Submitted by mike3 on July 20, 2010

Team names — singular or plural

Watching the World Cup recently has prompted me to ask: Why do the announcers refer to teams as if they are plural? For instance, “England are on the attack.” I think it should be “England is on the attack,” as we are referring to the English team which is a single unit and therefore singular?

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@shaunc
"To say 'England [is] on the attack' would infer the country of England as a whole was on the attack. England as a country is not on the attack, but a team of players representing England are on attack."
The context where this phrase is being used is a football game. In this context, it can be assumed that saying, "England is on the attack" is referring to the English national football team, and not the English military. For example, if one was to hear, "England is on the attack" on the local news, one would assume that the English military is attacking another country.
Using YOUR logic, saying, "England are on the attack" during a football broadcast would infer that the individual citizens of England were on the attack. This is obviously not the case because that interpretation would be completely out of context.

That said, I agree with what providencejim said. I believe that the base of this confusion is a cultural difference between the US and the UK. I am an American and I have always found the usage of plural by the British very odd. In general, I find that football teams are ambiguously named: Birmingham City, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Aston Villa, Inter, Milan, Ajax, etc; compared to American football teams: Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, etc. This is the key to the discrepancy. When Americans want to refer to an NFL team as an organization we use the city and when we want to refer to an NFL team as the collection of players, coaches, and fans, we use the team name. For example, “Chicago is beating Green Bay” and, “The Texans are doing well this year.” Since football fans across the world generally only have one name to choose from, they say, "Birmingham are" and, "Birmingham is" based on the desired usage. I don't understand why the British and others INSIST upon using the plural even when the singular should be used. My only explanation would be either habit or stubbornness, or both. I recognize that there are times when a team should be referred to as a team of players, coaches, and fans, yet there are also times when a team should be referred to as a single entity.

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"Group" is a collective noun. I'm an American, and the following sounds awkward to me:

"A group of people are on the attack."

But this sounds correct to me:

"A group of people is on the attack."

Is it the opposite for you English out there?

What happens when I use a collective noun in these sentences:

"There is a group."
"There are a group."

Since the verb is determined by the term "group," the British would choose the second sentence as correct, but the second sentence sounds ridiculous to my U. S. of American ear.

To be even clearer about my problem with collective nouns, here are a few more sentences, which seem incorrect to me, though they follow the British rule of always treating collective nouns as plurals:

"There are the team, Manchester United, leaving the field in glory."
"There are the band, Radiohead, conquering the world."
"There are the group of Americans messing up grammar for the rest of us."

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The link above is somewhat helpful, but doesn't address the question specifically. In the UK (and other English-speaking countries outside North America), just about all collective nouns (e.g., team, or the name of a team, such as "England") take plural verbs. Hence, "England were playing generally lousy football." If you listen to Versus Network's Tour de France coverage, you'll hear things such as "The Radio Shack team are led by Lance Armstrong," since the announcers are again British.

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Teacher in a South African school asks class, "What is wrong with the following sentence? ''There is ten cows in the field' "
Jannie answers, "Perhaps one are a bull."

:-))

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UGH, it PAINS me to watch international sports for this very reason, hearing the SEMANTICS instead of the correct GRAMMAR!

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Must be a British thing ... An American would say, "England is on the attack."

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I would take "Newcastle beat Chelsea" as a past tense.

Noting 'they', 'them', or 'their' as a genderless singular as a long, long history. Thus, putting them to a collectiv noun that is singular is not out of place.

team is
teams are

band is
bands are

government is
governments are

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England on the attack" vs. "England are on the attack".

I would say that "England are on the attack" refers to a team who’s players are on the attack. This is plural – hence “are”. To say "England on the attack" would infer the country of England as a whole was on the attack. England as a country is not on the attack, but a team of players representing England are on attack.

But, that is just my opinion...

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And it equally pains me to hear that the family, a bunch of flesh and blood individuals, "is" coming for Christmas. It is, as AnWulf says, a British thing. We usually see group nouns or collective nouns as representing a group of individuals rather than a unit. It's just a different way of thinking, that's all. Americans seem happier with formal agreement, while we prefer notional agreement. In the right context, neither is more correct than the other.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Amer...

