News anchors in Nevada and California almost always say "the Sierra" when they refer to the Sierra Nevada Mountains because many people get all exercised and annoyed if you say "the Sierras". They insist that it is improper grammar because it is one mountain range. I say that it is totally proper to say "the Sierras" because the "Sierra Nevada Mountains" is plural; it isn't just one mountain. If you speak of the Wilson family, you're speaking of all the family members and you don't say "the Wilson", you say "the Wilsons". It's exactly the same thing. Am I right or wrong?
1 2
I've never heard of a mountain range referred to in singular. The Appalachian Mountains are The Appalachians. The Andes. The Adirondacks. The Catskills. However, there are always regional quirks. Perhaps California has this unique usage. I find it really odd.
Grammar GeekPerhaps California has this unique usage.
Actually, it's the Spanish language that dictates that usage. sierra means (among other things) (mountain) range -- not a single mountain but a range of mountains. It's a collective noun. For example, the Appalachian Mountains form the Appalachian Range -- not Ranges.

Nevertheless, as a resident of California, I hear sierras quite often. I don't find that anyone but the purists pay much attention to the original meaning of sierra in Spanish.

Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Sierra means mountain range. If you say Sierras, you probably are referring to more than one mountain range. It is correct to say "the Sierra" when referring to the Sierra Nevada. You can refer to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, but still the range itself is singular.

Sierra or Sierras?

The Spanish word sierra means "range of mountains," and is usually found in combination with other

words, such as Sierra Blanca (White Range), Sierra Madre (Mother Range, or Central Range), and

Nevada (Snowy Range). Occasionally las sierras is used to designate a group of mountain ranges or

ridges. In the Spanish narratives of exploration una sierra nevada is frequently found written without

capital initials, referring simply to a snow-covered range of mountains. It was in this that our own Sierra

Nevada was first designated. Early in the nineteenth century it was sometimes called the California Range by

American explorers, but gradually the Spanish phrase prevailed, and after a while it became a specific name and

took its place on all maps. The Sierra Nevada is distinctly a unit, both geographically and topographically, and

is well described as "una sierra nevada." Strictly speaking, therefore, we should never say "Sierras," or "High

Sierras," or "Sierra Nevadas" in referring to it. Nevertheless, these forms are so frequently found in the very

best works of literature and science that it would perhaps be pedantic to deny their admissibility. It becomes,

therefore, a matter of preference, and for our part we rather like to keep in mind the unity of our great range by

calling it simply "The Sierra" or "The Sierra Nevada."

Having thus promised not to look askance at "Sierras," we may perhaps be spared the pain of hearing

"Sierra Nevada Mountains." Surely one does not say "Loch Katrine Lake," "Rio Grande River," or "Saint San


[This note by Francis Farquhar, the authority on Sierra place names, first appeared in the Bulletin (Sierra

Club) in 1928. Largely owing to his editorial effort, the name "Sierras" is even less admissible now than it was

then. Some speakers and writers have gone farther than Farquhar would wish: they drop the terminal s all

right, but, forgetting the unity of the range, they consider the name to be plural, e.g., "The Sierra are ...."

The name "Sierras" is still stuck to by a few recalcitrants who probably concluded that logic has nothing to

do with the acceptance place names, and who could cite, in accepted nomenclature, many redundancies such as

Little Chico Creek (Little Little Creek).

We cannot argue logically with persons who deprecate logic; nevertheless, we can call them names. So we

aver that the man who will say "Sierras" will also say "Frisco," and is probably on a par with the printer who

would letter-space lower case type. Such a printer, said Goudy, would steal sheep.]

Excerpt from the 1947 Sierra Club Bulletin. ed. David Brower

“The name Sierra is already a plural. To add an s is a linguistic, Californian, and mountaineering sin.”

p. 83, Ansel Adams, An Autobiography
I confess I'm puzzled. Just because a noun is collective doesn't make it plural.
If, as you say, it means A mountain range, it's singular.
Is A team of horses plural?

From a physiographical point of view, isn't there a difference between a mountain range and a range of mountains?

The Applachian Trail runs along the backs of a "chain" of mountains (The Appalachians).

My Spanish is horrible, but somewhere I got the idea that "sierra" referred to the sawtooth formation. That is, the individual mountains are side-by-side, rather than "in line."
(My geography is even worse than my Spanish.)
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Sierra does mean mountain range so saying "Sierras" refers to more than one mountain range, but the Sierra Nevada is just one range so the plural is incorrect.

A pizza may be made up of many slices yet it is still one pizza. If you refer to the pizza or mountain range as a whole then it is singular. If you refer to the individual components, such as the slices that make up the pizza or the mountains that make up the range, then you are using a plural.

You don't refer to a single pizza as "the pizzas" just because the single pizza consists of multiple slices. You don't refer to the Sierra as "the Sierras" just because the single range consists of multiple mountains. You can say "the slices of the pizza" or "the mountains of the Sierra."

The Sierra is absolutley correct in reference to the Sierra Nevada, and "the Sierras" is absolutely incorrect.

Best regards.
So I guess calling the Sierra Nevada the "Sierra Nevada Mountains" would be at least as egregious as calling them "the Sierras."
But calling them "the Sierra" would be like calling the Smoky Mountains "the Mountains," instead of "the Smokies." Let's face it: it's just a nickname.

I wonder what we're really supposed to do with the Himalayan Range? Surely they're entitled to equal consideration.
Are the Alps really the Alp Mountains? Do the French and the Germans and the Italians all agree?
The mountains are plural. The mountain range is singular.
You would not say the Rocky. No, it’s the Rockies because it is more than one mountain range.
The Sierra Nevada is only one range, thus it is the Sierra.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Show more