Should you use it or they when referencing a group of people?

Here is the example sentence:

A group of students was walking on the road when a truck hit them/it and it/they was/were immediately admitted to hospital.

Could native speakers and grammarians please answer this question? For me, it should be used because I am taking about the group as whole, and the group is one thing not many things.

  • 1
    To me it looks very odd to refer to the group as singular in this context. I would say 'A group of students were walking' and 'they were all admitted to hospital'. Dec 9, 2017 at 9:40
  • But you’re not talking about the group as a whole. Groups, as entities, are not admitted to hospitals—the inviduals who make up the groups are. Dec 9, 2017 at 9:41
  • (1) Even the most die-hard opponents of notional agreement would probably consider 'it ... it was' very questionable to unacceptable here. (2) For those who embrace notional agreement, 'it ... it was' is unthinkable here. Dec 9, 2017 at 10:51
  • When you face issues like this, consider rephrasing. E.g. "Some students were walking on the road when a truck hit them …". Much nicer. "A group of" is unnecessary, and makes the grammar awkward.
    – ralph.m
    Dec 9, 2017 at 12:04
  • Human beings are never referred to as it.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2017 at 12:25

1 Answer 1


The question is who is the subject of your phrase.

If you refer to "a group", you ar referring to the group, "one group", so its pronoun are "it". If you are going to refer to "two groups" (the groups), "it", immediately turns into "they".

Your question has a trap. "A group of students" is not the subject.

If you do the question to the verb: "Who was walking on the road when a truck...", your answer would be "a group of students" but the real subjects of that phrase are the students who are forming a group, so, if you realize here: a group, a bunch, a lot, a few, all those are quantifiers (group = more than one), and, they are used like this:

quantifier + noun

The noun is students and never the quantifier.

If you would had used "a group" (without students) then the phrase would had stayed with "it" cause the group would had become the noun.

So, finally to answer your question, your example applies to the students as noun so they/them is correct.

If you don't use students and stay with just "a group", then is correct to use it/it.

The list (yeah, "a group of" is not there, but I think that is because its informality, just like "a bunch"):

Simple Quantifiers: all, another, any, both, each, either, enough, every, few, fewer, little, less, many, more, much, neither, no, several, some.

Complex Quantifiers: a few, a little, a lot of, lots of.

Additional note: As @tchrist pointed out, human beings are never referred to as "it". They are normally referred back to using "they", even in those cases when the original antecedent is treated as a singular.

Examples: A team, a posse, a council, a fraternity, a silent majority, etc.

  • 1
    Human beings are never referred to as it. Sometimes you get groups of human beings, like when you have a team or a posse or a council or a fraternity or even a silent majority. Those are all still people, and are normally referred back to using they even in those cases when the original antecedent is treated as a singular for verb agreement.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2017 at 12:26
  • Do you understand what notional agreement is?
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2017 at 12:39
  • @tchrist yes, I see you edited your post. I'll change mine accordingly.
    – Billeeb
    Dec 9, 2017 at 12:42
  • I agree that premodifying phrases are quantifiers.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2017 at 12:50
  • I edited my post to add your explanation, but edited extra stuff. BTW, "singular for verbal agreement" made noise in my head. Verbs have no quantity. Singular/plural is used for the subject.
    – Billeeb
    Dec 9, 2017 at 12:50

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