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.

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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.


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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  • 2
    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 at 18:41

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