I came to EL&U today wondering about the correct way to use plural verbs in regard to nouns that imply plurality (such as "group"). While I did find answers, I found many questions that were closed as duplicates of each other.

Most of the questions were not truly duplicates, but were asking variations on the same core question. Unfortunately the better written questions and answers were spread around multiple threads, and many more specific forms of the question were not answered at all.

This means that getting a complete answer to my question required I search through multiple threads.

  1. Is “a group” singular or plural? - Open, but the question is not general enough.
  2. Is “group” singular or plural? [duplicate] - Closed, but has a more general (and useful) question and answer.
  3. Are collective nouns always plural, or are certain ones singular? - 2 links to this, though it isn't really the same, as it about proper names for organizations.
  4. Is this compound noun compose of a group of many things plural or singular? [duplicate] - Deals with a set, but marked as duplicate of 2.
  5. Singular or plural verb after collective noun initialism - Very similar to 3, though it also deals with initialisms.
  6. Is “staff” plural? - Similar to 1 and 2, but about a different word.
  7. “The current crop of X (was/were)” - Which is correct? [duplicate] - Similar to 2 and 6. Closed as duplicate of. . .
  8. Is the usage of “are” correct when referring to a team/group/band? [duplicate] - Similar to 2 and 5. closed as duplicate of 6.

In many cases the "duplicate" questions are closed for isn't even all that similar.

Now, after reading them all. . . I'm still not sure how to correctly choose plural or singular verbs for collectives.

Idealy there would be a question that is well written, has well written answers, and deals with all those weird permuatations of the same problem (that may even have conflicting answers! 1 and 2 have near opposite answers). Or there would be multiple specific questions dealing with each specific case, and they would not be closed immediately as "duplicates".

I can't just ask the question in a better form, because that question will be immediately closed. I can't just edit a question, since I would have to completely rewrite the question, not just modify it a bit - I doubt anyone would approve such a drastic change. I can't even answer the good questions using information from the others because they are close.

Is there a way to fix this?

  • 1
    +1. Great enquiry! I grapple with this myself.
    – user50720
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 14:30

1 Answer 1


Language Is Not Math

The reason you are not clear on how to correctly choose singular versus plural verbs for collective nouns is that it is not possible to do so.

Rather, you have the freedom and privilege of choosing whichever one it pleases you to select, based upon your intent and situation.

You will never get anyone to declare some great rule that inevitably applies, because none can ever exist outside the mind of each individual speaker and setting and time. It is a grave error to believe there can be only one acceptable answer here or in most things in language. There isn’t. Do as you please. I assure you that every native speaker does so.

Were you really unable to come to this understanding after reading through so many postings?

  • 12
    This doesn't really address the issue at hand. I'm not asking for a definitive answer, or technically for anything - this is a discussion after all - I'm pointing out that while this site has many questions about the topic in question, they don't do a very good job answering it because half of them get closed as duplicates of the others, even though those questions aren't really related, or don't have answers. The requisite information exists on this site, but not a clear or generally helpful form.
    – zeel
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 3:29
  • It's not exactly a "great rule", but I think there's an "unmistakable tendency" for AmE to reflect strict syntax in all contexts, whereas BrE is more flexible according to semantics. So although the British family is united (just as its American counterpart), we don't necessarily have a problem with saying Our family are divided over the issue. Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:30
  • @FumbleFingers “All” contexts? Not at all. Try it with couple.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:41
  • 2
    What I still don't get is quite where the line is drawn with the British corporate are. As in "Morgan Stanley are in the process of..." (where we AmEs would say is), or "*The GCHQ are ..", etc.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 19:58
  • 7
    I also see Zeel's point, which is not just about this particular issue. What is the best thing for a questioner to do when there are previous questions that are similar, but that are all closed, and that don't answer this person's question? If this issue is really so specific as to have no general answer, then the previous questions are not really "duplicates".
    – herisson
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 1:41
  • 5
    @sumelic And more generally, how are SE sites supposed to handle this kind of problem? I'm not stupid, I can do research and figure out the answer to my question if I need to - but the point of SE is to provide good answers, which in this (and other) instances it is not. Instead we have a bunch of poor answers spread across multiple questions. There are useful bits in all of it, but digging them up takes more effort than looking for an article elsewhere. If I wasn't a big SE user, I would have just gone back to Google and clicked the next item.
    – zeel
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 13:48
  • @zeel are you saying there are only bad/poor answers? That's not my experience, there are some fine answers; however, I'd agree it is tricky to immediately spot them. One has to search, if the first OP doesn't answer one's question. Nevertheless, how many answers that echo the divergence between BrEng and AmEng usage do you need to read?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 4:05
  • 1
    There are good answers, there are good questions, and there are threads that are still open. Unfortunately there are not any threads that have all of those things - or if they do, they aren't actually my question just similar enough that someone thought the others were duplicates.
    – zeel
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 6:07

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