The Beatles were an English rock band, formed in Liverpool in 1960.


The Beatles were? Aren't/isn't The Beatles a proper noun and it refers to one group? I don't understand why WikiPedia and other sources use The Beatles were instead of The Beatles was. Is it because of the s? Somebody please explain me about this, it goes against all the rules I've learnt and it is not even in my grammar books.


5 Answers 5


Lennon was a Beatle. McCartney was a Beatle. Harrison was a Beatle. Starr was a Beatle. Together, the Beatles formed a band called The Beatles.

In my opinion, English doesn't handle this subtlety particularly well, and mostly conflates "the band" with "the constituents of the band". With "The Beatles", the tendency is to refer to the group of members.

"The Beatles was ..." can work, but only in a context where the listener is strongly expecting the name of an abstract entity. It will sound weird if the context can, at all, be construed as referring to the people.

  • It makes sense in The Beatles-context here. But if other groups, it doesnt make sense if I say M.Shadows is an A7X, Synyster is an A7X, and Zacky is an A7X. Sep 2, 2016 at 13:44
  • @user178049 By the same token, I doubt anyone would use were in that sentence . They would use was. The answer works for the beatles and not for a7x because the situation doesn't even apply to a7x. You can point to a bug on the ground and say "that's a beetle". You can't say that anything is an Avenge Sevenfold. However, if the band was "The Avenge Sevenfolders", you could say that M.Shadows is an "avenge sevenfolder"
    – Shane
    Sep 2, 2016 at 14:43
  • @Shane Now this answer is clearer. But it completely against the first answer and english.stackexchange.com/q/1338/178049 . Where can I get more information about this? Any link? Sep 2, 2016 at 14:55
  • 2
    @user178049 It's not. "Beatles" is plural; "Microsoft" is not. In US English only "Beatles" would get plural agreement; in British English both would.
    – Casey
    Sep 2, 2016 at 15:34
  • If the article "the" were not at the start of the sentence, its capitalization would likely indicate whether the following "Beatles" referred to the people who were Beatles, or to The Beatles. Of course, as a sentence subject, the article would often appear at the start of a sentence and thus have to be capitalized regardless.
    – supercat
    Sep 2, 2016 at 15:56

This is a matter of common usage rather that strict grammar rules.

You are perfectly correct, "The Beatles" is a singular entity.

However, in common usage a group of people is often referred to in the plural. There are discussions over on ELU regarding this.

The practice seems to be more common in British English than elsewhere and more common in spoken rather that written use. It is particularly common for pop groups, sports teams and companies.

  • This is so strange to me(Im not native). Im Malaysian, and our government prefer using BrE instead of AmE since BrE is more appropiate. So, is it better for me to say "Chealsea are.." or "D12 are.." instead or using "is"? Sep 2, 2016 at 9:34
  • 2
    @user178049: It is not really a matter of which is more appropriate, it is a matter of which is more commonly used. "Chelsea is.." is strictly correct, "Chelsea are..." is commonly heard. Nobody will object to either form.
    – Chenmunka
    Sep 2, 2016 at 9:50
  • 4
    I think it's worth noting that (I believe, based on anecdotal evidence) collective nouns ending in "s" are more likely to take a plural verb because words ending in "s" are typically plural in English. As a native (AmEng) speaker, "Microsoft was..." sounds fine, but "The Beatles was..." sounds off. Sep 2, 2016 at 13:19
  • Even in US English "The Beatles are" seems fine, because "Beatles" is already grammatically plural.
    – Casey
    Sep 2, 2016 at 15:33
  • 1
    Band names in particular sometimes set out to defy strict grammar rules, much as their members set out to defy any rules whatsoever. The Who, The The, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Was not Was were not out to make life easy in that respect. Sep 2, 2016 at 17:00

In American English, it is correct to use a singular verb such as "the group is going to the store." In British English, it is correct to use the plural verb such as "the group are going to the store."

In your case, "en.wikipedia.com" refers to the English language, but does not specifically (as far as I know) refer to American or British English. Your article could have been written by a Brit.

"The Beatles" is a little bit trickier because it is a pluralized proper noun, so your sense of linguistics might expect a plural verb attached to it. It would be technically correct (the best kind of correct!) to say "The Beatles was an English rock band," but I would be hard pressed to fault you for saying "were".

  • The policy of the English Wikipedia is to use American English in articles referring to things from or taking place in places American English is used, British English in articles referring to things from or taking place in places British English is used, and generally using whatever variant of English the original author (or re-writer) of the article used when in doubt. Sep 2, 2016 at 19:37

Proper names that are plural in form are generally treated as plural in both British and American English. Names that are for groups of people but are singular in form are often treated as plural in British English, but are generally singular in American. For instance, liner notes about the band U2 said "U2 are Irish." Had the notes been written in America, they would probably have said "U2 is Irish."

There are exceptions. We say "The United States is" these days, not "are". But I can't think of many others.


Police have surrounded the area. Police here is a collective name which demands the use of plural.

In good English, collective names have the value of plural. As far as I can see The Beatles stand(!) for a collective name.

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