Not long after President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, his growing popularity (or notoriety, as his detractors prefer to call it) as the countryâs forceful and tough-talking chief executive would firmly place the Philippines in the international spotlight. Now I think itâs safe to assume that most everybody in the world knows what and where the Philippines is, but I have a sneaking suspicion that as in the years before Mayor Duterte became President, many foreigners and not a few Filipinos themselves still donât know or arenât sure whether the name âPhilippinesâ is singular or plural. This became uncomfortably clear when even as recently as 2011, certain leading international and domestic media as well as high-ranking international and national officials mistakenly treated âPhilippinesâ as a plural noun, with all its serious subject-verb disagreement consequences. In the hope of forestalling the recurrence of these egregious errors, I am taking this occasion to repost a Media English Watch commentary I made in July of 2011 on this subject, together with six notable responses from people who shared their knowledge about the correct usage. As
far back as I can remember, Filipino students are taught that although the proper noun âPhilippinesâ ends with the letter âs,â it is not grammatically plural but singular. The country became known by this common name when it was an American colony from 1898 until the Commonwealth period. The name âPhilippinesâ is, of course, short for the full name the American colonial authorities had given itâthe âPhilippine Islands,â which in turn was a direct translation of the Spanish name âLas Islas Filipinas.â
Going by its sense as a collective noun that stands for a single entity, âPhilippinesâ has since been established in usage as a singular noun.
This is why I was nonplussed when I saw that the Philippine Daily Inquirer
apparently considers âPhilippinesâ a plural noun, as shown in the following lead passage from a news story in its July 25, 2011 issue (all italicization for emphasis mine)
Philippines urged to leverage key competencies
Instead of complaining about how the Philippines tend to rank low in various competitiveness surveys, both the public and private sectors should consider collaborating to capitalize on the countryâs key competencies and address inadequacies.
According to Center for Industrial Competitiveness executive director Virgilio Fulgencio, what was often noticed was the countryâs low overall position in these surveys, neglecting to see where the country excelled and which areas could be leveraged for better ranking results in the future.
In the lead sentence above, unless the use of the present-tense plural verb form âtendâ is simply a proofreading oversight, the Inquirer
has committed a serious subject-verb disagreement error. Frankly, though, I would not have seriously entertained this latter possibility if not for the fact that almost a month ago, on June 28, 2011 to be exact, MalacaĂ±ang copied me an e-mailed media release quoting [then] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as having cited the Philippines in a CNN interview as among âthe countries that have made a lot of progressâ in the global campaign against human trafficking. The pertinent passage is as follows:
âLook at what the Philippines have done in a change of administration,â Mrs. Clinton told Jim Clancy of CNN Internationalâs Freedom Project. âThe Philippines probably export more people of their citizenry than nearly any other country in the world. They go all over the world to work in many different settings. And until the new administration of President Aquino, we didnât really have the level of commitment we were seeking. We do now, and we see a sea change of difference.â
By using the clauses âwhat the Philippines have doneâ and âThe Philippines probably export more people,â itâs clear that Secretary Clinton thinks that âPhilippinesâ is a plural noun that needs the plural form of the verb. I therefore e-mailed the following note to the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson in MalacaĂ±ang suggesting that the error be rectified:
May I suggest that you might as wellâŠcorrect the repeated faulty grammar in US Secretary of State Hillary Clintonâs statement as quoted. Everybody knows that the word âPhilippinesâ is a proper noun in the singular form, but Secretary Clinton wrongly uses it in the plural sense in âwhat the Philippines have doneâ (âhaveâ should be âhasâ instead) and in âThe Philippines probably export more people of their citizenryâ (âexportâ should be âexportsâ instead). Iâm sure that Secretary Clinton wonât mind the copyediting. In any case, Iâm afraid that if that statement is published as is, it could needlessly create a grammar furor that might just detract from the import of what she is saying.
I didnât get a response from the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson to that note, so I presumed that they didnât consider the subject-verb disagreement errors in the use of the name âPhilippinesâ serious enough to disturb the favorable quote, or that they thought the matter was simply a stylistic difference in English usage that can be legitimately glossed over.
Now that the grammatical situation has cropped up again in the case of the Inquirer
story, I wonder if the time isnât ripe for the Philippines to officially and categorically decideâfor all the world to knowâwhether its name is to be treated as singular or plural. (July 25, 2011)RESPONSES TO THE ABOVE COMMENTARY OF MINE:Feedback e-mailed by Gemma Cruz Araneta (July 25, 2011):
Dear Mr. Carillo,
There are maps circa 16th and 17th centuries where this archipelago is labeled Philippinensis
, something like that, derived from Latin according to some historians. Perhaps that is why we are called Filipinas
and not Felipinas
. I suppose the North Americans who came preferred the Latin name to the hispanized one.
