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I'm writing a book where the characters visit a stone circle called "The Nine Stones".

This is a single place, but named for the 9 stones that form the circle.

Should it be plural or singular in this sentence?

The Nine Stones was 90 miles east of Plymouth

vs

The Nine Stones were 90 miles east of Plymouth

I can see arguments both ways.

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  • @DecapitatedSoul objectively I would say that the springs are in Colorado, and it is Colorado which takes the singular. Here we have a specific number and a plural noun, using "was" and "were" would be both grammatical but the meaning would change.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 29, 2020 at 14:49
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    'The Standing Stones of Stenness is a Neolithic monument five miles northeast of Stromness on the mainland of Orkney, Scotland' [Wikipedia] May 29, 2020 at 15:01
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    Seven Sisters is a well-known road in North London.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 29, 2020 at 15:03
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    The general question of singular or plural also differs between British English and American English. From the British Council site: For instance, in American English, collective nouns are considered singular (e.g. The band is playing). In contrast, collective nouns can be either singular or plural in British English, although the plural form is most often used (e.g. The band are playing). I often hear this difference in referring to companies. Microsoft are introducing a new program vs Microsoft is introducing a new program.
    – gorlux
    May 30, 2020 at 5:19

2 Answers 2

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Although there is a general rule to treat a title etc as singular, no matter what the form

  • 'The Hobbit' is a much loved fantasy novel.
  • 'The Acts of the Apostles' is one of my favourite books in the New Testament.
  • 'The Borrowers' was a good film.
  • Partington Brothers was founded in 1899.

and this also applies to towns, regions etc

  • Alice Springs really owes its existence to the railway.
  • The Balkans is a lovely region for holidays.

there is a complication with sites displaying an obvious plurality of standing stones and the like

  • The Standing Stones of Stenness is a Neolithic monument five miles northeast of Stromness on the mainland of Orkney, Scotland. [Wikipedia]

  • The Cliffs of Moher is located on the west coast of Ireland close to Liscannor village in Co. Clare. [link for Burren.ie]

but

  • The Calanais Standing Stones are an extraordinary cross-shaped setting of stones erected 5,000 years ago. They predate England’s famous Stonehenge monument, and were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years. [Historic Scotland]

  • The Cliffs of Moher are sea cliffs located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region in County Clare, Ireland. [Wikipedia]

This is evidently a case of logical rather than prescriptive agreement: when the monument as a whole is envisaged, a singular verb form is chosen, but when the individual members of the array are envisaged, a plural verb form is chosen.

Neither can be considered incorrect.

But in the sentence you give, the singular verb form is indicated as you are referencing the site. The proper name would be better in italics or inverted commas, as a title/name perhaps rather less identifiable as such than those above.

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    You might wish to remove “The Lord of the Rings' is my favourite book” as the subject is “the Lord”, “of the Rings” is adjectival.
    – Greybeard
    May 29, 2020 at 15:35
  • Greybeard, you might wish to remove that comment. It's frankly astounding. 'The Lord of the Rings' is the subject. Perhaps [The subject may be a noun phrase — that is, a word group made up of a head noun and any modifiers, determiners (such as the, a, her), and/or complements. In this example, the subject is The first person in line: The first person in line spoke to the television reporter.] [Nordquist] helps, though a title is more cohesive even than the typical NP. This is ELL level. Jun 5, 2021 at 13:09
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    The point of @Greybeard's comment is that The Lord of the Rings example is outside the scope of this question because that phrase would be treated as singular even if it were not the title of a book, but used to refer to some actual lord. We would say. e.g., 'The lord of the rings is powerful'; we would not be at all tempted to say 'The lord of the rings are powerful'. This is unlike all the other examples, which involve the phrases that would be treated as plural if they were not names.
    – jsw29
    Aug 5, 2023 at 19:31
  • @jsw29 I've addressed this, but I'm still going to include a singular-form title for completeness. That was the intention. Aug 6, 2023 at 14:43
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Three Rivers is the name of a city in Michigan, it takes the singular because it is the town which has three rivers.

If we wrote the following

The three rivers are in southwestern Michigan.

the meaning changes. Note the lack of uppercase letters in "three rivers", using lowercase letters and the plural verb avoids confusion.

Using a cardinal number with a common noun such as the OP's nine stones, and three rivers, we have another real-life example

Seven Sisters is a famous road and underground station in North London.

However, the plural verb is used when referring to the cliffs in Sussex, England.

The Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs by the English Channel. (Wikipedia)

Similarly

The Seven Sisters Cliffs in England are quietly famous. They’re the tallest chalk cliffs in England and one of the most spectacular coastlines in the whole of the UK. (Passport Collective)

The plural noun is also retained for the Norwegian mountain range Seven Sisters which according to legend were seven troll sisters turned into stone by the morning sun.

The Seven Sisters are all so close that a good hiker can climb them all in a single day. The Norwegian Trekking Association estimates that a fit walker should take just under thirteen hours to complete the 27 kilometre hike,… (Hurtigruten)

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