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Is staff plural?

Frequently when reading tech articles, I see sentences like "Microsoft have released ..." or "Apple have announced ...".
This seems wrong to me because the nouns are singular; Microsoft and Apple are individual companies, even though they refer to groups of people. I have not seen this usage outside of tech journalism, but it's pervasive enough that it makes me wonder: is this actually the correct usage?

As a follow-up question, is it correct to use a plural pronoun for a singular antecedent like this? For example, "Apple has announced they are changing their name to Orange" or "Apple has announced it is changing its name to Orange". The second form seems technically correct but sounds awkward.

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I agree with @kiamlaluno, who is supposed to be out speaking Calabrian at the moment but appears to be slacking ... :) –  Robusto Feb 8 '11 at 18:30
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Another related question (from following @kiamlaluno's link): english.stackexchange.com/questions/1338/…. –  Jay Conrod Feb 8 '11 at 19:12
    
+1 @kiam , yet that specific question/answer isn't quite definitive. the accepted answer isn't the best answer by any means as it makes an assertion but fails to provide proof, and misses the second half of the question. @Rob 's answer has many more votes. Perhaps a more definitive answer can be posted here, especially since the question is much better articulated in terms of what is being duplicated in both –  mfg Feb 8 '11 at 20:18
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marked as duplicate by kiamlaluno, Robusto, RegDwigнt, Kosmonaut Feb 9 '11 at 13:30

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is a classic case of collective nouns. They can be treated as both singular and plural, depending on whether you refer to the entity as a unified whole or the members that make up the entity.

It is more common in British English to lean towards the plural form, while American English favors singular for collective nouns.

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As Jen explained, the reason behind the divergence in verb tense is the difference in dialect (typically) between American and English usage of collective nouns.

For more background on the 'why' in American usage, with "Corporation" as the example:

An artificial being created by law and composed of individuals who subsist as a body politic under a special denomination with the capacity of perpetual succession and of acting within the scope of its charter as a natural person. (Bouvier's Law Dictionary)

and...

The words person ... include(s) corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals (US Code: Title 1, Chapter 1, ¶1)

A hallmark example of a collective group being considered as an individual person comes in the form fo the East India Tea Company. This company rose to such famed status and influence, yet, for the record could only ever be considered "a fictional person, a legal person, or a moral person (as opposed to a natural person)."

Moreover, in the U.S. (as in most other countries, U.K. included), "[a] corporation is legally a citizen of the state (or other jurisdiction) in which it is incorporated (except when circumstances direct the corporation be classified as a citizen of the state in which it has its head office, or the state in which it does the majority of its business)."

Note though, at all times the concept, almost half a millenia old, that collective groups are persons, not peoples.

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I dispute that these legal usages have anything to do with the question. In British usage I can say "The company/the club owns its own premises" and "The company/the club are looking to expand their operations" and it is completely irrelevant that in law the company is almost certainly a legal person, but the club is probably not one. –  Colin Fine Feb 9 '11 at 15:52
    
@Colin I included a legal usage because the question is referring to companies. The legal usage is a special case for companies as compared with other collective nouns. My intention was to include the special case because the question asked about usage regarding a company. –  mfg Feb 9 '11 at 18:16
    
No, the legal usage is not a special case. Corporations are referred to in the singular or the plural according to your variety of English and the way you are regarding them just like other collectives. The fact that the law regards them as a person is wholly irrelevant. –  Colin Fine Feb 10 '11 at 15:32
    
@Colin my apologies that this answer may not have been useful to you then. I will leave it up if someone wants links to why a corporation is a citizen of a state. Please down-vote it as you see fit. I hope the irrelevancy of it lingering on a closed question does not haunt you. –  mfg Feb 10 '11 at 16:22
    
I've no intention of downvoting it, because I can see it was well-meant, and you believed it was relevant. –  Colin Fine Feb 10 '11 at 17:54
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