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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?

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  • Sports (British) An occasion on which people compete in various athletic activities. oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sport
    – user66974
    Dec 10, 2014 at 6:39
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    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?" Dec 19, 2014 at 16:43
  • What is the origin of this? Human perversity.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 5, 2015 at 19:02

5 Answers 5

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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.

sports

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

Sports ​equipment.

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

sport

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.

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"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.

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/sport_1?q=sport

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

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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'.

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The simplest answer is that in US english, we use the noun “sport” to talk about any contest or game that entail physical activity. Hence “sports" is the plural form of the noun. That is how we talk about basketball, football and baseball as a group. But in British English, you would use the noun “sport” to talk about the same group of activities. Look at the BBC News website at the top menu you can see “Sport” for the news about Football, Cricket, Tennis, Golf and so on. Here are some examples to illustrate I don't like sports.(US) I don't like sport. (UK) Do you do any sport? Do you play any sports? You can also use "sport" as an adjective. sport fisherman. As a verb, “sport” meaning to wear something. It is mostly used when someone is wearing something that draws attention. She is sporting a glamorous abbaya.

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    Welcome to EL&U. The OP, which incidentally posted almost 6 years ago, is aware of the transatlantic usage difference, and is asking for its origin, which you have not supplied. I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance.
    – choster
    Nov 23, 2020 at 18:41
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I am running into this issue. Being from America, I always used "sports" to talk about the group of athletic games such as basketball, hockey, or volleyball.

"I like to play sports. I played baseball when I was young. Now I don't play sports often, but I cheer for my favorite sports teams when I see them on TV."

I am now overseas and a lot of my students have learned British English. They write things like, "I wish there was more sport in our city. All kids should have a chance to play sport."

Basically, I see it an issue of whether or not "sport" is a countable noun. In the US, it is usually countable. "I love sports." In the UK it seems that "sport" is usually an uncountable noun. "I love sport." In the US, we do sometimes use "sport" as an uncountable noun, but then it means something more like "recreation" or "fun" and not the hobby, "athletics."

For example, "I don't go fishing for food. I do it for sport."

I figured that it was more British to say, "I spend a lot of time on sport," so I Googled it and ended up here.

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  • Both the count (sport/sports) and the non-count (sport), with the expected verb-forms (contrast 'maths is my favourite subject'; 'maths' is the UK abbreviation of 'mathematics', usually treated as non-count with singular agreement). 'I'm fond of sport/ballet/art/music' / 'He excelled at all sports'. //// 'I spend a lot of time playing sport / various sports' is more British. Nov 15, 2021 at 16:36

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