longer available on Spotify earlier today so I said the sentence:

The Avalanches are no longer available on Spotify.

Immediately after saying that I realized it might be incorrect (English isn't my first language so this is a common occurrence) because if you take the name of the band out of the equation the sentence becomes of the form:

[Band name] are no longer available on Spotify.

which shouldn't be using are but instead be using is.

I asked around and some people responded saying it should always be is which confused me even further.

Is there any rule for referring to a proper noun as a plural or not in the case where the entity sounds plural?

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4  
I'll let the real experts weigh in on what's correct below, but it does seem extremely common to conjugate the verb based on whether the band's name sounds singular or plural: The Bangles ARE awesome, but Def Leppard IS the best. –  Jaydles Nov 19 '13 at 3:46
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@Jaydles This has at least had one positive effect for me today, the band names people think of when they make their own examples are quite revealing. –  Kasra Rahjerdi Nov 19 '13 at 3:48
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Wait a while, then you will get the answers from the US. Manchester United are my favourite club. But: the New York Yankees is my favorite team. –  GEdgar Nov 19 '13 at 12:28
    
possible duplicate of Is "staff" plural? –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 2 at 3:55

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The official rule is: if it acts as a singular unit, it gets a singular congugation; if it acts as a group of individuals viewed individually, it gets a plural congugation. There is no difference between common and proper nouns.

For example, Seventy dollars is too much to spend on a DVD. (The seventy dollars is one unit)

In relation to the example above, The Bangles is an awesome group. (one unit) BUT.. The Bangles are awesome, especially Susanna Hoffs! (looks at each individual group member)

It gets complicated because it seemingly leaves it up to the speaker to determine how the unit is being referenced.

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Rearranging the sentence might help as well: "The group 'The Bangles' is awesome." or "The band members of the group 'The Bangles' are awesome." This way it's more clear if you're talking about one unit (a group), or multiple units (all the band members). You can also replace 'The Bangles', with 'Iron Maiden' and it would still be (and sound) correct. –  Deruijter Nov 19 '13 at 8:15
    
@Derujiter It's not entirely that simple, I'm afraid. "The Bangles {are | is*} performing ..." "Iron Maiden {is | are?} performing ..." –  Kaz Nov 19 '13 at 8:40
    
@Kaz you have a good point. The point is that names such as 'The Bangles' reference the individual band members, and names such as 'Iron Maiden' reference the group as one entity. So you would indeed probably say "The Bangles (the band members) are performing" and "Iron Maiden (the group) is performing". Like Xandria said, it's about what you're referencing to. –  Deruijter Nov 19 '13 at 9:20
    
The Bangles are awesome, especially Susanna Hoffs! In order for this to work, you would have to be able to refer to each band member as "A Bangle", which may or may not be the case. –  Cruncher Nov 19 '13 at 14:22
    
I think in the use of band names, there is no set standard. And in the ever fluidity of the English language, rules change all the time. I personally would say, "The Bangles are awesome!" AND also say "Iron Maiden is awesome!" However, I would never say "The Bangles is awesome!" I think it's because, in my mind, band and group are two different entities. –  Xandria Nov 19 '13 at 15:21

In my experience, this is an area of grammar that varies across English-speaking countries – at least in common practice.

In the US, the rule would be "If the proper noun refers to a group, then conjugate in the plural" but in the UK, for example, the rule seems to be "The proper noun replaces a group for a singular, then conjugate in the singular".

Examples:

US: "IBM {has|have*} made great strides in computer science"

UK: "British Telecom {is*|are} hiring".

Although neither of these examples involve proper nouns which sound plural, I offer these to illustrate that part of the apparent confusion may stem from different dialects of English.

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But this is about plural band names, not companies. Even in the US, we generally use a plural verb for "The Beatles". See Google Ngrams. –  Peter Shor Nov 19 '13 at 11:40
    
No, the title of this question is simply: "“Are” vs. “is” for proper nouns which sound plural". –  mkoistinen Nov 19 '13 at 11:40
    
Then this answer doesn't address the question. Neither IBM nor British Telecom sound plural. And Americans would never say "the Yankees is", and would generally use "the Beatles are", but "Radiohead is" (although both verbs get used with both these bands). So in the U.S., it depends on whether the name sounds plural, and whether it's a company, a band, or a sports team. –  Peter Shor Nov 19 '13 at 11:45
    
Looks like your goal is to point out that I'm wrong. I'm sorry, I'll go back to lurking now... –  mkoistinen Nov 19 '13 at 11:50

By example:

Plural names are always treated as plural:

The Beatles { are | is* } a legendary name in pop music.

The Beatles { aren't | isn't* } together any more.

Singular or at least non-plural-noun names go both ways:

Yes { is | are? } playing in town; I got tickets. [Refers to the act.]

Yes { are | is* } good musicians. [Refers to the members via their collective name.]

Best is always to stick to pluralizing names which sound plural.

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Two major league baseball teams in the United States have names that sound plural but don't look plural: the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox. "Are" works for both, but some other constructions are awkward. Returning to the New York Yankees for sake of comparison:

The White Sox are my favorite team. The Yankees are my least favorite team. (parallel) The White Sox are licking their wounds after an awful season. The Yankees are happy with the way they played. (parallel) The White Sox pitcher contended for an award. The Yankee pitcher did not. (not parallel) On signing with the team, the new shortstop said he was proud to be a member of the White Sox. On signing with the team, the new catcher said he was proud to be a Yankee. (duck the issue)

White Sox seems to be plural in reference to both the team as a whole and the team as several individual players. The plural-sounding White Sox is the adjective referring to the team or one of its members, while the singular Yankee has that job in the Big Apple. And while one can be a Beatle or a Yankee, one is a member of the White Sox or a member of the Clash.

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Are the White Sox considered to require plural treatment because Sox (socks) come in pairs of socks)? –  user3847 Jun 17 at 22:45
    
If they were the White Socks, being a White Sock would work, as Socks is a straightforward plural noun, just as Yankees is. The Sox spelling seems to be complication here. Curious about whether it works the same way in Boston, home of the Red Sox. –  Joan Pederson Jun 18 at 13:42

It depends if the plural has a singular that can refer to the members.

The Beatles is my favourite group

In this context, we're referring to the group directly.

Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle, but I like the other Beetles too

In this context, we consider each band member a Beatle, in which case we can absolutely use the plural form.

In your example:

The Avalanches are no longer available on Spotify.

I would assume from this sentence that I could refer to each member individually as an Avalanche.

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