Just How Many Soldiers Make Up a Troop?

28 May

The week on Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl website her guest-writer Neal Whitman explained the difference between the words “troop” and “troops”.  Is a “troop” one soldier or a platoon several soldiers?  Then you have to ask yourself: does “troops” refer to several soldiers in the same “troop” or does it refer to several different groups of “troops” in a general way?

Whew!  That is a lot to grasp…and I’m not sure that I still understand completely even after reading and listening to the article.  Anyway here are a few of the basics:

In the past the word “troop” generally refered to several groups of soldiers or platoons and it did not refer to individual soldiers.  If a reporter was to write that 3 troops were being sent to Germany – you could conclude that 3 troops/platoons consisting of X number of soldiers would be sent.  If “troop” is used in this manner it becomes a collective noun.  A few other collective nouns we commonly use are tribe and colony.

The problem in understanding the use of the word “troop” can come into play when reporters use “troop” to refer to individual soldiers.  Therefore 15 troops would essentially mean 15 individual soldiers.  In the previous example the word “troop” is being used as a noncollective noun.

According to the 2009 Associated Press Stylebook, “troop” in singular form refers to a group of people and more times than not “troop” is meant to refer to a  military group.  When “troops” is used in a plural form it become synonymous with several groups. 

The exception comes when the word “troops” is paired with a large number and in that case the word is understood to refer to individuals.   So that means that the following sentence is understood to say that 250,000 individuals are being sent:  Yesterday, 250,000 troops were sent to Iraq.

To be quite honest I never really questioned the use of the word “troop” until I came upon this article.  I always assumed that the word troop refered to individual soldiers, but after reading a little about the history of the word “troop” I have to say that I learned a little something new. 

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