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This question (migrated to writers.se) uses an example sentence along the lines of

ABC is expanding our operations overseas.

As a Brit, I'm quite comfortable with either ABC is or ABC are in most contexts, but in this particular construction the switch in plurality from is to our in a single sentence really grates. Curiously, I find I don't have this problem if those two words are in separate sentences.

ABC is a dynamic company. We are expanding our operations overseas.

Is this just a personal hangup of mine? Or there a US/UK divide on the issue?

I don't think this is a question about whether companies are singular or plural (as covered here). I'm asking about attitudes to using both is and our in the same sentence like this.

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I think I've expressed the same uneasiness myself somewhere. –  Barrie England Oct 1 '11 at 14:40
    
Ah yes, here it is: 'However, for what it’s worth, in your first example the reader might be surprised to find "our" coming so quickly on the heels of "is". In the second, on the other hand, the break provided by the full stop allows a smoother transition.' –  Barrie England Oct 1 '11 at 14:44
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@Barrie: So you did. But you cunningly avoided giving any indication as to whether you personally would count yourself as one of the readers who actually do find it surprising. And whether being surprised in this context means "Wow! That's creative writing at it's best!" or "Yuck! Awkward phrasing there!". –  FumbleFingers Oct 1 '11 at 14:52
    
If US standardized tests as issued by ETS are to be an authority on the matter, switching between subject pronouns in this way is a definite no-no. That said, I hate ETS. –  onomatomaniak Oct 1 '11 at 15:33
    
I would so count myself and would be of the Yuck tendency. –  Barrie England Oct 1 '11 at 15:45
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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

ABC is expanding our operations overseas.

This is grammatically correct, but doesn’t have the intended meaning. Our cannot refer to ABC because they disagree in person: ABC is third-person while our is first-person. In that sentence, ABC is transitively expanding “our operations”.

If we’re treating ABC as singular, then it should be:

ABC is expanding its operations overseas.

Treating ABC as plural:

ABC is expanding their operations overseas.

If the intent was to add emphasis to the fact that the speaker is part of ABC:

We at ABC are expanding our operations overseas.

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Perhaps it's a matter of terminology, but I don't exactly get disagree in person. In the standard American version, "ABC" is third-person singular, where "our" is second-person plural. A mismatch which disappears for me with the third-person plural British alternative "ABC are". So I'd say they disagree in plurality. But I'm with you in that if you allow the mismatch, the sentence can only logically be interpreted as meaning that ABC is causing an expansion is some other organisation represented by "our". –  FumbleFingers Oct 2 '11 at 13:10
    
@FumbleFingers: Our is first-person plural. The disagreement in number is irrelevant due to the disagreement in person. ABC are expanding our operations is just as wrong. –  Jon Purdy Oct 2 '11 at 17:35
    
I got it eventually. I don't know why I wrote "our" is second-person plural - I meant first-person plural. You're saying it's wrong to mix third-person (ABC) and first-person (our) for the same referent, in the same sentence. And that is still the case regardless of plurality, which none of your alternatives do. Okay, I'm convinced. I still don't particularly mind ABC are expanding our operations, but I can see now how it's "wrong", even if I personally don't consider this a hanging offense. –  FumbleFingers Oct 2 '11 at 17:58
    
@FumbleFingers: Yeah, it’s not that bad. It could easily be misinterpreted is all. I’m a big fan of saying what I mean! –  Jon Purdy Oct 2 '11 at 19:00
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This is a very interesting question. From my (AmE) perspective, it doesn't seem odd at all, and out of curiosity, I scanned through several of our corporate memos and found numerous examples of just this sort of thing.

On the US side, ABC are isn't a viable option for companies or teams like it is in the UK. However, it's fairly common not to refer to the a company/team/etc. as a 3rd-party entity (when you're a part of that entity). It creates a more distancing feel, and typically you would want everyone to feel that they're a part of the entity, not on the outside looking in. So to counter that, rather than using it or its, its common to use we or our.

I think when you combine these competing forces you end up with examples like yours that sound fine to my ears despite, admittedly, seeming to violate grammatical number (and perhaps even a 1st/3rd person crossover)

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The question is not whether plural or singular is appropriate, you are right, both can be used. It is the capricious switching between them that grates. Pick a horse and ride it. –  Fraser Orr Oct 1 '11 at 14:58
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@FraserOrr - That's just my point. The plural can not be used in AmE. So to be consistent, the only option would be is/its or is/my. The first option distances the speaker from the company/team and the second option isn't accurate (by seemingly excluding the rest of the company team) –  Dusty Oct 1 '11 at 15:05
    
As a Canadian I have to agree with Dusty. We don't say "ABC are" and we never refer to a corporation or named group in first-person singular, so this is the only combination that works (aside from the third-person singular: "ABC is expanding its operations", which as Dusty stated is impersonal). The original sentence sounds absolutely fine to me and would be completely unremarkable. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the grammatical number is not incorrect, as "ABC is" refers to the single entity ABC and "we are" refers to the people in the company. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 1 '11 at 18:07
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+1 I agree that the sentence sounds fine to my AmE ear even though I can see the violation. To my mind, the most natural way to eliminate the violation while keeping an AmE feel would be to use "We at ABC are..." –  ajk Oct 1 '11 at 18:39
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It is not a transatlantic thing, it is just a poor grammar thing. Putting them in the same sentence should grate. I think the reason the second sentence is less offensive is that the plural and singular are further apart; the sentence break adding a lot of distance. It is still annoyingly wrong, but the distance means the conflict is less obvious.

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One way to sidestep the problem is to avoid the pronoun altogether:

ABC is expanding operations overseas.

This trick might not work in all cases. That said, I think it still works with "is/our", since it can be read as two different but overlapping subjects, compare with:

Daddy is planning our vacation overseas.

"Our" speaks for the family, and includes "Daddy".

(As a Canadian, I'm more exposed to American English with singular number for companies, but my personal intuition still leans towards the Brit plural. I've been told "Apple are introducing..." sounds wrong, but I still prefer it.)

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