Wednesday, November 21, 2012

English vs. American Grammar Rules: Is it "Amazon are busy" or "Amazon is busy"?

Katie Mack writes in:

I was recently proofreading a book and came across a situation I couldn't resolve. Let me also preface that this is a British-English author, so I'm wondering if our language differences apply.

The sentence was "Amazon are busy, and it might be Friday before they pick it and Monday before they ship it."

My eyes burned when I read it. I proofread a 365 page document and could not get that one sentence out of my brain. Is it a language difference? Do I not know proper grammar?

You know proper grammar. Don't worry. This is an example of a minor idiosyncratic difference between English of the USA and English of England.

In the USA, the convention is to consider a company as a single entity. Thus "Amazon is" would be correct.

But those kooky Brits consider companies to be plural entities, so "Unilever are" and "Amazon are" would be standard usage. If you're a reader of UK-based business publications such as the Financial Times and the Economist, you'll see this convention used regularly.

You'll also see the same convention used with music groups: "The Beatles is an excellent band" would be proper English here in the USA, but in the England-English version, it would be "The Beatles are an excellent band."

And yes, it burns my eyes too. But then again, they invented the language.