Last week we covered subject-verb agreement for sports teams with singular names such as the Chicago Fire and the Colorado Avalanche. This week we’ll tackle a more complicated subject: subject-verb agreement for bands.
While two of our primary reference materials, The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, offer relatively clear guidance for sports teams, those same sources are less helpful on the issue of band names.1
The Associated Press Stylebook says that we should pair non-plural group names with plural verbs but then goes on to say that many singular names (such as Coldplay) still take singular verbs.2 Confusing!
Meanwhile, the print edition of The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t address the issue at all, but its online counterpart refers to the band the Who as they in an example sentence for band capitalization, which (informally) indicates that singular band names can be treated as plural—and can be paired with plural verbs.3
So, what are writers, editors, and music lovers to do? When referencing bands with plural names (e.g., the Beatles, the Eagles, Mumford & Sons), the obvious choice is to use a plural verb. When referencing bands with singular names (e.g., ZZ Top, BlackHawk, Metallica), choose verbs based on pronoun usage throughout the rest of the content.
For example, if you are going to write “Aerosmith is a good band,” the singular verb is works just fine. However, if you are going to write “Aerosmith is a good band. They have sold more than 150 million albums,” then the verb is no longer works because it conflicts with the plural pronoun they. But, you can continue to use they if you recast the first sentence with the plural verb are: “Aerosmith are a good band. They have sold more than 150 million albums.”
Of course, another option is to refer to the band as it instead of they: “Aerosmith is a good band. It has sold more than 150 million albums.” But realistically, most of us are too emotionally connected with music to refer to a band as it.
1. The Associated Press Stylebook 2019 (New York: Associated Press, 2019), 55; The Chicago Manual of Style Online, accessed September 10, 2014, http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Plurals.html.
2. The Associated Press Stylebook 2019 (New York: Associated Press, 2019), 55.
3. “Chicago Style Q&A,” The Chicago Manual of Style Online, accessed September 12, 2014, http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/CapitalizationTitles.html?page=1.