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@BrockawayBaby - 18 months later. I'm afraid it's not as simple as that. Let's take the word 'government'. After an election we might say "There is a new government", but later on that the government "are introducing a new law". Sometimes we see the government as an entity, sometimes as a group of people.

"My family have decided to move to Nottingham." - real flesh and blood people
"The average family has 3.6 members" - a concept
"My firm are wonderful. They do all they can do for me." - the managers etc
"My firm was founded in the 18th century" - an entity

I don't think we often use plural after the construction "There is/are" when the noun is singular, except with expressions like "There are a number of ...". Nor do we usually use a plural verb before a group noun, only after it.

And I'm afraid these sentences wouldn't seem natural to me even in the singular:

"There is the team, Manchester United, leaving the field in glory."
"There is the band, Radiohead, conquering the world."
"There is the group of Americans messing up grammar for the rest of us."

Why say team, or band here? We know what they are.
"And there's Manchester United, leaving the field"
"And there's Radiohead," conquering the world."

And no doubt some Brits (but not me, of course) might say:

" There's a group of Americans messing up grammar for the rest of us." (NB a, not the!) - Actually it's more likely to be the other way around, as the American feel for grammar seems to be rather more formal than ours. I think 'singular the", for example, is much more of an issue for Americans than Brits.

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Warsaw Will - well said.

I don't get why this confounds Americans so much. They have no problem (at least, as far as I know) substituting the plural pronoun 'they' for various collective nouns, acknowledging that context sometimes implies the plural. They also give sports teams plural sounding names, apparently with no concern for the fact it is still a single entity.
I think you hit the nail on the proverbial when you said it comes down to an American preference for formal agreement rubbing up against a Brit preference for notional agreement (or vice versa, more often than not).
I'm a lover of the English language, and feel like vomiting through my nostrils at the rather rigid view of grammar and language held by many. I'm far more impressed by a person's overall 'command' of a language than by grammatical accuracy (as a rule).

The idea of languages having 'rules' (in the strict sense of the word) is rather amusing, as though you run the risk of being escorted off the premises for improper grammar usage, or being banned from further conversations.

Anyhoo, I thought it a good point well-made, and thought I'd say as much.

Cheerio

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@jayles - I didn't say that 'are' would top 'is', just that the difference between AmE and BrE is more marked. As I've said before - Ngram is based on books, and even BRE speakers are likely to use singular more in formal written texts.

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I am British and yet I fully concur with the Americans . England or any country ought to be used in the singular , after all the players are representing their country and more importantly the word is singular. It is indeed painful to listen to " France have just scored a goal" . This is not only grammatically wrong but it is also illogical as only one of the French players has just scored a goal. Why , therefore, doesn't the commentator just say this.
Never understood the use of "England supporters" either . Surely, they are English supporters or supporters of England. It becomes even more baffling when the same commentator goes on to talk about the French or the Scottish supporters . The problem as I see it is that the news media in England have no clear strategy for maintaining good grammatical rules and the editors do not rectify the mistakes made by their journalists . Also the standard of education in England is very low with schools teaching little or no grammar leaving the common masses to learn their English from what they hear on television or what they read in tabloid newspapers.

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@AnWulf - Good on you for backing singular they. However the examples with verbs you then give are fine for American usage, but in British usage (which is what some people are complaining about here) would need to read:

team is/are
teams are

band is/are
bands are

government is/are
governments are

I think we Brits (and the British media) tend to use a plural verb with a singular group (or collective) noun more often than a singular verb. Because we normally think of them as groups of people rather than as entities.

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In the English language in the United States, collective nouns are singular with multiple parts. For instance, the Miami Heat is a basketball team. In the preceding sentence, the pronoun and the antecedent must agree, to wit: Heat and team must agree. Commentators are constantly saying that the Heat are going to the Eastern Conference finals. He is referencing the individuals on the team but if you refer to the team as a unit, a singular verb should be used. Another thing that these college graduates use is the reference to something being the "exact same". If it is the same, it is exact and vice versa English teachers that happen to be coaches may be a little tolerant but the classic English teacher is having a fit listening to this misuse of adjectives and the little children are listening. Stop it already!!!!!!

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@WW
Scotland are playing England?? Taking things a bit far there methinks.
Falling into the commentators' trap.
Does that mean that Scotland are a nice country?

