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Are collective nouns always plural, or are certain ones singular?
Is “staff” plural?

What is correct? The jury was divided or The jury were divided? I am told that the latter is accurate because all of the jury do not have the same opinion in the particular case. Then, how does the subject verb agreement fit in 'The jury is still out' ? I mean, 'The jury is out' would allude to a situation were the opinion on a matter is (are?) still divided.


2 Answers 2


"The jury was divided" is correct. Whenever a collective noun is used, it is treated singular because it is a single group. Also, you're trying to say the group was divided, not each of the members. This is similar to "the crowd was scattered".

Note: British and American English slightly differ in other some types of nouns - for example, in British English, you would say "England are the winners", while in American English, you would say "England is not the winner"

To more specifically answer your question,

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"Jury are divided" has never been used. Funnily, seeing this

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shows that "jury are" has decreased dramatically since it was first used, but is on a slight rise after 2000. I still feel it is grammatically incorrect, though. And thanks to Matt Эллен for getting me interested in these graphs :)

  • Thanks for the explanation. My question was because of the presence of the collective noun. As regards your note: Your note on British English does not seem to be consistent when the use of the pronoun 'she' comes to play. For example: England 'are' the winners. 'She, now leads the medals' tally. Are the foregoing pair of sentences consistent / correct?
    – Essen
    Jul 30, 2012 at 8:51
  • @Essen In your sentence, you are referring to the country. In mine, I'm referring to the English team, not the country. "They now lead..." would be better. In American English, it would be "It now leads..." And no comma after 'She' :P Jul 30, 2012 at 8:55
  • 1
    "England is not the winners"? Seriously? They talk like that in America? Today I learnt!
    – user16269
    Jul 30, 2012 at 9:03
  • Oops. Sorry, I meant "England is not the winner" Jul 30, 2012 at 9:05
  • Thanks for pointing out the incorrect placing of the comma.
    – Essen
    Jul 30, 2012 at 10:49

It's up to you. It seems that treating jury as a singular entity takes preference in literature, although that hasn't always been the case:

Google ngram of "the jury has returned" vs "the jury have returned"

It is important to note that a group's plurality is changeable when it comes to conjugation. Sometimes we take a group to be plural, sometimes we don't. There is no rule. These all work:

  • The jury is still out
  • The jury are still out
  • The staff are revolting
  • The team is leaving the changing room
  • The congregation are singing
  • The management expresses its sympathy

This changes when talking about containers, because we're not referring to the contents, but the singular container:

The biscuit tin is emtpy
*The biscuit tin are empty

  • 2
    The grammar has not changed in British English; your Ngram shows the effects of America growing larger. Jul 30, 2012 at 14:57
  • @PeterShor Most interesting. Jul 30, 2012 at 15:15
  • 1
    I can't agree that 'there is no rule' (in using singular or plural agreement). Certainly, in the UK we would say "The team was founded in 1922" and not "The team were founded in 1922"; we would also say "The team were all exhausted after the game" and not "The team was all exhausted after the game". The rule is: are you considering the team as a whole, or the individual members (when 'team' is really an accepted shorthand for 'members of the team'). Admittedly, in some cases it is arguable: The family is / are away. 'The jury is out' has surely attained idiomatic (fixed) status. Jul 30, 2012 at 20:58
  • @EdwinAshworth I would accept there was a rule if you gave me a reason. "The team was exhausted" sounds fine to me. I concede the "The team were founded ..." is wrong, but there are so many exceptions to "are you considering the unit or the individuals?" that that can't be it. Jul 30, 2012 at 21:06
  • In a sentence like "the jury is still out" or "the jury was called in", all members of the jury are acting, or being acted upon, as a unit. If officials divided a jury into two groups so that six members could ride in each of two vehicles to go somewhere, I would say "the jury was divided...", but if members of the jury disagreed about something, I would say "The [members of the] jury were divided", basing the verb upon the implied (but omitted) text indicated by brackets.
    – supercat
    Oct 16, 2012 at 15:29

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