I was recently reading this article on the use of "math" vs. "maths" as a collective noun (Americans use the former, Brits the latter). However, the trend seen in "math/maths" is reversed in "sport/sports", with Brits using the version without an "s" as a collective noun, and Americans using the one with the "s". What is the origin of this?

  • Sports (British) An occasion on which people compete in various athletic activities. oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sport – user66974 Dec 10 '14 at 6:39
  • As a Brit, I guess we say 'maths' because it's a contraction of 'MATHematicS" [not that there's anything wrong with simply abbreviating it to 'math']. Math/maths is a single discipline. There are lots of different sports. But I think we also use 'sport' collectively, as in "Do you like watching sport on TV?" – David Garner Dec 19 '14 at 16:43
  • What is the origin of this? Human perversity. – Hot Licks Jul 5 '15 at 19:02

This is really old, but if you go to Cambridge Dictionary 'sports' is the adjective (only before noun) and 'sport' is the noun. So, 'sports day' but 'do you like sport?'. That's for BrE, I've got no idea about AmE.


adjective [before noun] UK
​relating to ​sport:

Sports ​equipment.

It's the ​school sports ​day on ​Monday.


noun A1 [U] UK

all ​types of ​physical ​activity that ​people do to ​keep ​healthy or for ​enjoyment:

She used to do/​play a lot of sport when she was ​younger.


In British schools, the teachers and children sometimes organise/participate in a 'sports day'. A long-running, British TV panel-game: 'A Question of Sport'. The usage varies - a person may be regarded either as 'good at sports', or 'good at sport'.


"sport" or "sports" is a tangled problem. "sport" has several meanings. As referring to physical activity there is some difference in usage between BrE and AmE. Actually only usage notes of dictionaries can give some help.

But I can't imagine that things are as simple as OALD says (sport BrE, sports AmE). Usage in BrE and in AmE probably vary according to region and individual usage and probably usage is changing.

sport no. 2 can be used for a person as in "He's a good sport".

sport no. 3 can mean fun or joke.


There is also the problem of compound words of the type sportsman, sports car and sport shirt.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy