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Are collective nouns always plural, or are certain ones singular?
Which is correct: The rest of the staff is or are? The rest of my family is or are?

I've done a bit of research and I understand that "family" should be preceded by singular or plural verb depending on how you want it to be treated. For example,

His family is one of the oldest in the county.


His family are all doctors.

These are apparently both correct.

But in the following instance, could a grammar expert tell me which should be be?

When his family are abducted


When his family is abducted



  • The second example, because it is speaking about a single event, should be in the past tense: were/was. See Barrie England's answer who was the only one who gave an explanation that fits your second example. – Mari-Lou A Jun 9 '16 at 6:06

In American English, collective nouns are almost always treated as singular. In British English, it often depends on whether the speaker/writer sees the noun as a unit or as individuals. That seems to defeat the purpose of collective nouns, but that is how it is.


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    Maybe not "almost always", but definitely "usually". Even Americans would never say "His family is all doctors". When we want to treat a collective noun as individuals, we often add a word like "all", as well as change the verb tense. – Peter Shor Jul 16 '12 at 13:50
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    In the US, Congress is voting, while in the UK, Parliament are voting. – GEdgar Jul 16 '12 at 14:38
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    @PeterShor, I (U.S.) would certainly never say "His family are all doctors"! Maybe "His family is all doctors"; maybe I'd recast the sentence. – msh210 Oct 4 '15 at 18:42
  • Yeah! This is helpful and support your answer. "dictionary.com/e/collective-nouns" – Kalvaniya Dec 13 '17 at 8:15

It depends on whether you could slot the word 'members' into the sentence or not.

"His family [members] are all doctors" works well enough, so you can use are.

"His family [members] is one of the oldest in the county" doesn't really work so you can't use are.

Then there is the 'one' in your example, which kind of forces it to be singular, but even "His family [members] are the oldest in the county" is a bit odd, unless the family members are all 110+.


It would again depend on how the family was viewed. It could be ‘His family were abducted one by one’ or it could be ‘His entire family was abducted while he was away.’


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