With A Collective Noun Do You Use A Singular Or Plural Verb Form?

Are collective nouns singular or plural

Collective nouns can take singular or plural verbs.

But it depends on which form of English you are using.

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

I decided to write this post after receiving quite a few criticisms regarding my occasional plural use of certain collective nouns.

In particular, when referring to corporations such as Amazon and Apple.

This is understandable, though.

Because all the critical remarks I have received have been from the US, where singular usage of collective nouns is almost always the rule.

But it is surprising that many US readers failed to notice my British spelling. It should give a clue to the fact that I am not writing in US English.

There are a lot of grammar and vocabulary variations between the many different forms of English.

The beauty of our language is to understand and accept these variations.

 

So, why do I insist on (sometimes) using a plural verb with a collective noun?

When is a collective noun singular or plural?

In US English, a collective noun such as Amazon would almost always carry singular verbs and pronouns.

For example, Amazon sells books. It is a big bookseller.

Apple has released a new phone. It sells lots of phones.

 In British English, which is the form of English I use, it is more common to use plural verbs and pronouns.

Amazon sell ebooks worldwide. They are a big bookseller.

Apple have sold a lot of iPhones. They sell millions of phones in many countries.

My reasoning for often choosing to use the plural verb form is that corporations are, by definition, a collection of parts or a group of people.

In the case of Amazon, there are multiple stores, such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.de, plus many more.

When you use the plural, it gives the sense of these multiple components.

Companies and corporations can be compared to the collective noun, team.

Both singular and plural verbs can be used because of the notion of the individual members of a team. Or, on the other hand, the unity of a team.

The team is winning. This expresses unity.

The team are celebrating their victory.  

This says that the members of the team are celebrating together but each one in their own individual way.

If you refer to members of a jury, it takes the plural form.

The jurors are deliberating.

But when the collective noun refers to the entire panel of jurors, it is a jury. Now it is a single unit.

The jury is deliberating.

But in UK English, one could possibly say:

The jury are deliberating.

The resistance to the use of plural verbs with collective nouns rests only on one side of the Atlantic.

For the rest of the English speaking world, there is no problem with using a plural verb, as long as it agrees with the accompanying pronoun.

Amazon sell a lot of books to their customers.

Amazon sells a lot of books to its customers.

I will continue to use plural verbs and agreement with a collective noun when appropriate. British English allows me this flexibility.

I will still get a bit cranky when I receive complaints from those with a lack of knowledge about this grammar point.

We use singular or plural depending on where we live.

You find more about the collective noun by reading the following excellent explanations.

Collective Nouns – The Grammar Girl

The Collective Noun – Chompchomp

Should I use a singular or a plural verb with a collective noun? – dictionary.com

How to Use Collective Nouns – Oxford

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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12 thoughts on “With A Collective Noun Do You Use A Singular Or Plural Verb Form?

  • Avatar for Maria A.
    October 20, 2019 at 5:36 pm
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    Well, I always tell my students that when we are referring to the collective noun as an entity use the singular, and as components of the entity use plural, but also say that the use of plural is an option as well, and consider both answers correct. Since we are in Lebanon and we are teaching and learning the language as foreign language I am obliged to give all the variations. However, I faced a difficulty today when I was preparing an assessment and wanted to use the noun “Cattle”. so my question is “cattle is?” or “cattle are?’ or as you explained above both are possible depending which side of the Atlantic you live?

    Reply
    • Avatar for Lynne
      January 2, 2020 at 5:27 pm
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      Of course, in ‘Away in a manger’ the ‘cattle are lowing.’ I couldn’t imagine singing that carol with ‘cattle is lowing’. As a British person, the plural always sounds better to me, to see a singular verb with a collective noun really grates on my teeth.

      Reply

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