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England invades Scotland once again, or is it England invade Scotland once again?
Very confusing.

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It occurred to me that social media might be a good way of gauging normal (not published) use. The first figures are for actual instances, the ones in brackets the numbers given on the first search page. Either way they're pretty overwhelming:

"Arsenal have won the"
Facebook 261 (185,000)
Twitter 569 (94,500)
Yahoo Answers 43

"Arsenal has won the"
Facebook 41 (8,750)
Twitter 58 (545)
Yahoo Answers 13

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@HS - Glad we're still talking - Google hits (real results - not first page figures - 'when' versions are to make sure they're not following modals or other constructions which might skew the results):

"Scotland are playing England" - 29 (-1, which is your comment)
"Scotland is playing England" - 26
"when Scotland are playing England" - 21
"when Scotland is playing England" - 13
"when Scotland play England" - 58
"when Scotland plays England" - 17
"Scotland have played England" - 22
"Scotland has played England" - 0

"Scotland have played England 108 times" - The Guardian
"The only previous occasion Scotland have played England at the World Cup was the 1991 semi-final at Murrayfield" - The BBC
"Since the war Scotland have played England 24 times at Twickenham" - The Herald
"As far as stats go, since 1873 Scotland have played England 104 times." - The Spectator
"Over the past 100 years, Scotland have played England amateur teams or the MCC" - The Scotsman

At the British National Corpus ( BNC), the computerised collection of English texts probably most used by linguists:

"England play" - 16 (minus perhaps 3 for constructions that take a bare infinitive)
"England play" - 1 (and that's a red herring - "the Bank of England plays a predominant role in the gilt-edged market")
"England beat" - 18, "England beats" - 0
"England lose" - 7, "England loses" - 0
"England win" - 9, "England wins" - 1

http://bnc.bl.uk/saraWeb.php?qy=England+play&am...
http://www.just-the-word.com/main.pl?word=Engla... (go down to
*England* subj V)

Not so much the commentators' trap as what most Brits would say, me included. And we're not in the slightest confused.

Something interesting happens when pronouns are involved - these are from the BNC:

"By the time England play their first World Cup qualifying match in October"
"If England play the direct game, they will worry us"
"I have never seen England play better than they did against Ireland"

Perhaps you would prefer:

"By the time England plays its first World Cup qualifying match in October"
"If England plays the direct game, it (England) will worry us"
"I have never seen England play better than it did against Ireland"

It? For a team? Now that would be a bit strange, wouldn't it?

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@jayles (the ?) - another for your collection - "a fraction of the people present were/was", etc - see http://painintheenglish.com/case/5237/

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@WW Would the same outcome apply for AmE eg Red Sox, San Francisco 49ers ,Miami Heat ??

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Seeing my explanation on another thread was apparently 'difficult to follow', perhaps this, from probably the most popular self-study grammar book for foreign learners of British English, will be easier to understand. (Remember, he's talking about British English):

"Some singular nouns are often used with a plural verb. For example:

government staff team family audience committee company firm

These nouns are all groups of people. We often think of them as a number of people (= 'they'), not as one thing (= 'it'). So we often use a plural verb:

The government (= they) want to increase taxes.
The staff at the school (= they) are not happy with their new working conditions.

In the same way,we often use a plural verb after the name of a sports team or a company:

Scotland are playing France next week.
Shell have increased the price of petrol.

A singular verb (The government wants ... / Shell has ... etc) is also possible."

English Grammar in Use (Cambridge University Press) - Raymond Murphy

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@HS - If, as you suggest, this is a recent phenomenon (and no doubt to be blamed on television) I wonder why the Fowler brothers were writing about it in 'The King's English' in 1908, or why Sir Ernest Gowers wrote about it in 'The Complete Plain Words' in 1954. So I think your memory may well be deceiving you.

And to call the combined comments of the Fowlers, Gowers and Partridge together with those of British dictionaries and the whole of the EFL grammar publishing industry, led by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, not to mention David Crystal, probably the leading expert on British English, 'just opinions' is, frankly, weird. When experts in other areas of academic excellence generally agree about something are these just opinions?