Gemma Cruz AranetaFeedback posted in the Forum by Ed Maranan (July 25, 2011):
Wikipedia uses âPhilippinesâ in the singular form. Actually, from time to time we read foreign accounts referring to the Philippines as a plural noun. You might come across a report which states that âThe Philippines are about to enter a new phase in its search for the straight path,â etc. Often we have no way of correcting (who has the e-mail address of people like Hillary Clinton?) what to our mind, or minds, would be a grammatical error, in which case I would let it pass. In fact our ears and sensibilities are so used to the singular form that we naturally find nothing amiss with the theoretically incorrect subject-verb agreement in âThe Philippines is bracing itself for another political season,â, etc. But even Wikipedia seems to be confused. It says âThe Maldives isâŠâ but it also says âThe Antilles areâŠâ I won't quarrel with non-Filipinos who say âThe Philippines areâŠâ What I cannot accept, understand, appreciateâdespite my 15 years in Londonâis the British way of pluralizing what is patently a singular word, just because it represents a group of people, or a team in sports. âChelsea win!â âManchester rally to win cup!â âEngland bow down to Azkals!â (For illustration purposes only, the last one). Then there are the other Britishisms that Americans and Americanese-speaking people like Filipinos would find quaint, if not grammatically awkward: âin future,â âin hospital,â âcater for,â etc.
Ed MarananFeedback posted in the Forum by Menie Odulio (July 25, 2011)
Of course the name âPhilippinesâ is singular. Isnât the name âUnited Statesâ singular as well? The noun âPhilippinesâ refers to a countryâone country, therefore singular. I don't see how it can be considered as plural. People who think itâs plural are simply misled by the âsâ at the end. Itâs a proper noun, and it does not matter if it ends in an âsâ or not.
Also, our countryâs full name is âRepublic of the Philippines,â and âPhilippinesâ is our countryâs short name. So if you substitute the full name for the nickname, then I think there will no longer be any arguments about the name being plural, âRepublicâ being clearly singular.
On the other hand, if you consider the name âUnited States of America,â the noun is âStatesâ that is described by the adjective âUnitedâ and the phrase âof America.â âStatesâ is a plural noun. But even then, nobody ever says âthe United States are...â One country, therefore singular.Feedback e-mailed by Isabel Escoda from Hong Kong (July 26, 2011):
Re your long piece about whether the countryâs name should be thought of as singular or plural, for a long time Iâve thought it peculiar that in international listings, âPhilippinesâ may or may not be indicated with an article before it, unlike the names of most other countries. Itâs treated like whatâs done in the case of âthe UK,â âthe US,â âthe Seychellesâ (because the latter is a group of islands?), and a couple of others that I canât think of right now. Would the Philippines be difficult to categorize because our country is also a group of islands?
Have I told you that the majority of migrant workers in HK refer to the homeland as âPIâ? It seems quaint since thatâs a colonial designation, and most of these women are from the younger generation that usually have no consciousness of that era.
It seems to me to make sense that as the Brits often say, âthe Philippines are âŠ (a developing country) â and I donât think itâs such a grammatical blooper for Hillary Clinton to have used the plural herself. Maybe this is a non-issue?
IsabelFeedback e-mailed by Ed Gomez (July 26, 2011)
I occasionally read your e-mail but am generally too tied up with other work that I cannot regularly do so. After scanning what you sent, which I generally appreciate, I normally delete without further ado.
On this particular occasion, I thought I would share with you that whether a countryâs name should be treated as singular or plural is a matter of usage. In my readings, particularly of European writers, there is a tendency to treat to countries names as plural nouns, with or without an âsâ at the end. You will sometimes note this in reference to sports articles in the Herald Tribune
and, probably, the Financial Times
. I cannot remember for sure, but I am sure having seen this practice during some of my foreign trips when I am waiting to catch a plane or am in the air.
Just to share.
Ed GomezFeedback posted in the Forum by scoylumban (July 26, 2017):
âPhilippinesâ is singular. A colleague of mine who edits the Sunday Examine
r, the English Catholic weekly in Hong Kong, always give âThe Philippines,â âTheâ with a capital ât,â as the name of the country, no matter where it occurs in the sentence.
To Ed Maranan: âThe Antillesâ is not the name of a country but of a group of islands in the Caribbean that include, among others, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. And the examples you give, âChelsea win!â âManchester rally to win cup!â âEngland bow down to Azkals!â are correct usage in British English. However, I can understand your being unable to âaccept, understand or appreciateâ this after 15 years in London because after 40 years in the Philippines. I cannot bring myself to say âGood noonâ or âthanks Godâ!
P.S. Ed Maranan, Iâm from Ireland, where we use British English.
Fr. Sean Coyle