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This NOTE (found under Rule 9.) states the following:

Anyone who uses a plural verb with a collective noun must take care to be accurate—and also consistent. It must not be done carelessly. The following is the sort of flawed sentence one sees and hears a lot these days:

The staff is deciding how they want to vote.

Careful speakers and writers would avoid assigning the singular is and the plural they to staff in the same sentence.

Consistent: The staff are deciding how they want to vote.

Rewriting such sentences is recommended whenever possible. The preceding sentence would read even better as:

The staff members are deciding how they want to vote.

The three given options:

  1. Flawed: The staff is deciding how they want to vote.

  2. Consistent: The staff are deciding how they want to vote.

  3. Even better: The staff members are deciding how they want to vote.

Question (1 of 2):

Would you agree with those general assessments? As I understand them...

The 1st is flawed because it's inconsistent (re: they/is).

The 2nd is consistent, but such sentences should be rewritten whenever possible.

The 3rd is even better, specifically meaning it reads better than #2.

Question (2 of 2):

If #2 isn't flawed in some way, why should it be rewritten? Either it's idiomatic (somewhere, I suppose) or it's not.

I'm not sure if that's about grammar or a writing tip.


Thanks for the answers and comments.

Note: I no longer use this source, but I see no way to work it out of this particular question.

  • 2
    This isn't a problem for AE speakers. We seldom, if ever, would use staff are in this situation. So we are left with the example sentence for lack of alternatives. I wouldn't add members, or any other work around. The sample sounds best among the alternatives presented. Exchanging it wants sounds stilted, but otherwise fine. Using staff members just sounds non-idiomatic. And we don't use staff are. The writer seems to acknowledge this is already a lost cause. BBC Learning English opinion – Phil Sweet Apr 26 '18 at 1:16
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I would call this grammatically wrong (and it sounds awful to me as a native speaker). Staff can be singular or plural, but in this sentence the verb is singular, but the pronoun is plural. Either of these is correct, and the first is the more common usage:

The staff are deciding how they want to vote.

The staff is deciding how it wants to vote.

  • 1
    It sounds perfectly fine to me. – Hot Licks Nov 15 '18 at 23:14
  • Sounds perfectly grammatical and normal to me as well, with either a singular or a plural verb. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 31 at 23:23
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    Note that "how it wants" implies that the staff is voting as a unified block, rather than individuals. – Hot Licks Apr 1 at 2:11
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    Singular verbs with 'staff' sound wrong to me. In the same way as The people is angry! sounds wrong. It's tricky though: "The team is near the top of the league. They're really on form!" As @Zack H says - it mostly depends whether you are referring to the group or to the individuals within the group. – Dan Apr 1 at 11:12
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So I’m gonna take a detour from English for a little to attempt to explain this in my best understanding.

In Spanish (and other languages, but let’s just say Spanish for now), they do not have this rule. “If the people is good, so is the staff.” See how the last part sounded better than the first? Props to spanish speakers, because they see no difference whatsoever.

Ok back to English. There is somewhat of a blurred line in today’s understanding of these kinds of nouns in particular. The reason behind this is because there are 2 ways to look at words like “family” and “staff”. The first way to look at it is as an ORGANIZATION, and not the people within that organization. E.g. “the staff is welcoming”. This could be interpreted as the cumulative attitude of the staff as a whole “is welcoming”. On the other hand you could interpret as the individuals in the staff “are welcoming”.

The example they use there isn’t a good one because it somewhat has a split meaning. The Spanish got it easy. None of this interpretational nonsense.

Anyway, hope this helps.

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