"The group are all here."

The British seem more inclined to use a plural verb ("are") in sentences like this than Americans are.

At some time in the past it struck me that there are some singular collective nouns with which Americans do normally use a plural verb, so maybe the list of verbs with which Americans do that is simply smaller than the corresponding British list. But I find I can't remember what examples I had in mind. Has anyone compiled those lists?

  • Can't give you a list but I can confirm that even the BBC has given up on strict adherence to number. It's normal for them to announce that "The government have released figures..." or "The Metropolitan Police have published...". – David Garner Jun 14 '15 at 18:32
  • I'm British and I would see no objection to using either is or are with group. But I would never ever say Manchester United is playing Chelsea, or England is playing Slovenia. It would always be are. – WS2 Jun 14 '15 at 19:35
  • 1
    @Max Williams There don't seem to be many around here (I live in Gtr Manchester), and I've only heard non-Brits using the plural verb with teams. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 28 '16 at 10:31
  • 1
    @David Garner I'm not sure that singular agreement with 'police' has ever been standard. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 28 '16 at 10:35
  • 1
    @MaxWilliams I don't know who these people are, but I watch a good deal of football on TV (MotD etc) and you certainly don't hear pundits like Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer saying United is doing anything. – WS2 Sep 28 '16 at 11:42

Catherine Soanes, an ex-lexicographer and EFL teacher, writing as a guest blogger at Oxford Dictionaries' OxfordWords blog, says that it is meaningful to distinguish the most normal practices in the UK and the US:

The British view…

[T]he verb form used [after a collective noun] can depend on the emphasis of the sentence, and accepted regional usage, so no wonder many people are confused. In British English it’s absolutely fine to treat most collective nouns as either singular or plural – you can say my husband’s family is very religious or my husband’s family are very religious.

…and from across the Atlantic

American English takes a slightly different approach to the agreement of verbs with collective nouns. There is a very strong preference for the use of singular verbs with such nouns, so in American English you are much more likely to see, for example:

His company’s legal team is investigating the matter.

rather than:

His company’s legal team are investigating the matter.

However, using a plural is acceptable in American English if the writer or speaker wants to emphasize the individuals in a group rather than regarding the group as a single entity:

The NY audience were their usual reserved selves.

I'd add that logical agreement is the norm in the UK. To tweak Ms Soanes' caveat, 'Using a plural is usual in British English if the writer or speaker wants to emphasize the individuals in a group rather than regarding the group as a single entity, but not otherwise.' Thus 'The team was founded in 1878' but 'The team were arguing among themselves.'

As an speaker of American English, I would use "is" as "group" is a singular noun despite it being collective. If the plural "groups" was used, then I would use "are".

"The group is here."

"The groups are here"

It's the same reason why we refer to the "United States" as singular despite it being visually plural.

  • 2
    I don't see how you can say it's the same reason. The word "group", unlike the word "states", is singular. – Michael Hardy Jul 2 '15 at 16:50
  • The US is a singular cohesive collective of states as opposed to a loose collection of States. You think of yourself as American, not Texan or Minnesotan. – Rowan Silverleaf Jul 2 '15 at 16:55
  • 2
    I understand that, but it's not the same reason; it's a different reason. – Michael Hardy Jul 2 '15 at 16:57
  • 1
    Other than the historical reason, the resurrection of the Union from the ashes of the Civil War, it is the same reason. If the US was still loosely affiliated within itself as it was, it would still be "the United States are". – Rowan Silverleaf Jul 2 '15 at 17:21
  • Would you use 'The majority of the population is English speakers'? 'The majority of the population are English speakers' (fine in the UK)? You'd probably use a workaround. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 28 '16 at 12:10

"The majority of the population is English speakers" is grammatically correct in American English, although it sounds awkward. The subject of the sentence is majority ("...of the population" is simply a prepositional phrase used to clarify the type of majority). The word majority is singular, thus takes a singular verb.
My workaround would probably be "English speakers make up the majority of the population."

  • 1
    Both is and are are possible in American English with majority/minority. And I'm not sure how your post answers the question. – Knotell Oct 12 '17 at 15:57

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

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