To remind you; this is not just my weird theory. This is standard stuff, as anybody who teaches British English knows.

Practice in the British media is not uniform. Apparently The Times always goes for a singular verb, but others vary, although most are agreed about sports teams - the house rule is that they take a plural verb. Remember these are simply house style guides; they are not laying down grammatical rules.

This is from the Economist Style Guide:

"COLLECTIVE NOUNS
There is no firm rule about the number of a verb governed by a singular collective noun. It is best to go by the sense—that is, whether the collective noun stands for a single entity (The council was elected in March, The me generation has run its course, The staff is loyal) or for its constituents: (The council are at sixes and sevens, The preceding generation are all dead, The staff are at each other's throats). Do not, in any event, slavishly give all singular collective nouns singular verbs: The couple are now living apart is preferable to The couple is now living apart. Indeed, in general, treat both a pair and a couple as plural."

http://www.economist.com/styleguide/s#node-2153...

From the Guardian Style Guide:

"singular or plural?
Corporate entities take the singular: eg The BBC has decided (not "have"). In subsequent references make sure the pronoun is singular: "It [not "they"] will press for an increase in the licence fee."

Sports teams and rock bands are the exception – "England have an uphill task" is OK, as is 'Nirvana were overrated' "

http://www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-st...

From the BBC Style Guide:

"It is the policy of BBC Radio News that collective nouns should be plural, as in The Government have decided. Other departments, such as BBC Online, have resolved that collective nouns should always be singular, as in The Government has decided. BBC Television News has no policy and uses whichever sounds best in context.The difficulty for writers comes because there is no rule

collective nouns
can be either singular or plural. The advice from Radio News is fine, but think about what you are saying. A lot depends on whether the organisation is seen as a singular entity or as a collection of individuals. It is more natural to write The committee park their cars in the field rather than The committee parks its cars because the committee is being thought of as separate people. It would also be correct to write The committee has decided to ban cars from the field because it is being seen as a single body.
Similarly, The Cabinet are discussing education (because it takes more than one to have a discussion) but The Cabinet is determined to push through the changes (where its members are acting together). There is one rule you must follow, though

In sport, teams are always plural. England are expected to beat the Balearic Islands ; Tranmere Rovers have extended their lead at the top of the Premiership."

http://web.archive.org/web/20110707214856/http:...

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I wonder, which do people think more natural in each of these pairs of sentences. If you reply to this, it would be useful to say what branch of English you speak:

The couple on the bench opposite me were kissing and canoodling.
The couple on the bench opposite me was kissing and canoodling.

A pair of swallows have made their home under the eaves of our house.
A pair of swallows has made its home under the eaves of our house.

The staff are unhappy about the new arrangements.
The staff is unhappy about the new arrangements.

A majority were in favour of change.
A majority was in favour of change.

A large number of people agree with this idea.
A large number of people agrees with this idea.

A wide range of colours are available.
A wide range of colours is available.

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On the subject of traditional school teaching, here are two extracts from late nineteenth-century textbooks used in British schools. The first is from The English Language: Its Grammar, History, and Literature, by JMD Meiklejohn, first published in Edinburgh in 1886. Meiklejohn was professor of the theory, history and practice of education in the University of St.Andrews.

'Rule XXIX. — Collective Nouns take a singular verb or a plural verb, as the notion of unity or of plurality is uppermost in the mind of • the speaker. Thus we say : "Parliament was dissolved." "The committee are divided in opinion." '

http://archive.org/stream/englishlanguage05meik...

The second is from The Elements of English Grammar, by Alfred S West, first published around 1898:

'Collective nouns are also called Nouns of Multitude, and in using them we sometimes think of the individuals included in the group rather than of the group
as a whole. Hence these nouns are found with either singular or plural predicates. We may say * Parliament was unanimous,' if the thought uppermost in our minds is
the assembly as a whole, but we may say ' Parliament were all sixes and sevens,' if we are thinking of the assembly as divided into different parties.'

http://archive.org/stream/elementsof07west00wes...

There ain't nothing new under the sun.

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With "range of colours" (or colors) "is" outnumbers "are" on ngrams by 5:1.

