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The Northwest Territories of Canada are only one territory, and the Papal States in Italy consisted of only one state. Why is the plural used? (In Italian, one says "Stato Pontificio", which is singular.) Are there other examples?

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  • As a Canadian, I've always assumed the Northwest Territories was a set of aboriginal lands that have been collectively referred to as a single governed unit, even though there aren't really any clearly distinguishable units within it. Although I have no evidence to back this up.
    – Octopus
    Jul 15, 2017 at 6:55
  • Ah, 'Why is 'Northwest Territories' plural in form. Yes, I'm reading this as 'Why is 'Northwest Territories' given plural agreement here'. //// Merely preserving / emphasising the original logical plurality involved, as with the United States (contrast the United Kingdom), The Alps, the Maldives, the Badlands.... Note that 'The Trossachs is a well-known tourist attraction' combines a plural form with a singular verbform, stressing sequentially the multi-element make-up and the unified region. Note also that 'the Himalayas' and 'the Himalaya' are both used. Jul 15, 2017 at 7:14
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    "the Papal States in Italy consisted of only one state." Not in the past: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_States -- Same with Northwest Territories. Jul 15, 2017 at 9:06
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    The Alps and the Himalayas are plural because there is more than one mountain, and the Maldives because there is more than one island, and the United States because there is more than one state. The badlands may not mean more than one distinct thing but the term does not refer to a single political entity. The Northwest Territories are just one political entity, as were the Papal States. Jul 15, 2017 at 16:45
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    Here's one place (out of many): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_States#Regional_governors Jul 15, 2017 at 16:53

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This History of the Northwest Territories article on the Wikipedia will give you a possible explanation.

We can't say this for sure, but it looks like the Territories have been rearranged so many times that no one can quite rule out the idea that they might be rearranged again, e.g. though further consideration of aboriginal land claims.

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