When speaking about The Netherlands as a country, should it be considered as a plural or singular word?


  • The Netherlands is a country.
  • The Netherlands are famous for cheese and windmills.

Is there a general rule for this? Do instances such as "The United States of America" and "The United Arab Emirates" follow the same rule?

  • I fear in the specific case of .NL, in English language, there is really no, good, standard 'correct' approach. I would suggest that, neither one sounds "wrong": you're OK with either, in English. It's likely that specific bodies would have a style sheet: for example over in England the BBC, for example, probably has a specific rule on that, for newsreaders. But I'd say that, in a word, both are correct: you will not "sound wrong" using either. (On this front: "The Hague" always confuses the hell out of me!) – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 12:14
  • @Joe - If The Hague is confusing, just don't translate it. Or do you feel as confused with Las vegas (that is even plural and has an article!). Just call it Den Haag, don't see Den as an article, and it's just like Las Vegas. (I'd wish. I live near there. It's nothing like Vegas.) – oerkelens Aug 12 '14 at 12:50
  • that's a really very smart idea, Oerk! – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 14:54
  • This might actually be different from other countries like the USA. You can talk about one state in the USA but you cannot talk about a single 'Netherland' in The Netherlands. – JJJ Feb 12 '19 at 17:57

It should be considered as a singular object.

Just because it has an s at the end, it is still a single object:

The Netherlands is famous for cheese and windmills. The Netherlands is a country.

As far as I am aware, in contemporary English, all countries follow the same pattern (The United States is famous for apple pie, etc.)

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  • You're right that USA is usually "is" these days. For UAE I, think, people still say "they" since it feels more like just, well, "them" - a collection. – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 12:16
  • I would say the United Arab Emirates is a country, is famous for... – Alastair Campbell Aug 12 '14 at 12:18
  • The trouble is Alastair: (1) the UAE simply is NOT a country! heh. it's a collection. also (2) the "US" was very much considered just a collection of states {confusingly, washington etc would refer to 'blah their country' meaning what we would now call their home state} until a bit later when it came to mean more what you describe. and (3) you assert "the netherlands" is one item; unfortunately that could be plain wrong. it may or may not be one jurisdictional unit, but so what? "turks and caicos" are undeniably two things: nobody knows how to answer Lee's question in that example. – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 12:21
  • All countries are collections of territories, jurisdictions and people. It simply is a country. It may be a collection of states, similar to the United States of America, but it is still legally recognised as a country. The same goes towards the United States today (though, perhaps, as you mentioned, not as much in the past - but this is different from the United Arab Emirates). – Alastair Campbell Aug 12 '14 at 12:28
  • "All countries are collections of territories" not at all, "the EU" could extremely clearly be seen as a collection. "australia" almost certainly not. and so on. "It simply is a country" - that's just an assertion. is the EU a country, yes or no? - same deal for the USA before, say 1900. note too that some are "obviously plural" because they are made of an island, or have "and" in the title. but these jurisdictional questions are irrelevant; you're just asserting that "countries should be treated as singular". why? what about - say - pants? i agree with the "logic" of your view but... – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 12:38

Speaking strictly about the country I would tend to treat it as singular.

The Netherlands has the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the European Union.

But if speaking about their football team I would say:

The Netherlands are playing Argentina. But then I would also say England are playing Italy.

It is the same for all countries whose names are stated as plurals.

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    It's different, because the team is not their country. The team is a collection which represents their country - a small difference, but substantial. – Alastair Campbell Aug 12 '14 at 12:17
  • (I too feel the "team" aspect is not relevant here.) Note - if you simply "google" (you know, on the "internet") you can find any number of uses of "have" or "are", just as in Lee's question. Eg, weatheronline.co.uk/reports/climate/The-Netherlands.htm (there are 100,000s of examples) – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 12:18
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    There are plenty of cases where a plural sounds just fine—as in that weather profile: “The Netherlands have a temperate, maritime climate”. There are also quite a few cases where a plural sounds distinctly odd to me: “The Netherlands are a country.” as a complete sentence is very jarring to my ear, whereas “The Netherlands are a country consisting of European Netherlands and the Caribban Islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius” is all right. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 12 '14 at 12:33
  • Quite so, JBJ... – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 12:40
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    @JanusBahsJacquet 'The Netherlands are a country...' sounds quite wrong to me in any context. Your last sounds to me like saying 'The United States of America are a country consisting of 50 states' – WS2 Aug 12 '14 at 13:03

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