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I have a doubt about this sentence:

"If your product arrives broken our Returns Department will organise a replacement as long as you contact them within 24 hours of having received the parcel."

Can the "Returns Department" be referred to as "them" even though it is singular? Using "it" just doesn't sound right to me.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Drew, tchrist Apr 1 '17 at 17:24

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  • Department is a collective noun like team, organization, government etc. It can be thought of as singular or plural. – mahmud koya Apr 1 '17 at 8:25
  • Thank you. Could another explanation be that Returns Department is genderless and therefore we can use "them" (as in "Someone is at the door, please show them in.")? – Anthony Apr 1 '17 at 8:29
  • Then why can't it be it?. It is singular as well as neutral gender. – mahmud koya Apr 1 '17 at 8:34
  • 2
    Using 'it' here sounds almost outlandish to my (British) ears. Using 'them' notionally (representing 'the people staffing' or equivalent) would be normal in the UK. I think the problem here is that 'it' is far more unpersonal and depersonalising than 'them' (and you've already actually referred to the people involved rather than the department per se in saying 'will organise a replacement') so people insisting on avoiding notional concord are probably better rephrasing. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '17 at 8:55
  • No, you do not have a “doubt”: you have a question. Doubts are something else. – tchrist Apr 1 '17 at 17:24

Almost the same question can be observed at dictionary.com. It responds to the question as:

A collective noun refers to a whole group as a single entity but also to the members of that group.

A collective noun names a group of individuals or things with a singular form. Examples of collective nouns are: faculty, herd, team. There are collective nouns for people, animals, objects, and concepts. The use of a singular or plural verb depends on the context of the sentence. If one is referring to the whole group as a single entity, then the singular verb is best: The school board has called a special session. When a group noun is used with a singular determiner (e.g., a/an, each, every, this, that), singular verbs and pronouns are normal: The team is away this weekend; they have a good chance of winning. There are other contexts where the plural verb is more natural: My family are always fighting among themselves. When the individuals in the collection or group receive the emphasis, the plural verb is acceptable. Generally, however, in American English, collective nouns take singular verbs. In British English, collective nouns are more often treated as plurals that take plural verbs.

I think there are still some debates on the topic, however. So, when you refer to department as "them", you are actually refering to the people who work in that department, not the department itself.

  • Hello, Omid. This is a good answer as far as it goes (you don't mention the skewing towards notionality already present in 'will organise a replacement' here), but has been given on ELU before. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '17 at 9:03

It can be either.

Using 'it' will keep the communication clinical.

Using 'them' will humanize the department.

  • 1
    The trouble is that 'Returns Department will organise a replacement' has already 'humanized the department', so reverting to 'it' is incongruous. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '17 at 8:59
  • Disagree. The department is organizing. Farm equipment and computers organize. Humanity is not referenced or implied. – Jason P Sallinger Apr 1 '17 at 9:08
  • So ''The school will organise a replacement" means the building is rather exceptional? – Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '17 at 9:23
  • The term 'school' embodies warmth. Who among us don't recognize a school as a body of students and teachers? The term 'department' is far more generic. It is not inherently imbued with humanity as is a school. – Jason P Sallinger Apr 1 '17 at 9:27
  • Here, 'X will organise a replacement' must be seen as having a volitional (and hence sentient) agent. As in 'Parliament will vote on the matter today.' – Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '17 at 9:34

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