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Over at stats.stackexchange we are having a minor kerfuffle over whether a title is using incorrect grammar. It has been edited and re-edited several times. It would be great to get some arbitration and a clear explanation.

The original title was "What questions is your data team hoping to answer?" which was edited to "What questions are your data team hoping to answer?", then edited back. See the question here.

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The subject of hoping is team; questions is a red herring, as can be seen by considering How many questions...? Is or are there would not depend on whether the answer is 'One' or 'more than one'; it depends on team.

So the question comes down to "Is team singular or plural?", and unfortunately, the answer is "It depends". This question and this one address the point; my own opinion, for what it's worth, is that it depends on whether, in the writer's view, the team act as a whole (like a football team, which scores goals collectively though one person is credited) or each question is answered by one person (like a cricket team, who score runs individually, and then total them for a team score).

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    It would seem humorously apropos to say ...scores...score.... – cardinal Aug 31 '12 at 14:37
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    N.B. It's not clear that "questions" is entirely a red herring. There is a well observed phenomenon of grammatical "leeching", whereby grammatical features that are "next to one another" linearly can affect speakers' perception of the sentence even though structurally you wouldn't expect them to be related. So you may actually find that overall, speakers find the plural verb more natural here in part because of the plural "questions". – Neil Coffey Aug 31 '12 at 16:01
  • Déjà vu. – tchrist Aug 31 '12 at 16:04
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    I think the position becomes clear when you make 'question' singular and 'team' plural. Surely not 'What question is your data teams hoping to answer?' – Barrie England Aug 31 '12 at 16:09
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    @DavidWallace: I think the point here is general rather than specific; the example gets ever so slightly in the way. That said, most North Americans, e.g., would tend to say "Chelsea scores...", though they would also say "the Blues score...". It is telling that you chose "Chelsea...Liverpool" for your example and not "Liverpool...Chelsea". In the latter case, neither score nor scores would seem appropriate given the current start to the season. – cardinal Sep 2 '12 at 16:23
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"Team" should always be treated as singular without exception or context. PBS Nova has always done it correctly. Some other PBS documentaries don't, causing a grammatical dissonance and mutilation of our language. The worst case was the PBS documentary on the ESA Rosetta comet mission, where they used both forms (singular and plural) without even any discernible distinction between the team as a whole and individual members of the team. Terrible.

  1. The team is out with the flu. CORRECT, even if only some members have it.
  2. Part of the team is out with the flu. ALSO CORRECT, not "are". See #4 to understand why.
  3. The two teams are playing the game. CORRECT.
  4. The team are discussing how to play. INCORRECT! This is the troubling construction that has crept in over the last decade and is being used more often in shows on TV. The author's implication is: "the members of the team", pl. It should not matter whether the implied reference is to some or to all members. When authors desire a reference to individuals of a team, they should state it explicitly in this form: the team members are discussing how to play. CORRECT, even if it is the whole team who is discussing how to play. Note also the correct form "is" in the previous sentence.

The same principles hold for the collective singular noun "group", unlike "people", which is a collective plural noun. Try to say out loud: "the people is going to the show." However, for group, the correct form is: "the group is going to the show."

  • I share your point of view, but as a new contributor you will find that this doesn't qualify as an answer on this list. The problems are (1) this is a site for language and usage, so people will say that language is a dynamic thing and like it or not (I don't) it is changing (2) you have to back up your point of view with authority of some sort. (Dictionary, grammar, quotations). In this sort of circumstance I usually retaliate with a caustic comment, but you need to have accumulated a certain score to be able to comment. But beware, these guys can wield the knife as well. – David Aug 8 at 15:52
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    The U.S. is not the only country that speaks English, and team is often plural in other English speaking countries (and people living in these countries participate on stackexchange as well). Your answer is unacceptably parochial. – Peter Shor Aug 8 at 18:22
  • Among the countries that speak English, in the one that has perhaps the best claim to ownership of the language the normal rule adopted is synesis. 'The team were arguing among themselves' / 'The team was founded in 1876' / 'England are winning 2 - 1'. Preferred usage varies often according to region. As Peter says, this answer is unacceptably parochial (an expression I'll bank for future use). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 15 at 12:37

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