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

When asking about the identity of a business/company, which of these is the most correct?

"Who is [Company]?" or "Who are [Company]?"

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Are you asking what the company does, or what its acronym stands for? I might say "What does IBM do?" for the former, and "What does 'IBM' stand for" for the latter. "Who" might work better with people. –  rajah9 Sep 27 '11 at 14:57
    
@rajah9 I'm asking what the company does, rather than what it stands for –  badgerr Sep 27 '11 at 14:59
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marked as duplicate by JSBձոգչ, Matt Эллен, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, aedia λ, FumbleFingers Sep 27 '11 at 18:15

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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I've heard that if you're in UK you most likely use "Who are" and if you're in USA or some other related countries you most likely say "Who is".

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I think there may well be the transatlantic difference that Jaehan suggests. Similarly, I understand that AmEng is reluctant to treat words like ‘committee’, ‘government’ and ‘family’ as plurals.

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Usually I have seen companies having proper noun-ish (and/or plural) names being referred in terms of are:

Who are Goldman Sachs?
Who are J R Jerry & Associates?
Who are Wiseman Partners

While those with more abstract or singular names being referred in terms of is:

Who is Google?
Who is Morgan Trading?
Who is Facebook?

I can't think of exceptions right now, but its surely not a rule! :)

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I was taught (in the USA) that "Wiseman Partners" should take a singular verb when referring to the partnership, since the partnership is a single entity. This was in the same lesson in which we learned that "a large partnership of lawyers" takes a singular verb even though the noun immediately preceding the verb is plural. –  phoog Sep 27 '11 at 15:43
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I would elevate rajah9's comment to the status of an answer. To my (American) ear, it sounds odd to use "who" with a company. I would rather say "What is IBM?"

On the other hand, the preference for treating companies with a plural noun seems to emphasize the people making up the company over the company's singular identity. This mindset may well lend itself to using "who". To my ear, it doesn't sound odd at all to imagine a voice with a British accent saying "Who are IBM?"

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