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Author Topic: Let’s be firm on whether the name “Philippines” is singular or plural  (Read 273 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: April 19, 2017, 04:05:16 AM »

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 country’s forceful and tough-talking chief executive would firmly place the Philippines in the international spotlight. Now I think it’s 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 don’t know or aren’t sure whether the name “Philippines” 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 “Philippines” 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 “Philippines” ends with the letter “s,” 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 “Philippines” is, of course, short for the full name the American colonial authorities had given it—the “Philippine Islands,” which in turn was a direct translation of the Spanish name “Las Islas Filipinas.” Going by its sense as a collective noun that stands for a single entity, “Philippines” 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 “Philippines” 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 country’s key competencies and address inadequacies.

According to Center for Industrial Competitiveness executive director Virgilio Fulgencio, what was often noticed was the country’s 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 “tend” 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, Malacañang 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 “the countries that have made a lot of progress” in the global campaign against human trafficking. The pertinent passage is as follows:
“Look at what the Philippines have done in a change of administration,” Mrs. Clinton told Jim Clancy of CNN International’s Freedom Project. “The 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 didn’t really have the level of commitment we were seeking. We do now, and we see a sea change of difference.”

By using the clauses “what the Philippines have done” and “The Philippines probably export more people,” it’s clear that Secretary Clinton thinks that “Philippines” 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 Malacañang suggesting that the error be rectified:

May I suggest that you might as well…correct the repeated faulty grammar in US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement as quoted. Everybody knows that the word “Philippines” is a proper noun in the singular form, but Secretary Clinton wrongly uses it in the plural sense in “what the Philippines have done” (“have” should be “has” instead) and in “The Philippines probably export more people of their citizenry” (“export” should be “exports” instead). I’m sure that Secretary Clinton won’t mind the copyediting. In any case, I’m 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 didn’t get a response from the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson to that note, so I presumed that they didn’t consider the subject-verb disagreement errors in the use of the name “Philippines” 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 isn’t ripe for the Philippines to officially and categorically decide—for all the world to know—whether its name is to be treated as singular or plural. (July 25, 2011)


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 or Philipinensis, 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 Araneta

Feedback posted in the Forum by Ed Maranan (July 25, 2011):

Dear Joe,

Wikipedia uses “Philippines” 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 “The Philippines are about to enter a new phase in its search for the straight path,” 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 “The Philippines is bracing itself for another political season,”, etc. But even Wikipedia seems to be confused. It says “The Maldives is…” but it also says “The Antilles are…” I won't quarrel with non-Filipinos who say “The Philippines are…” What I cannot accept, understand, appreciate—despite my 15 years in London—is the British way of pluralizing what is patently a singular word, just because it represents a group of people, or a team in sports. “Chelsea win!” “Manchester rally to win cup!” “England bow down to Azkals!” (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: “in future,” “in hospital,” “cater for,” etc.

Ed Maranan

Feedback posted in the Forum by Menie Odulio (July 25, 2011)

Of course the name “Philippines” is singular.  Isn’t the name “United States” singular as well? The noun “Philippines” refers to a country—one country, therefore singular.  I don't see how it can be considered as plural.  People who think it’s plural are simply misled by the “s” at the end.  It’s a proper noun, and it does not matter if it ends in an “s” or not.  

Also, our country’s full name is “Republic of the Philippines,” and “Philippines” is our country’s 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, “Republic” being clearly singular.

On the other hand, if you consider the name “United States of America,” the noun is “States” that is described by the adjective “United” and the phrase “of America.” “States” is a plural noun. But even then, nobody ever says “the United States are...”  One country, therefore singular.

Feedback e-mailed by Isabel Escoda from Hong Kong (July 26, 2011):


Re your long piece about whether the country’s name should be thought of as singular or plural, for a long time I’ve thought it peculiar that in international listings, “Philippines” may or may not be indicated with an article before it, unlike the names of most other countries. It’s treated like what’s done in the case of “the UK,” “the US,” “the Seychelles” (because the latter is a group of islands?), and a couple of others that I can’t 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 “PI”? It seems quaint since that’s 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, “the Philippines are … (a developing country) “ and I don’t think it’s such a grammatical blooper for Hillary Clinton to have used the plural herself. Maybe this is a non-issue?


Feedback e-mailed by Ed Gomez (July 26, 2011):

Dear Joe,

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 country’s 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 “s” 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 Gomez

Feedback posted in the Forum by scoylumban (July 26, 2017):

“Philippines” is singular. A colleague of mine who edits the Sunday Examiner, the English Catholic weekly in Hong Kong, always give “The Philippines,” “The” with a capital “t,” as the name of the country, no matter where it occurs in the sentence.

To Ed Maranan: “The Antilles” 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, “Chelsea win!” “Manchester rally to win cup!” “England bow down to Azkals!” are correct usage in British English. However, I can understand your being unable to “accept, understand or appreciate” this after 15 years in London because after 40 years in the Philippines. I cannot bring myself to say “Good noon” or “thanks God”!

P.S. Ed Maranan, I’m from Ireland, where we use British English.
Fr. Sean Coyle
« Last Edit: November 29, 2017, 09:03:40 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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