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In writing about the National Archives, I got to wondering about subject-verb agreement. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, often called simply The National Archives) is one entity, but when using the nickname, it would appear at first glance to be plural.

So, even though Archives is plural, because it is a single entity, does it still take a singular verb?

Note: I see on the NARA website, in the menu at the bottom, there is a link labelled What is the National Archives? so it would appear that they believe the nickname is singular.

Does it matter that the full name of the agency is the National Archives and Records Administration? When using the full name, I think it is clear that the verb should be singular (to match with the singular administration):

The National Archives and Records Administration is the nation's record keeper.

I'm just not 100% certain about the situation when using the shortened nickname:

The National Archives is the nation's record keeper.

I found a question singular entity as a collection of subjects that is similar, but there does not seem to have a definitive answer and does not have the same twist of the full name being obviously singular.

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    There have been many questions on the site which concern "singular or plural" as regards sports teams. You may findthis list helpful.
    – WS2
    Oct 22, 2018 at 20:04
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    I would suggest that in this particular case, one could argue for either. I would use whatever seemed right in the context.
    – WS2
    Oct 23, 2018 at 7:32
  • There is a similar problem (not really a problem) with companies who call themselves things like "Dream Technologies"; despite the plural in the name, it is still a single entity and so "Dream Technologies is ..." would be appropriate.
    – user323578
    Apr 21, 2019 at 19:00

2 Answers 2

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The singular use of archives is quite grammatical in that it is in use by a respectable organization, and that a distinction may be made between it and the singular archive as noted by a commenter on this Language Log post:

This problem crops up with the technical use of "an archives." Among librarians, archivists and historians, the term "an archives" refers specifically to the repository in which papers are housed, not generally to the papers themselves. "An archive" means a single set of papers: "An archive of committee papers." There is some drift between uses and I imagine the singular "archives" will eventually fall out of use altogether, especially as copy editors and people like that are always trying to correct it.

This corresponds to the National Archives' own definition:

An archives is a place where people can go to gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, and other primary sources.

The above mentioned Language Log post itself concerned the similar case of a chambers meaning a law practice, three instances of which may be found in the Hansard Corpus (British Parliament).

The Terrell plan has been advocated for some years now: It has been revived again by Mr: Edward Terrell, who is a Queen's Counsel, Recorder of Newbury, 1473 author of a book on running-down cases, and is, I gather, head of a chambers which has great experience of motoring cases of all kinds (Mr Roger Cooke, 1966)

Lord Gifford My Lords, for the past 15 years I have had the honour to be head of a chambers of barristers, which is unusual in two respects which are relevant to this debate (1989)

I come from a chambers that specialises partly in competition law (Sir Nicholas Lyell, 1998)

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  • I came so close to downvoting this as yet another answer to yet another hot-potato question about which agreement should prevail, notional or formal. But your research shows that 'archives' to a certain degree and 'chambers' certainly should be considered separately from say 'Microsoft/the BBC is/are' and 'NASA is/are'. Apr 11, 2021 at 14:26
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Does it matter that the full name of the agency is the National Archives and Records Administration?

Yes. The subject is that particular administration, and that would make it singular, even if you abbreviated it.

If, however, you were talking about the actual, physical National Archives in Washington DC, (which NARA administers :) ), then you are talking about a plural subject.

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