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A friend recently posted a photo he took of a sign at the LBJ presidential library that used the word "archives" as a singular noun. According to a Smithsonian Institution Archives blog post, this is perfectly acceptable. It says:

First of all, unbeknownst to most word processors, "an archives" is a grammatically correct phrase. "Archives" is one of those words that can be either singular or plural, though it is relatively common to drop the "s" when referring to the singular. "Archives" can refer to a collection of archival materials, the facility in which the materials are stored, or the organization that collects and maintains them.

Are they correct? And is this a lone exception or are there others like it?

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    Yes, they're correct. The word chamber apparently works the same way.
    – jeremy
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 16:44
  • Re “Is there something special about this word that makes it seem like such an awkward exception” you haven't established that it's an exception or awkward. I suggest you edit question and either ask if “archives” is an awkward exception, or add the words “to me”. Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 17:13
  • It's superficially a bit striking, but I can't see anything seriously "awkward" about The reason why a chambers was set up outside the UK is blah blah. Given there was (presumably) only one such chambers, it's hard to see how the singular/plural "clash" could have been avoided there. Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 17:38
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    @Mitch: I certainly find "an archives" awkward, and I can't see why anyone would want to use it. But although I've never been in a judge's chambers, and don't really know/care how many rooms it might consist of, I think if you're specifically going to set one up (as opposed to several), it has to be referenced in the singular. Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 18:18
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    Also "a headquarters" . Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 19:47

2 Answers 2

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I know of at least one instance where the repository of archival material is officially designated as "the Archives", an institution.

See also,
Glossary of Recordkeeping Terms [emphasis mine]

Archives
Those records that are appraised as having continuing value. AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.5
Traditionally the term has been used to describe records no longer required for current use which have been selected for permanent preservation. Also referred to as permanent records.
The place (building/room/storage area) where archival material is kept.
An organisation (or part of an organisation) responsible for appraising, acquiring, preserving and making available archival material.

Access
The granting of permission to:
• use the reference facilities of an archives
• examine and study individual archives and or collections held by archives

theFreeDictionary:

Noun 1 archives - collection of records especially about an institution
compendium, collection - a publication containing a variety of works

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Another very important example of a word that looks plural but is treated as a singular is "United States of America". In all languages except English it is treated as a plural, les États Unies de l'Amerique, Соединенные Штаты Америки, etc. The phrase was treated as a plural in English prior to the Civil War. That is back then you would refer to "these United States of America". That War established that even though individual states had voluntarily joined they did not have the authority to unilaterally terminate their membership in the Union. It was the policy of the victors to emphasize the unity of the republic, exemplified by Lincoln's repeated use of "nation" in the Gettysburg Address, a word that literally indicates a people with a common ancestry as it continues to be treated in most other languages. This unity is also drilled into Americans by the daily repetition of "one nation" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

By the way the phrase “the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.” in the Gettysburg Address was a quote from the forword to the first English translation of the Bible by John Wycliffe in 1384.

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