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Are collective nouns always plural, or are certain ones singular?
Is “staff” plural?

This feels wrong to me (sounds like it should be cares) but issues is plural and in the case of "the people that the public care about" there it feels much more natural (though still somewhat awkward).

What is the actual rule?

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marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Sep 6 '12 at 21:35

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The rule is to make agreement between subject and verb. The question is whether public is singular or plural. I would tend to use cares here just as you would. –  Jim Sep 6 '12 at 4:27
    
I do wonder why this is tagged "possessive". There is not a single possessive form in the entire question, let alone in the example sentence. Not every word with an S in it is possessive. –  RegDwigнt Sep 6 '12 at 21:39
    
because the public cares. Isn't that possessive? the caring belongs to the public. I thought that's how possession works (and then your head starts to go in circles and the Catholic priest shows up and starts splashing holy water in your face). –  Dr.Dredel Sep 6 '12 at 22:31
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

When I was learning English in school (some 25 years ago), my teacher told me that collective nouns (nouns referring to a group while having a singular form) are used with the plural forms of the verb if (and only if) the verb determins something done by the individual members of the respective group.

So it would have to be "the police is the best customer for new cars" but "the police are the best customers for donuts".

As the public in its whole cannot be considered to be interested in anything, the author of the original text clearly thinks that its individual member entities are.

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The subject is public, so issues is immaterial.

The author simply construes public to be plural, since there are a lot of them. This is in no way unusual.

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but isn't the public a singular entity? –  Dr.Dredel Sep 6 '12 at 7:31
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It depends. If you look at it as a single entity, it's singular. If you look at it as a plural entity, it's plural. American English tends to see collective nouns as singular and British English, as plural. BrE speakers say things like "The {team/government} are..." and AmE speakers say "The {team/government} is..." It's a matter of idiomaticity. Both are correct. I'd use care for … the top ten issues that the voting public care about: I don't see all voters caring about all 10 issues. I'd say the police force is the best customer for new cars to avoid the police is (awkward). –  user21497 Sep 6 '12 at 10:42
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The word for today: idiomaticity –  GEdgar Sep 6 '12 at 19:47
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