Google

Google Trends Lesson

A few weeks ago, my esteemed colleague Jake Elliott wrote an article entitled “Why Google Have Already Won The Wearable Tech Battle“.

Whilst writing this article, Jake questioned the grammar of his title. He wondered which was better – “Google have won” or “Google has won”? I suggested he go with the former, and he did. To me, it just sounded right.

Some days later, Jake was reprimanded by Susan Hallam herself for including a grammatical error in the title of his article. When Susan learned that I was responsible for the error, a grammatical debate of such intensity broke out that I’m very lucky to still be alive.

Susan insisted that Google is but a single company. Therefore, Jake should have used the singular form of the verb “to have”.

I pointed out that “Google” might be viewed as a synecdoche, a figure of speech whereby a part of something is understood to refer to the whole of something. The term “Google” might refer to a single company, but that single company contains many thousands of employees. Given that no single person is responsible for the development of Google Glass, I argued that Jake might have been justified in using the plural form of the verb “to have”.

I strongly believe that we were both right. Susan perhaps has the upper hand, as she has the strongest claim for being grammatically correct. But there’s a difference between the way language is used, and the way language should be used. To me, “Google have won” simply sounded right. Why? I’m guessing it’s because I’ve encountered this use of the verb before. So many times, in fact, that it’s sunk in and started to feel natural.

I thus defended my position by saying that “Google have won” might be recognised as common parlance. You have to respect common parlance, even if it defies the rules of grammar.

In order to find out whether people actually do use the phrase “Google have“, with all its implications, Susan suggested we use Google Trends.

Our Date With Data

Google Trends is a tool that allows you to track search trends and topics over time. If you’re not familiar, our very own Abra Millar recently wrote about how businesses might make use of this marvellous service.

We used this wonderful tool to investigate which term is the more widely used – “Google Have” or “Google Has”. The results can be viewed below:

Google Trends Graph

 

This graph demonstrates that, since 2007, the term “Google Have” has been used almost twice as much as “Google Has”.

Initially, I felt disgustingly vindicated. However, the letters on the graph indicate specific pages and articles that feature these terms. Not one of these examples serves to support my case. On the red line are such grammatically correct sentences as “Google has people talking” and “Google has a new service”. Examples of usage on the blue line include “does Google have a third co-founder” and “will Google have its chips”. These are both examples of the word “to have” being used to denote possession. To use “has” in either of these sentences simply would not have worked.

So whilst this line indicates that people do use the term “Google have” more frequently than “Google has”, it does not necessarily extend that people are using it in the way I suggested.

But they are using it. So whilst I have to admit defeat and concede that Susan was correct on a grammatical level, I maintain that, on the grounds of either synecdoche or common parlance, it might be deemed acceptable to use “Google have”. So long as people understand the sentence, does it really matter how your verbs are conjugated?

Regional Differences

Susan suggested that this might be a regional thing. She’s American, I’m English. Perhaps people are more likely to say “Google has” in America, and “Google have” in Britain.

Interestingly, Google trends shows us that the opposite is in fact true:

 

 Regional Interest Google Has Regional Interest Google Have

We can further break it down by city. In doing so, we find that “Google have” is popular amongst Texans, whilst most of the major sources for the “Google has” enquiries are from specific locations in the UK:

 

 City Interest Google Have City Interest Google Has

Again, this doesn’t really do anything to solve our disagreement, seeing as we can’t really see exactly how these terms are being used.

So what do you think? Susan was undeniable right on a grammatical level, but is the phrase “Google have…” equally as valid, given that this might reflect how people actually use the verb?

Ultimately, no matter who you side with, I think we can all agree on one thing:

When it comes to the visual representation of search trends, Google have already won.

5 responses to “Can Google Trends Be Used To Settle Grammar Debates?”

  1. Susan Hallam Susan Hallam says:

    What an interesting issue… I’ve discussed this with a number of people, and get varying responses.

    My own personal view is to use the singular noun when referring to Google as a company, a single entity. “Google is (not are) the most powerful brand on the Internet.”

    Perhaps when referring to the numerous people working at Google then use the plural noun, but even that I’m not so comfortable with.

    I thought it was also interesting to do a search on the BBC website to see if they use “Google has” or “Google have” using the Google “site” command. Clearly the singular is the most common usage.

    https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=site%3Awww.bbc.co.uk+%22google+has%22&rlz=1C1CHFX_enGB519GB519&oq=site&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j69i59l2j69i65j69i60j0.8060j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8

    I also thought this was an interesting overview:
    http://alt-usage-english.org/groupnames.html

    • A Markus Laker quote from the UAE site:

      “A number of people have hinted that British English differs from American English in the use of group nouns. Here’s a British answer.

      “If you treat ‘government’ as singular, it means you’re considering the actions of the government as a whole. So ‘the government is killing the people’ means that the government is, for example, ordering the army to kill people, or withholding food so that people starve to death.

      “If you treat ‘government’ as plural, it means you’re considering the individual members of the government. So ‘the government are killing the people’ means that the members of parliament are going out at night with knives and guns and murdering people one by one. This probably isn’t what you mean.”

      So to say “Google have won” is to suggest that individual members of the Google workforce are “winning” the wearable tech battle.

      I could insist that this is the case, given that this “battle” isn’t being fought by, say, Matt Cutts and the spam team. But given that you have both grammar and the BBC on your side, I will instead concede defeat. You were right, and I apologise for the error!

      I just wish I’d found that UAE page when researching this piece. What an invaluable resource.

  2. Barbara Palmer says:

    No question about it, i’m with Susan on this. It should have been “Google has”. The preservation of correct grammar, and spelling, is important to avoid misunderstandings that will most certainly arise in other situations.

  3. Did I tell you that my mother teaches English?

    And that I’m OCD?

    (you should never begin a sentence with and…)

  4. Sally Mayor says:

    But if you know the rules you can break them! (see what I did there?!)

    I’m with Susan, in this instance I think “Google has” sounds better.

    And in answer to your question, (in my completely biased opinion) it is important to conjugate verbs correctly, writing is far more nuanced than just getting your meaning across in whatever way possible.

    Great read, thank you.

    Sally.

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