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This question came up in regards to recording meeting minutes.

Which is proper:

MOVED by Councillor Edmonds that Council accept the updated Snow Removal Policy: Policy #S-45-1.

or:

MOVED by Councillor Edmonds that Council accepts the updated Snow Removal Policy: Policy #S-45-1.

Another example:

MOVED by Councillor Peavoy that Council direct administration to carry out a plan of action for all the things discussed in the 2016 Council planning session, and to carry forward tasks emergent from the planning session assignments.

or:

MOVED by Cllr. Peavoy that Council directs administration to carry out a plan of action for all the things discussed in the 2016 Council planning session, and to carry forward tasks emergent from the planning session assignments.

In my mind the former sounds correct, but if it is, then I need an explanation as to why it is correct.

If both are proper, then what is the difference between the two?

  • I think the verb is in the subjunctive mood. See english.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/subjunctive-mood – James A Mohler Feb 24 '16 at 23:50
  • Notwithstanding that in Britain we always treat sports teams etc as plural - Arsenal are beating Chelsea - Council can go either way, e.g. The Council has/have put up notices banning dogs from the recreation ground. – WS2 Feb 25 '16 at 0:09
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In American usage, the council (or legislature, board, congress, gang-of-four, etc.) is singular. Among niggling speakers of archaic and/or HRM the Queen's English, the distinction between singular and plural usage may be made to indicate unanimity, or lack thereof.

The Council desires that the signs be removed might suggest that the members reached consensus, handed down a unanimous vote, or agreed not to disagree in public fora.

The Council desire... might imply a split decision, or otherwise emphasize the plurality of the conciliar body.

(Note that if you say this in the US, we will likely dump tea in your harbour, from which we shall in due course liberate your "u".)

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There are two separate things going on here.

First, many people (particularly Americans, though not exclusively) prefer to use the mostly obsolete subjunctive form in a sentence like this, particularly in a formal context like minutes of meetings. The present subjunctive of all verbs is the same as the base (infinite) form; so

Moved that the Secretary accept/direct/be ...

(I've chosen "Secretary" because that is unequivocally singular).

Separately, there is the question of whether "Council" is singular or plural (the question will only come up in this example if you choose not to use the subjunctive). The answer is "either". In American usage, collective nouns like this are nearly always used with singular verbs. In Britain, it's more complicated: they may be used with either, depending on whether the speaker is conceiving of them as a unit or as their separate members.

  • So which usage above is indicative of Council as a unit? Am I right in assuming that if a motion is carried, but there were votes apposing it, that referring to the Council as it's individual members would be improper? I'm in Canada, so I'm going to be using Queen's English. – ShemSeger Feb 25 '16 at 4:13
  • I don't think there is an "improper". I'm more likely to say "The council decide" (plural) irrespective of whether the decision was unanimous or not; but I wouldn't balk in the least if somebody else said "The council decides", and wouldn't draw any conclusion about how the voting went. The difference expressed by singular or plural in BrE usage is not usually indicative of a factual diffrence, but simply a difference in how the speaker is choosing to regard the collective for the purpose of the statement. – Colin Fine Feb 25 '16 at 13:34

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