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Is a company always plural, or are small companies singular?

When I'm referring to a group of multiple things, should it be considered singular or plural for the purposes of applying a verb to it? For example, which is correct in the examples below?

A sentence is a group of words that is followed by a period.
A sentence is a group of words that are followed by a period.

The group of people constitutes a jury.
The group of people constitute a jury.

A group of crows is called a 'murder'.
A group of crows are called a 'murder'.

My instinct is that it depends on whether the verb is referncing the group itself or the members of the group directly, but is that right?

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No it isn't a dupe because this question is talking about the usage of things described as a 'group', not just any singular/plural noun. –  Jez Aug 29 '11 at 11:07
    
The word "groups" is plural. I think your question is about "group". –  Henry Aug 29 '11 at 11:11
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marked as duplicate by JSBձոգչ, Mitch, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Robusto, kiamlaluno Aug 29 '11 at 13:00

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2 Answers

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According to the OALD, group can actually serve as either a plural or singular noun. The category they give is "countable + singular or plural verb". So, an example of correct use is:

A group of us is/are going to the theatre this evening.

For any of your examples, both is and are can be used. I think the difference between them is as you say: use is when you are referring to the group, and use are when you are referring to the members of a given group. This page on when to use "group" as plural from Washington State University backs this up, saying:

When the group is being considered as a whole, it can be treated as a single entity: “the group was ready to go on stage.” But when the individuality of its members is being emphasized, “group” is plural: “the group were in disagreement about where to go for dinner.”

To analyze your given examples, here are some notes:

  • A sentence is a group of words that is followed by a period. Use this form if you're talking about the group itself. That is, a sentence is a group of words followed by a period.
  • A sentence is a group of words that are followed by a period. This implies that "This. Is. A. Sentence" is a sentence.
  • The group of people constitutes a jury.
  • The group of people constitute a jury. This would be more correct, since you are describing the nature of the group.
  • A group of crows is called a 'murder'. This would be correct, since you're again describing an entire group.
  • A group of crows are called a 'murder'.
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I agree to some extent, but there are examples where that falls down a bit. For example, if I'm talking about my soccer team playing another, I might say "Northampton are playing Southampton today." I would never say "Northampton is playing...", and that would sound a bit like I was referring to the entire town of Northampton instead of the football team. So although I'm referring to the team playing as a unit, I'm still using the plural of the verb to describe it. –  Jez Aug 29 '11 at 11:03
    
@Jez--I'm only referring to the use of "group". The source I used only talks about whether group is singular or plural. –  simchona Aug 29 '11 at 11:04
    
@Jez--In terms of sports, you wouldn't be using the word "group" anyway. (And in Am E, you can use "is" for sports teams and still sound okay) –  simchona Aug 29 '11 at 11:11
    
So, "The Red Sox is playing today" sounds OK in AmE? –  Jez Aug 29 '11 at 11:13
    
@jez no, but "new York is playing Boston" is, if you know the context of which sport –  simchona Aug 29 '11 at 11:17
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It depends on whether the group, in the context of the sentence, is/are being treated as a group or as individuals. I will provide examples using class first:

The class receive candy for participating in discussions.

Here, I use the plural "receive" because I speak of the class as a plural noun composed of individual students, and these indivudal students each receive a candy [well, whoever in the class participates]. If I had said, "the class receives candy," I would mean that the class as a whole receives a sum of candy (to dispense among themselves).

The class goes on a field trip once a year.

Since the class must travel together as a single group, and since they probably do not travel individually, I use the singular.

Now as to group of people:

A group of people is playing soccer.

I use the singular because they are not each playing soccer by themselves in a group, each to his own game of soccer! Absurd! Rather, they play soccer together as one group in one game.

I know it sounds crazy, but this is how I think it works. Here's another example that doesn't sound as awkward:

A group of people is forming around that tragic accident.

Others may disagree, but this sounds natural to me. I would not say "a group of people are forming." Some final evidence that I think is is right is if you flip around the sentence: "There is a group of people playing soccer." This sounds natural to me, too. "There are a group of people" sounds awkward. And there are many more words like "group" and "class":

  • That flock of birds is in a V-formation.
  • The bag of onions is on the table.

Source: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=185106

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Did you seriously start off an answer on english.stackexchange.com with "Found this reference that should help u"?! –  Karl Knechtel Aug 29 '11 at 11:33
    
well u tell me what to do, paste the whole thing and pretend as if this was my answer? i dont have the previlige to comment so i had made use of a new answer option –  168335 Aug 29 '11 at 13:12
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I think what @Karl means is that you are answering a question about English use and grammar with questionable English spelling. –  simchona Aug 29 '11 at 13:47
    
oh! you must be referring to "u" ., i am quite accustomed to it, sorry regarding that –  168335 Aug 29 '11 at 15:50
    
@168: You'll get a lot more upvotes if you use proper English (to whatever dialect you prefer), especially on a site where everybody cares about grammar. –  simchona Aug 29 '11 at 21:02
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