0

The army ordered the zoo to kill all the wild animals. It thought that the animals would get away and harm people if a bomb hits the zoo.

Is it grammatical to use the verb 'thought' to refer to an action of a collective group referred to with the pronoun 'it' in the second sentence? Or is it more proper to say that "the members of the army thought..."?

  • 2
    There is a problem with identifying which subset of 'the army' is synechdochally involved, which complicates this particular (and probably many similar) examples. This makes J. Taylor's workaround (which does make an improvement) still rather woolly. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 17 '17 at 23:33
  • I agree Edwin Ashworth. ... I would have started over, had this been a edit for publication. But, the OP says it is from an already published source. – J. Taylor Feb 17 '17 at 23:43
  • I doubt the members of the army had much opportunity to weigh in. Aren't they trained not to think? // The army ordered the zoo to kill all the wild animals. Officials thought that the animals would get out and harm people if a bomb were to hit the zoo. – aparente001 Feb 18 '17 at 5:35
  • Using "it" to refer to "the army" is not a concern, cf. "The army was so concerned about safety that it thought it necessary to withdraw the guns". – BillJ Feb 18 '17 at 10:24
0

"It" is ambiguous. A reader might not immediately understand what "it" is.
A simple solution would be:

The army ordered the zoo to kill all the wild animals, thinking that the animals would get away and harm people if a bomb hits the zoo.

This would remove any danger of a reader being confused.

  • I don't think this solves the problem. – aparente001 Feb 18 '17 at 5:33
1

It is at least confusing - I read your example as "It is thought that ... " which is normal and grammatical, but does not suggest that it is the army doing the thinking.

In British English, I think nearly everybody would use "they thought" (meaning the army), without even noticing there was anything odd about this. I know that American authorities tend to insist on using singular verbs with collective nouns, but I don't know where they stand on the pronouns.

  • Thanks a lot Colin. I would also use "they thought" in the second sentence but this is actually a story in a book where the pronoun 'it' is used in many sentences to refer to the army. The second sentence is an answer to a question after the story. I just don't know how I can justify or explain the change to 'they' from 'it'. And using the word 'thought' after 'it' doesn't sound correct either. – SES Feb 17 '17 at 23:37
  • @SES The insistence on strict formal agreement after collective nouns etc does lead to real problems where 'the army' etc is used for 'all the members of the army' / 'the executive' / 'the officers involved' etc. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 17 '17 at 23:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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