If Scotland win

« previous post | next post »

Outside a pub near my office in Edinburgh on the day of an important soccer fixture between Germany and Scotland there was a sign saying: "Free pint if Scotland win!"

Those with an eye for syntax will focus like a laser beam on the last letter of the last word. Should that have been "if Scotland wins"?

The answer is that there are three possibilities.

First, if you are a British English speaker you will almost certainly treat nouns denoting sports teams as plural for purposes of verb agreement, which is why this Scottish pub says "if Scotland win" (compare with "if they win"). In that sense it is correct.

Second, if you are an American English speaker you will almost certainly treat nouns denoting sports teams as singular for purposes of verb agreement, so you would have expected "if Scotland wins" (compare with "if the team wins"). You will therefore be inclined to see the sign as having a grammar error.

And third, just for completeness, if you are over a hundred years old you may still use the subjunctive construction in conditional protases, and thus say "You should take an umbrella if it be raining." (I noticed when reading some of Franz Boas's writings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that he always writes "if it be" rather than "if it is".) With verbs other than be, the sign of a subjunctive construction is that the s on the ends of 3rd-person singular verbs is missing; for example, the title of the science fiction novel Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp has a subjunctive clause as complement of the preposition lest. If you use subjunctive clauses after conditional if, you would expect "if Scotland win" even if you are American, and the sign outside the pub would look grammatical to you.

And I would like to congratulate you on living to such a ripe old age (few of our readers are over 90), and to wish you many more happy years of reading Language Log.

Comments are closed.