I'm curious about the use of the famous British plural verb form with a group noun¹ in a contraction. The general custom for the plural is discussed here and here but those don't call out contractions.

England football fans are currently singing the following to the tune of September by Earth, Wind, and Fire:

Woah, England are in Russia,
Woah, drinking all your vodka,
Woah, England's going all the way!

Now, it's a football song, not high poetry, but note that in the above, the first line uses England are but the last line uses England's. Unless we magically decide that the first England is the team but the second England is the country, that's...interesting.

The plural contraction is really awkward:

  • England're going all the way
  • Family're hard work sometimes
  • The group're on it

...and as we know, awkwardness tends to get smoothed out of language.[citation needed] ;-)

Is this just a fudge to make the song's meter work? Or is it a deeper pattern to use the singular form in a contraction even when using the plural form otherwise, perhaps because of the awkwardness?

Sadly Google Ngrams won't let me look for England is going vs. England are going (and England is vs. England are is too general) and in any case, I'd be flooded with American English results. Trying to search Hansard, unfortunately Google Search treats the ' as a space.

I can't use my own instinct on this and am having trouble coming up with other examples to look for: I'm an English/American dual national who spent 30 years growing up in the U.S. reading British novels and watching British television on PBS, who's been back in the UK for 18 years. So my dialect is mid-Atlantic and horribly confused. :-)


¹ E.g. the team are vs. American English's the team is for nouns representing groups of people (roughly; there's lots of nuance).

"England are in Russia," because the "guys from England" are in Russia, not the country.

"England's going all the way" because the team (England) is, not the members individually.

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    Thanks, but any citations that could strengthen this? To me it's tortured. I'm having no trouble finding "England are going all the way" not as a contraction (here, here, here, here). – T.J. Crowder Jul 6 at 9:59
  • I can also found counter examples to my examples above (here, here), but that's the problem, the American form is increasingly prevalent even on this side of the pond, making searches a hard way to evaluate this. But in general, again, Br.Eng. treats groups of people as plurals, whether they're "in Russia" or "going all the way," most of the time. – T.J. Crowder Jul 6 at 10:01
  • I am looking at it as more of a semantic thing than a syntactic one. Those sentences seem most logical and so most natural. – Kris Jul 6 at 10:03
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    Are you a native speaker of British English? Again, in general "England are..." ("the team are", "the family are") is standard here (though again, there's nuance). Sounds like you're a native speaker of American English...? – T.J. Crowder Jul 6 at 10:06
  • (OMG, can't believe the typo "...can also found..." made it into my comment above. I guess Skitt's law applies on ELU even when one isn't correcting someone else's grammar... :-) ) – T.J. Crowder Jul 6 at 10:14

I think it's one team but many fans. In the first line, the fans could be singing about themselves:

"We are England. We are in Russia. Ergo, England are in Russia".

The second line backs that up. I hope the English players weren't drinking all the vodka, so it must refer to the fans.

The third line refers to the team, hence singular.

That said, contractions in song lyrics tend to be ...ahem... imaginative and made to fit the rhythm/meter of the song rather than any precedent or proper grammar. I might reference "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" as an example where vowels are, somewhat, discarded (in some versions).

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