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I am writing a sentence as below and am having issues with plurization of a phrase (highlighted).

The Cluster had begun as a research group, a gathering of the sharpest minds of the world. Proponents of progress, the group was a force to be reckoned with.

Microsoft Word's grammar check seems to find the above sentence invalid and has provided the below two suggestions but both of them feel strange to me.

  1. A proponent of progress, the group was a force to be reckoned with.
  2. Proponents of progress, the group were a force to be reckoned with.

My understanding is that in the beginning of the sentence I am referring to a group of people so it should be plural and in the second part of the sentence, the focus is on the group as a whole so it should be singular. Is my understanding correct ? If not, what sentence structure would be grammatically correct ?

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According to this article your choice is not wrong, although the singular is possible.

A plural local noun in apposition with a collective noun subject focuses on the members of the collective, while the subject of the clause remains singular. This number conflict is resolved in different ways. For instance, in (4.23) singular agreement is adhered to, while the plural is chosen in (4.24).

  • (4.23) A company called AS & T, manufacturers of aerodynamic edges for airline wing-tips, occupies the old nappy factory. (Ind)
  • (4.24) Hertsmere Council, owners of the Furzefield Centre, have called a halt at a venue where Mark Delaney was due to defend his WBO Inter- Continental super-middleweight title against the Welsh champion, Darron Griffiths, on 23 January. (Ind)

However here is a definite rule.

Plural subjects followed by a singular appositive require a plural verb; similarly, a singular subject followed by a plural appositive requires a singular verb.

  • Example: The board, all ten members, is meeting today.

Of course, this does not say anything about an apposition before the subject, but it would be surprising if this small change made the rule different. This again tends to show that your choice is not worse than another.

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  • Thank you @LPH this helps... – user96551 May 10 at 19:17
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The meaning is somewhat ambiguous. Whether a group is treated as singular or plural depends on how it's being interpreted. And it's somewhat different between the US and the UK.

The problem with your sentence is that you treat the group as plural at the start, but then switch it to singular at the end. That's not something you should be doing. Either have the group always be plural or have it always be singular.

But while the second suggested revision of the sentence would probably not be a problem in UK English, it's not quite idiomatic in US English.

There are some additional variations you could consider—the first being a slight change to that second suggestion:

  1. Proponents of progress, the group members were a force to be reckoned with.
  2. Composed of proponents of progress, the group was a force to be reckoned with.

The first variation puts the emphasis on the members, which you might not want. The second variation keeps the emphasis on the singular group itself, but in a way that mentions individuals while still keeping the singularity consistent.

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  • Or: The group, whose members were all proponents of progress, was a force to be reckoned with. It’s the group that’s a force. – Xanne May 9 at 21:10
  • @Jason: The plural in the beginning is because I am referring to the composition of the group and later the group as a whole is a force to be reckoned with (the individual members may not be though), however, I do see your point and thank you for the excellent suggestions... – user96551 May 10 at 18:32

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