These two sentences sound good to me in my head, but the second sentence isn't an independent clause. In my mind, the subject of the second sentence is implicitly taken from the previous sentence. Is this grammatically correct, or would I need a different mark of punctuation to pull this off?

Collective nouns can either be singular or plural. Plural when thinking of individuals in the group, singular otherwise.

  • 5
    Yes, you do. Notice that it is not just the subject that is missing from the second "sentence" of your example.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 5, 2017 at 20:27
  • 1
    The deletion is fine in conversation, though many would not call 'Plural when thinking of individuals in the group, singular otherwise.' a sentence. Jan 5, 2017 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


It would be better to link them together with a colon:

Collective nouns can either be singular or plural: plural when thinking of individuals in the group, singular otherwise.

You might want to rearrange the sentence so that the word plural does not immediately follow itself.

A colon is useful here because the first half of the sentence sets things up (acts as an introduction) for the second half (which really contains the payload of the sentence). The Oxford Manual of Style has this to say about the colon (although this is only one of its uses):

The colon points forward: from a premise to a conclusion, from a cause to an effect, from an introduction to a main point; from a general statement to an example. It fulfils the same function as words such as namely, that is, as, for example, for instance, because, as follows, and therefore:

  • There is something I must say: you are standing on my toes.
  • It is available in two colours: pink and blue.
  • French cooking is the restaurant's speciality: the suprêmes de volaille Jeanette was superb.
  • She has but one hobby: chocolate.

The Oxford Manual of Style, 2002

  • Great thanks! That looks way better. Is there a grammatical reason why a colon would be suitable while a comma would not?
    – bugsyb
    Jan 5, 2017 at 20:30
  • Colons are used to introduce ideas that follow on from the preceding text (I'll add some verbiage). They are not used as much now as they used to be. If you are unsure, use a comma (the same goes for the semicolon). Few will criticise you, and a decent copy editor will sort your punctuation out.
    – Mick
    Jan 5, 2017 at 20:39
  • @Edwin Mebbe. I like to use the colon when I can, and the same goes for the hyphen. I have a feeling that the sentence could have taken a semicolon as well, but since I'm no expert, I elected to use a comma.
    – Mick
    Jan 5, 2017 at 21:25
  • Though I'd also use a colon here, the sentence fragment option would not be considered incorrect by many people nowadays. It allows the option of a greater contrast because of the increased staccato effect (though the subject matter does favour the more formal/traditional colon). Jan 5, 2017 at 21:27
  • @Mick “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.” - Kurt Vonnegut
    – Andrew
    Jan 5, 2017 at 21:27

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