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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?

  • 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'.
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    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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