I was wondering if there was a sentence that contains a country name (or generally a proper noun) that has a plural word in it - e.g., the United States or The United Emirates - how do we treat it? (Sorry if I sound non-technical, as I'm not exactly very good at language).

The United States of America have done something.


The United States of America has done something.

which one is appropriate? Usually, I've been using "has" for countries (treating it as one entity).

  • 3
    As others note, the United States is almost always used as a singular. The United Nations would be a very similar example: I've never heard someone say "The United Nations are ...", it's always "is". Anyone know what the conventional usage is for the UAE? There are other nations with such "plural" names, like the "Federated States of Micronesia". What about nations with "and" in the name, like "Saint Vincent and the Grenadines" (which always sounds to me like the name of a band, but anyway) or "Sao Tome and Principe"?
    – Jay
    Jan 26, 2012 at 16:56
  • Historically, the US was treated in the plural — over time, it got to be treated in the singular. See books.google.com/ngrams/… Aug 12, 2014 at 13:29
  • The United States is or are more than one state, unlike the Papal States. Jul 15, 2017 at 16:35

3 Answers 3


There are many cases where an entity that's made up of plural words is singular. Obviously, the United States of America is a single entity, so "has" is right. This isn't an exception; this is the rule.

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Strictly speaking, you should handle it on a case-by-case basis. In everyday usage (i.e., probably anything short of official diplomatic correspondence), stick with the singular.

(Background: Before the American Civil War of 1861-65, it was customary to say "The United States are...". Before the war, the US was a much looser federation of sovereign states than it is today, culturally as well as politically: a resident of Virginia would have considered herself a citizen of Virginia first and of the United States second. The war greatly strengthened the national bonds between the states, even to the point of changing the language: after the war and ever since, people have said "The United States is...". So there's precedent for treating a single nation-state as plural, but in the modern world it's not something that's likely to come up.)

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    At least as recently as the 1980s Reader's Digest magazine had (and maybe still has -- I haven't read the magazine in a while) a regular column called, "Life in These United States". Note plural "these". The usage survives in a sprinkling of cases, but as phenry says, it has fallen off quite sharply since the Civil War.
    – Jay
    Jan 26, 2012 at 16:47

The comprehensive article on plurals at Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_plural ) includes the following:

Geographical plurals used as singular

Geographical names may be treated as singular even if they are plural in form, if they are regarded as representing a single entity such as a country: The United States is a country in North America (similarly with the Netherlands, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, etc.) However if the sense is a group of geographical objects, such as islands or mountains, a plural-form name will be treated as plural: The Hebrides are a group of islands off the coast of Scotland. [end quote]

This leads to different treatments when the same descriptor is used for both region and features:

The North West Highlands is a key area in the history of geological science.

...the North West Highlands are the mountains I love ...

(both Google; however, usage often illogically crosses over)

  • (But who cares what someone wrote in wikipedia??) (Lol sorry to be a broken record on that; it just came up a few times in questions I was addressing.)
    – Fattie
    Aug 12, 2014 at 12:24
  • Wikipedia has upped its game considerably and is usually very reliable nowadays (and warns where it doesn't claim to be). Aug 12, 2014 at 18:14

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