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

This feels wrong to me (sounds like it should be cares) but issues is plural and in the case of "the people that the public care about" there it feels much more natural (though still somewhat awkward).

What is the actual rule?

  • The rule is to make agreement between subject and verb. The question is whether public is singular or plural. I would tend to use cares here just as you would.
    – Jim
    Sep 6, 2012 at 4:27
  • I do wonder why this is tagged "possessive". There is not a single possessive form in the entire question, let alone in the example sentence. Not every word with an S in it is possessive.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 6, 2012 at 21:39
  • because the public cares. Isn't that possessive? the caring belongs to the public. I thought that's how possession works (and then your head starts to go in circles and the Catholic priest shows up and starts splashing holy water in your face). Sep 6, 2012 at 22:31

2 Answers 2


When I was learning English in school (some 25 years ago), my teacher told me that collective nouns (nouns referring to a group while having a singular form) are used with the plural forms of the verb if (and only if) the verb determins something done by the individual members of the respective group.

So it would have to be "the police is the best customer for new cars" but "the police are the best customers for donuts".

As the public in its whole cannot be considered to be interested in anything, the author of the original text clearly thinks that its individual member entities are.


The subject is public, so issues is immaterial.

The author simply construes public to be plural, since there are a lot of them. This is in no way unusual.

  • but isn't the public a singular entity? Sep 6, 2012 at 7:31
  • 1
    It depends. If you look at it as a single entity, it's singular. If you look at it as a plural entity, it's plural. American English tends to see collective nouns as singular and British English, as plural. BrE speakers say things like "The {team/government} are..." and AmE speakers say "The {team/government} is..." It's a matter of idiomaticity. Both are correct. I'd use care for … the top ten issues that the voting public care about: I don't see all voters caring about all 10 issues. I'd say the police force is the best customer for new cars to avoid the police is (awkward).
    – user21497
    Sep 6, 2012 at 10:42
  • 1
    The word for today: idiomaticity
    – GEdgar
    Sep 6, 2012 at 19:47

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.