Is the conjugation correct here?

I know "A family were there." can be grammatical when "A family" is being treated as a plural noun.

But the following example is different. The subject is plural but it's treated as singular. I've never encountered this pattern before.

It is no accident that Seamus Heaney’s selected poems is titled “Opened Ground,” since writing poems for this most remarkable farm boy was a kind of digging: “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.”

So what's going on here?


No,this is not ungrammatical as while using collective nouns we always use "is" in the sentence.

Below mentioned examples may make this clear to you :

1) A hive of bees is approaching towards east.

2) A panel of experts is sitting to judge the performance

3) A team of laborers was found working there.

So, while using collective nouns in the sentence we use singular verbs such as 'is' 'was'.

Here, in this sentence there's an indirect use of collective noun in the sentence due to which 'is' used.

The sentence here refers to collection of poems instead of a word poems (plural form of poem)

Also, in the question "A family were there" is grammatically wrong.It should be "A family was there" as family refers to a group of people living together which is again a "Collective Noun". Hope this helps!!!

  • 2
    The family can definitely be treated as plural. "Who went to the party?" "Well, the family were there, even Great-Uncle Bulgaria in his bath-chair..." The family is being treated as a collection of individuals. A family is more dubious, certainly. – Andrew Leach Sep 3 '13 at 14:51
  • In your examples, there is always a singular noun ("hive", "panel", "team") for the singular verb to agree with. An analog in the original question might be "the book of Seamus Heaney's selected poems is titled ..." I think the sentence in the question should be repaired by adding "book of" to make the singular verb correct. – Andreas Blass Nov 7 '17 at 4:15

It's probably because the reference is to the collection of poems, and hence singular.

  • 2
    And the sentence really means It is no accident that Seamus Heaney’s [book of] selected poems is titled ... – bib Sep 3 '13 at 11:58
  • so bib, so you think this is ungrammatical unless it includes that? – user41481 Sep 3 '13 at 12:00

I would say that it's incorrect. Sometimes it looks like a plural noun is being tied with a verb conjugated to be singular, when actually what's happening is that a singular noun is being described with a plural noun, such as "The list(<- singular) of songs(<- plural) sucks(<- singular)"

With what you're showing us, I would say that the poems are being described as being selected. If it were written as "It is no accident that Seamus Heaney’s selected is titled “Opened Ground..."," I'd say it flies, but as since in your example, it's clear to me it isn't that Seamus's selected is being described as poems (it doesn't make since to say "Narnia is websites"), then it must be that the verb (is) applies to poems (poems being the noun here), meaning that "is" should actually be "are"

All that said, I would have you know that I'm by no means an expert, so take everything I say with a grain of salt

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy