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Possible Duplicate:
Is a company always plural, or are small companies singular?

When I'm referring to a group of multiple things, should it be considered singular or plural for the purposes of applying a verb to it? For example, which is correct in the examples below?

A sentence is a group of words that is followed by a period.
A sentence is a group of words that are followed by a period.

The group of people constitutes a jury.
The group of people constitute a jury.

A group of crows is called a 'murder'.
A group of crows are called a 'murder'.

My instinct is that it depends on whether the verb is referncing the group itself or the members of the group directly, but is that right?

marked as duplicate by JSBձոգչ, Mitch, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Robusto, kiamlaluno Aug 29 '11 at 13:00

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  • No it isn't a dupe because this question is talking about the usage of things described as a 'group', not just any singular/plural noun. – Jez Aug 29 '11 at 11:07
  • The word "groups" is plural. I think your question is about "group". – Henry Aug 29 '11 at 11:11
  • This question is in no way related to the above "duplicate" which refers to the usage of proper names of businesses. This question is about the word "group". – zeel Mar 31 '15 at 21:50
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According to the OALD, group can actually serve as either a plural or singular noun. The category they give is "countable + singular or plural verb". So, an example of correct use is:

A group of us is/are going to the theatre this evening.

For any of your examples, both is and are can be used. I think the difference between them is as you say: use is when you are referring to the group, and use are when you are referring to the members of a given group. This page on when to use "group" as plural from Washington State University backs this up, saying:

When the group is being considered as a whole, it can be treated as a single entity: “the group was ready to go on stage.” But when the individuality of its members is being emphasized, “group” is plural: “the group were in disagreement about where to go for dinner.”

To analyze your given examples, here are some notes:

  • A sentence is a group of words that is followed by a period. Use this form if you're talking about the group itself. That is, a sentence is a group of words followed by a period.
  • A sentence is a group of words that are followed by a period. This implies that "This. Is. A. Sentence" is a sentence.
  • The group of people constitutes a jury.
  • The group of people constitute a jury. This would be more correct, since you are describing the nature of the group.
  • A group of crows is called a 'murder'. This would be correct, since you're again describing an entire group.
  • A group of crows are called a 'murder'.
  • 1
    I agree to some extent, but there are examples where that falls down a bit. For example, if I'm talking about my soccer team playing another, I might say "Northampton are playing Southampton today." I would never say "Northampton is playing...", and that would sound a bit like I was referring to the entire town of Northampton instead of the football team. So although I'm referring to the team playing as a unit, I'm still using the plural of the verb to describe it. – Jez Aug 29 '11 at 11:03
  • @Jez--I'm only referring to the use of "group". The source I used only talks about whether group is singular or plural. – simchona Aug 29 '11 at 11:04
  • @Jez--In terms of sports, you wouldn't be using the word "group" anyway. (And in Am E, you can use "is" for sports teams and still sound okay) – simchona Aug 29 '11 at 11:11
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    @jez no, but "new York is playing Boston" is, if you know the context of which sport – simchona Aug 29 '11 at 11:17
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    Interesting. If "New York" were a sports team, it would be unacceptable to use the singular verb in BrE; you'd have to say "New York are playing Boston" for it to sound right. – Jez Aug 29 '11 at 11:43

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