The Collective Noun – Singular Or Plural Verb?

The Collective Noun - Singular Or Plural

Both are possible, but it depends on which form of English you are using.

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

I have decided to write this post after receiving quite a few criticisms regarding my plural use of certain collective nouns. In particular, when referring to corporations such as Amazon and Apple.

This is understandable, though, because all the critical remarks I have received have been from the US, where singular usage is almost always the rule.

However, it is surprising that they have failed to notice my British spelling, which should give a clue to the fact that I am not writing in US English.

So, why do I insist on (sometimes) using a plural verb?

In US English, a collective noun such as Amazon would almost always carry a singular verb.

For example, Amazon sells books. Apple has released a new phone.

However, in British English, which is the form of English I use, it is more common to use a plural verb.

Amazon sell ebooks worldwide. Apple have sold a lot of iPhones.

My reasoning for often choosing to use the plural verb form is that corporations are by definition, a collection of parts.

In the case of Amazon, there are multiple stores, such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, amazon.ca and Amazon.de plus many more, so using the plural gives the sense of these multiple components.

Companies and corporations can be compared to the collective noun, team.

Both singular and plural verbs can be used, because of the notion of the individual members of a team, or on the other hand, the unity of a team.

The team is winning. This expresses unity.

The team are celebrating their victory.  This says that the members of the team are celebrating together, but in their own individual way.

The resistance to the use of plural verbs with collective nouns rests only on one side of the Atlantic. For the rest of the English speaking world, there is no problem with using a plural verb, so long as it agrees with the accompanying pronoun.

Amazon sell a lot of books to their customers.

Amazon sells a lot of books to its customers.

So, I will continue to use plural verbs and agreement with a collective noun, when appropriate, because British English allows me this flexibility.

However, I will still get a bit cranky when I receive complaints from those with a lack of knowledge about this grammar point.

You find more about the collective noun by reading the following excellent explanations.

Collective Nouns – The Grammar Girl

The Collective Noun – Chompchomp

Should I use a singular or a plural verb with a collective noun? – dictionary.com

How to Use Collective Nouns – Oxford

Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

2 thoughts on “The Collective Noun – Singular Or Plural Verb?

  • Derek – another great article on your excellent site. While I accept much of what you say in this article (I have also been upbraided by an American editor for using a plural verb with a collective noun), I believe your argument is problematic, You say:

    “My reasoning for often choosing to use the plural verb form is that corporations are by definition, a collection of parts.”

    In fact, by definition, a corporation is a legally singular identity. Further, if we accepted your reason, we would debate whether to use a plural verb for a person, which conceptually is a collection of parts according to some philosophers, i.e. a body AND a mind, This is not the place to enter that debate, but it really does depend on how the writer PERCEIVES the collective noun, which I think is your main point.

    Reply
  • I completely disagree about using plural verbs with company names. The various and combined efforts of employees are plural; the collective efforts of different companies or divisions of a corporation are plural; but a company corporate name is one single entity. No, I will redline and CORRECT anything I edit that does not adhere to this simple principle of grammar. Without context, a stand alone use of a plural verb with a company name is not acceptable because there is too large of a segment of grammar-conscious readers to whom this disrupts the flow of story or information

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *