Today my grammar teacher taught us about subject-verb agreement.

She used people as a singular subject and told us that it can be used as singular and plural, but in special cases like "people in my country is dying of hunger", as you can see, the verb is is, not are.

Which one is correct?

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    Welcome to English Language and Usage. I can not think of any reason why "is" should be used here. Is this the only example given for this "special" usage? – Cascabel May 18 '17 at 2:11

Correct English:

People in my country are dying of hunger.

In this sentence, people is a plural noun in English and requires a plural verb. The sentence you give is incorrect in standard English.

See Cambridge Dictionary.

In some languages people is a singular noun. In these languages, e.g. Spanish, people is a collective noun and takes a singular verb. For example: La gente aqui es muy amable.

  • 1
    But "people" is not always a plural noun in English. It can be a singular noun. It's just that the singular noun "people" would not be correct in this particular context. This has been covered in questions like The plural of “people” – herisson May 18 '17 at 5:21
  • @Mari-LouA it's alive! :) – NVZ Jun 20 '17 at 15:49
  • @NVZ Good, it means other users also voted to undelete it. – Mari-Lou A Jun 20 '17 at 15:51
  • @Mari-LouA My flag, your vote, and tchrist's mod power. – NVZ Jun 20 '17 at 15:52

'People' can be used as both singular and plural. Singular usage, which loosely means a lot, is uncommon. E.g.: Americans are a great people.

However, such usage of 'people' is restricted to only the predicate part of the sentence. So, I would say your English teacher was wrong.

You can find more about this form of usage here. http://www.pearsonlongman.com/ae/azar/grammar_ex/message_board/archive/articles/00048.htm

  • Singular usage of people is not restricted to the predicate part of the sentence; it works just fine as a subject as well (“The people has spoken” for example). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 19 '17 at 20:07
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    @JanusBahsJaquet - I'm more familiar with the form 'the people have spoken', but I agree with your point. – marcellothearcane Jun 19 '17 at 20:20

As a personal perspective - perhaps a way of considering this is how we view a word form in English in relation to our personal circles of family and community.
When I think of the word "people" I consider them (the group) from the perspective of "they" - a "common / informal" group of individuals outside of who I am. "People" can be easily associated with those who are a part of my local and personal community.
When I think of other groups such as Society, Government, Commerse, Academia, etc. the words have an increased sense of "detachment or formality" to the group. The words are more abstracted, less intimately associated with who I dentify myself as, and so I am inclined to look at the groups as an "it" rather than a "they".

In other languages like Spanish there are conjugations for these different associative senses of personal intimacy or formality which English has lost.

people (they) are
society, community, commerse, academia (it) is

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