With the article the preceding an adjective, the resulted phrase is usually treated as a plural noun. Examples are "the poor", "the free", "the brave", "the wise", etc..

It seems that the phrase "the left" or "the Left" (when it refers to political groups) is an exception. Sometimes it is followed by singular verbs, sometimes it is followed by plural verbs. My question is:

What is so special about the phrase "the left"? When it is used as a singular noun, does it somehow convey a subtly different meaning than it being used as a plural noun?

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    It might help if you were to clarify whether you mean "left" as a political figure of speech, or something more specifically directional. You may find that plural usage is more likely to be found in those storied isles on the eastern side of the big herring pond... – Rob_Ster Aug 16 '19 at 1:58
  • Are you in Britian or the US? – Hot Licks Aug 16 '19 at 2:39
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    Both will work. See also Clayworth below. – Kris Aug 16 '19 at 5:21
  • Hmm. 'The left' as a political party is a phrase I have heard. – marcellothearcane Aug 18 '19 at 18:56
  • Possible duplicate of Is "a group" singular or plural?. This invokes the usual 'logical agreement vs notional agreement' discussion. 'Police' seems the bugbear, the exception to most rules. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '19 at 18:43

The general rule is this: when the people being referred to are a coherent unit then the singular is used: the Catholic Church, the Liberal party, the Finance committee can all be referred to in the singular, especially when you are talking about collective actions or attributes. The organization is the singular entity being referred to. So:

The Church promotes belief in God

The Liberal party supports tax reform

The Finance committee approves the budget

However for many of the above the plural can also be used, especially when the action is by individual members rather than the group as a whole. And there are exceptions.

The Finance committee believe that the current budget is the best.

On the other hand the poor, the brave etc. are not any kind of coherent unit, they are just a number of people. Therefore they will always be plural.

The poor spend most of their money on housing

The brave live on in our memories

Using singular for 'the left' implies that you are treating them as an organised unit. Exactly the same rules and argument applies to 'the right' and 'the centre'.

  • Close (if one accepts notional agreement, which some don't), but even then not totally accurate. English is rarely simple. 'The police ...' may certainly be regarded as a coherent unit but always takes plural agreement. Contrast 'the army', which in 'BrE' may have whichever agreement seems better in context. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '19 at 18:46
  • I don't disagree, and I have no idea why "The police" is such a strange exception. – DJClayworth Aug 20 '19 at 19:02
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    I think the only rule I could see as being universal in English is 'Things are never simple'. Even there, I'm not so sure. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 21 '19 at 15:29
  • @EdwinAshworth The police does not always take plural agreement; there are plenty of cases where the entirety of the police force and the notion of ‘police’ are seen as one juggernaut unit, and singular agreement is perfectly commonplace then: “The police is the most expensive public service sector”, “The police does not fall under any specific minister”, etc. (Both those statements are probably quite false, but just to illustrate.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 21 '19 at 16:06
  • @Janus You're right. The distribution of 'the police is' (when one rules out false positives) is, however, vastly different from say 'the army is'. For instance with 'The army has been called in', the 'police' equivalent is, I'd hazard, unacceptable. Does this make this answer more or less accurate? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 21 '19 at 16:50

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