1

In a phrase where the subject is "mass of people", should I use "its"?

e.g.

A mass of people and its flag.

Mass is an abstract word, so it sounds strange to me to use their; but I'm not sure.

EDIT:

Seems that according notional agreement I should use their

but

If the mass of people act like a cohesive body, e.g.

a mass of people is/are united in its/their flag

Is this a situational agreement and is the use of plural forms wrong?

Could you help me?

  • 1
    I would say "a mass" is an unusual word to use to quantify people. Not unheard of, necessarily, but it has an odd feel to it. – Robusto Nov 5 '15 at 15:45
  • @Robusto I know, but It's a sample that I need to clarify the explained doubts. – AndreaF Nov 5 '15 at 16:00
  • I don't think it's unusual to use the word for people. Here's a dictionary definition: mass 2. a large number of people or objects crowded together. "a mass of cyclists" oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/mass – chasly from UK Nov 5 '15 at 16:27
  • @chasly It's usually used in more concrete (like crowd, throng) than abstract (like population, nation) situations, though. And 'mass/crowd of people' doesn't collocate too well with 'its flag'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 6 '15 at 12:23
5

The fragment does not strike me as idiomatic or even meaningful in the first place. But ignoring that for a moment, yes, you should go with notional agreement.

A lot of people and their flag. A variety of people and their flag. A mass of people and their flag.

(Oh, and his is right out. A mass is not a he. Ever.)

  • Reading your link now I have another doubt. If the mass of people act like a cohesive body. e.g. a "mass of people is/are united in its/their flag"... Is this situational agreement and the use of plural forms wrong? – AndreaF Nov 5 '15 at 15:33
  • The use of "their" and the plural would never be wrong referring to a "mass", "crowd " or similar. It might sometimes be less appropriate than "it's" if you want to emphasise the unity. – Chris H Nov 5 '15 at 17:24

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