If I'm discussing two segments of a contiguous coastline, should I use the singular or the plural?

For example,

The Washington and Oregon1 coast ...


The Washington and Oregon coasts ...

For those not familiar with the Pacific Northwest, this is what the coastline(s) in question look like:

Washington and Oregon Coast

1 It has come to my attention people from the Midwest and East Coast sometimes pronounce the state "or-e-GONE" (/ɔɹɛˈgɑn/). Please don't do this, the correct pronunciation is "OR-e-gen" (/ˈɔɹegən/).

  • 3
    Trying to prescribe pronunciation is about as effective as trying to get people to diet. – Alan Carmack Jul 18 '16 at 5:50
  • Interesting map. Has Idaho been abolished, and no one told me? – Steven Littman Jul 18 '16 at 11:11
  • 1
    @AlanCarmack Well, sure, for lexical terms. But proper names have correct pronunciations. – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 18 '16 at 16:28
  • @StevenLittman It's just outside of the area of the map, what do you mean? – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 18 '16 at 16:29
  • @Azor-Ahai Washington is about 1.5 times as wide (east to west) as it is tall (north to south). Therefore, it should end somewhere around the H in its name. Oregon's dimensions are similar. – Steven Littman Jul 18 '16 at 16:44

It's dealer's choice. It's however you prefer.

If you want to refer to it as a singular entity, as one coastline that both states share, then you'd say "coast," but if you want to refer to them separately, then it's perfectly appropriate to say "coasts."

Here is a Google Ngram for using singular "coast":

Here is a Google Ngram for using plural "coasts":

You'll notice I switched the example to California and Oregon rather than Washington Oregon. That was meant as no slight to Washington. I simply knew that references to California's coastline would generate more hits.

  • 2
    Just in case it's not obvious from the answer, I don't think you can use the singular "coast" if the two coasts are not contiguous. Washington and Oregon's coastlines are contiguous, but you shouldn't say "The California and Washington coast" for example, as these are two distinct things seperated by a large distance. – Max Williams Jul 18 '16 at 10:43
  • 1
    Yes, I agree with that. Since the OP's question specifically limited the question to being about "two segments of a contiguous coastline," I presumed that went without saying. That is why my research also compared usage to the California's and Oregon's coastlines, which are also contiguous and thus can be equally construed as a singular coastline. – Benjamin Harman Jul 18 '16 at 12:06

In written English, I would say:

the Washington-Oregon coast

But neither of your versions is incorrect.

  • 2
    Pedantically, you wouldn’t say anything in written English—you’d write it. ;-) But “the Washington–Oregon coast” is how I would most likely say it in speech and write it in writing, too. This also works with non-contiguous entities, of course, as long as they’re connected at some point: the Washington–Oregon coast is just a subsection of the Washington–California coast—which, ultimately, is just a subsection of the North and Central American coast (until 1914 the American coast). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 18 '16 at 15:03

A coast or coastline is a geographical feature that exists independently of which state, country or other entity currently claims 'ownership' of it. For that reason, I would suggest that it should be treated as a singular entity and referred to as one coast or coastline.

For example, it would not be unusual to refer to the British coast or the British coastline in the singular (see Google search). If the entire British coast is regarded as a single entity, it follows that any contiguous sub-section of that must also be a single entity, irrespective of whether that contiguous section borders one country, or two or three countries (England, Scotland, Wales); or one county or several counties (counties are the main sub-divisions of England).

In practice, if the particular contiguous section of coast actually borders two or more areas with different names (as in OP's example), it is not unusual for the plural form to be used; it would be unlikely to be considered 'odd'; and it would be unlikely to be misunderstood. Nevertheless, I would argue that useage of the plural form in such cases would (strictly) be incorrect.

Your Answer

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

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.