6

I'm not sure whether to put is (number agreeing with the singular her whole family) or are (number agreeing with plural biologists) in this sentence:

Her whole family is/are biologists.


After some more searching, it seems to make it correct, the whole would need to be removed.

Based on this other question, I think "Her family are biologists." is technically correct but "All of her family are biologists sounds better."

Still not certain.

marked as duplicate by tchrist, choster, Mitch, James Waldby - jwpat7, TimLymington Aug 13 '14 at 19:17

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    You’ve asked the wrong question. Her whole family is not “singular”: it is either. Both these are grammatical: 1) “Only one family is left.” 2) “Her entire family are crazy.” So either can work, but it only has to do with family. That’s because the only thing that matters is that a verb must agree with its subject, not with its predicate. – tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 18:05
  • 2
    Your question is tricky because it involves a subject that is headed by a singular collective noun. The plural override is sometimes optional, and sometimes obligatory, and sometimes not admissible. The acceptability of the plural override can also be influenced by the presence of a quantifying adjunct (e.g. "all"). The number of a predicative complement can be a factor. The conceptualization of the subject as being either a single entity or a plural set is another factor. The dialect of the speaker can also be a factor (e.g. AmE vs BrE). Grammatically, a lot of factors are involved. – F.E. Aug 13 '14 at 19:16
  • 2
    Unfortunately, the thread linked to as a duplicate doesn't answer the OP's question. For instance, it doesn't even have a plural predicative complement in their two examples: "The rest of the staff is/are on leave at the moment", "The rest of my family is/are arriving late". (And its subject is different in structure, too.) – F.E. Aug 13 '14 at 19:28
  • 2
    Your question is a good grammar question, which happens to involve a number of grammatical topics. There's a lot of bad information out on grammar sites and forums, and so, it's probably safer if you accessed a vetted grammar source. For instance, there's the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), and they discuss topics related to your question on pages 501-4, in subsection "18.2 Semantically motivated overrides with collective and number-transparent nouns". (The noun "family" is listed in [12.i] on page 503.) – F.E. Aug 13 '14 at 19:40
  • 1
    @F.E. Wow! I appreciate that... And wow! It's expensive! – AppFzx Aug 13 '14 at 19:45
6

I would use "are" in this context, even though the word "family" could go either way. Even so, I think that "are" is more suitable because you are labelling multiple people as biologists.

However, the sentence could be worded in a better way, like: 1) Everyone in her family is a biologist. 2) All of her family members are biologists.

That way, there is less confusion with verb agreement. Either way, it is good to know that either "are" and "is" can be used with the unit "family".

  • But the inclusion of complex quantifiers complicates even the 'logical concord with collective nouns' rule. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 13 '14 at 21:29
1

In your specific case I would say "are". It is not a property of the family to be biologists, rather you are using the group as a way to designate that all its members have some property. Interestingly, you could confound the issue by saying, colloquially, "Her whole family's biologists".

A related question would be whether to use plural or singular when talking about a group that is doing something. Is Manchester United in town or are MU in town?

The answer depends somewhat on whether you follow US or UK usage, but is unclear. You can often get away with either. The UK usage leans towards using a plural, while the US is a bit mixed. Nirvana is playing, but Nirvana are arriving late.

  • 2
    It really is not a UK–US thing. When you are talking sports teams and such, sure. But words like family and couple can go either way anywhere. – tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 18:06
  • 1
    @tchrist family is singular. "My family is a unit," but not "my family are a unit." – AppFzx Aug 13 '14 at 18:19
  • 1
    @AppFzx My family are going to be very unhappy to learn that. Fortunately, since you are wrong, they are going to learn no such thing. – tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 18:26
  • @tchrist and now you've shown how Carlos is correct that Americans mix their plural and singular. Seems you're right on family going either way though. english.stackexchange.com/questions/74680/… Shows you can learn something from anyone. – AppFzx Aug 13 '14 at 18:28
  • 1
    Notional concord (which does seem rather more commonly used in the UK than the US) implies an attempt to choose the form of agreement that seems to make most sense for a collective noun in a particular context. Thus 'the team was founded in 1878' but 'the team were arguing amongst themselves'. Sometimes, 'the team' etc is a figure of speech (I'd say synecdoche) for 'the members of the team' etc. But only sometimes. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 14 '14 at 14:33

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.