Tuesday, September 18, 2007

S-V Agreement: Singular, Plural and Collective Nouns

Here's a tricky subject-verb agreement point: do you use the singular or the plural when using a collective noun?

A collective noun talks about groups--collections! Some of the more common examples are family, faculty, population, team, group. You can see from these examples that each noun talks about several people in one group. In other words, it's a collection of individuals. So, since we're talking about several people in one group, do we use the plural or the singular (there are several people but only one group).

The good news is the English language is quite forgiving when it comes to this issue. The general rule is you can use either the singular or plural depending what you want to emphasize. You can say "My family is well" if you mean your family as a whole and "My family are well" if you mean all the individual members of your family.

I learned this rule because one of my British bosses once surprised me by saying "The office have called you, haven't they?" British English and American English also differ here. The British tend to go with the plural while the Americans favor the singular. These two major varieties of English don't agree on this point.

The important thing is to decide on what you want to emphasize. Once you've decided, then you'll have to stick to it.

No comments: