My question is about whether proper nouns (used as the subject of a sentence) should be considered as singular or plural. The proper nouns "The United States" and "The Duck Variations" are the name of a country founded in 1776 and the name of a play written by David Mamet in 1972. I believe it is correct to write "The United States was founded in 1776", because "The United States" is a proper noun used as a singular phrase, even though it is a collection of states. Similarly "The Duck Variations" is a play for the theatre, written as a single work consisting of 14 short acts which are always performed together.

My question is, do I write "The Duck Variations was written in 1972" or "The Duck Variations were written in 1972"? The plural form seems correct, but I cannot find any rule saying which should be used. Also if the plural is correct, what rule distinguishes the usage of the proper nouns "The United States" and "The Duck Variations"?

I have already looked at:

Can the name of a country be considered a plural noun, as a collective of e.g. its citizens? which leads on to Are collective nouns always plural, or are certain ones singular?

Pluralization of proper nouns: regular or irregular?

Collective nouns with plural verbs: the 'American practice/s' versus the 'British practice/s'

This final article seems the most relevant, although it does not answer my question:

"Are" vs. "is" for proper nouns which sound plural (such as band names)

  • 3
    Titles of things considered to be "entities" are usually treated as singular nouns, but there are exceptions and "grey" areas (for example, in the UK, "the government" or a company name such as "Microsoft" may be singular OR plural, whereas in the US they're both almost always singular). Dec 6, 2021 at 14:53
  • I would use the singular for The Duck Variations (and it should properly be italicized, which emphasizes that it's a singular title). I realize that Wikipedia is not a formal reference, but it definitely uses the singular in this specific case. Dec 6, 2021 at 15:01
  • 2
    I would use the singular referring to the work or the collection; however, "Most of X's Variations on a Theme by Y are playable by the gifted amateur pianist." Without the "Most of," singular or plural works for me, but perhaps the singular is better.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 6, 2021 at 15:07
  • 1
    @Ubercoder You've linked to a question about band names. Whether you use is or are for The Duck Variations really depends on whether you're referring to the work as a whole, or the set of individual variations: "The Duck Variations is a play of several acts"; "The Duck Variations are incomprehensible."
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 6, 2021 at 15:12
  • 1
    I think this does adequately address your question: "Are" vs. "is" for proper nouns which sound plural (such as band names) Dec 6, 2021 at 15:44


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