I would regard "a pair of", a number of, a couple of - like "lots of" as being so common as to have achieved a status similar to determiners such as much/many/these/those/some/any

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@jayles - Thanks, 'range - yes, that was my bad example, as the accent is on the range rather than the colours. How about 'A wide range of people were invited' - 17/1 on Google, not including my own blog post on the subject, which was triggered by this - 'A wide range of activists, both African and European, is furious about the New Alliance' - 'A wide range of people is furious' seems weird to me.

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2013/07...

But I'll wait and see if there are some more answers before giving my own comments.

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A pride of lion was seen in the clearing.

A murder of crows was seen in the field.

A covey of pheasant was raised by the dogs.

Or should all of those be were?

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@WW I really haven't researched this but I think it would be a good idea to define different categories of collective nouns, so that we are not all at cross-purposes. So off the cuff, "cattle" "staff" "people" "police" and so on need to be looked at in terms of countability and how the meaning changes when uncountable and/or collective. Again "flock" "covey" and so on might be another group. And "a number of" and similar might fall together as "determiner-substitutes" or "quasi-determiners".
The other approach which merits looking into is the question of "totum pro parte". In essence if we say "the team were on their feet" then there is no grammatical subject/verb agreement, and in my own less-than-illustrious view the plural verb simply confirms that here "team" stands for "team members". It's a figure of speech a bit like saying "Where's your wheels?" when you mean car. The fact that it is quite (!) common does not automatically mean that "team" has become a plural noun or "takes" plural verb; it remains a sort of shorthand; no I am not saying this applies to 'a lot of" and the like which have long since passed into a quasi-determiner status. Maybe "people" in the beginning stood for "members of the people" but I think that would be stretching it too far today.
The other comment I would make is that when teaching it all "collective->singular verb" is yes a simplification, but where one would begin; and that is perhaps why that is what is remembered clearly.

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@jayles - OK, so let's take out police for a start, that's always plural. The then X of Y determiner types. So that leaves us with perhaps three main categories -

1. what are commonly referred to in grammar books as collective nouns - class, family, government, school, team etc - where there is a difference in practice (but as it turns out not in theory) between AmE and BrE.

2. Words like couple and pair, which more naturally take a plural (at least according to the Economist Style Guide)

3. Other odds and ends like majority

I agree that, of course, "the team were on their feet" refers to the members. I don't know if I'd call it a figure of speech, as it can be explained grammatically, and has been done so, even by the principal prescriptivists, such as Robert Lowth and Lindley Murray. What I'm now discovering is that it was also seen as perfectly acceptable by nineteenth-century American grammarians such as Noah Webster and William Chauncey Fowler.

It's not that team has become a plural noun, but that all these grammars agree that this special category of nouns can take a singular or plural verb. It appears that they were earlier known as 'nouns of multitude'. For an explanation I really do recommend you look up notional agreement at Wikipedia, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Having found out that older American grammars were in agreement with British ones, what would interests me is to find out why and when the divergence in usage began. And I suspect it might have something to do with the influence of the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Style Guide.

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Just checking on Ngrams it looks as though "police" sometimes takes a singular verb (when meaning police force) : I just tried "is" and "are".

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@HS - As I've said before, it's not a matter of 'should'; all authorities give you a choice. If you are happier using singular verbs that's fine. And, like jayles, that's what I tell my students - in Polish these nouns would always take a singular verb, so it's easier for them to do the same in English. But they read stuff like the Economist, so it's important for them to know that we often use a plural.

In your first example, personally speaking, I might say either; there's not much difference between seeing them as a group or as individuals, but when they start doing some action or other I would be more likely to see them acting as individuals and use a plural verb. My own feeling is that when we're talking about a group's existence, we're more likely to use a singular verb, and when they're more active, a plural verb - but I stress, that's entirely optional. After 'existential there', I would always use 'is' not 'are'. Look! There's a pack of dogs running round our garden'.

I certainly have the standard British tendency to use a plural. As a 'by the by' I would certainly never say 'a pride of lion', when lion has a standard s plural, even if I was looking at them through the sights of a gun - don't take this amiss, but, like Eric Partridge (Usage and Abusage) I don't go for this extension of 'game plurals' to animals that have perfectly good plural s versions. Incidentally, Partridge, also author of the Dictionary Of Slang And Unconventional English, was apparently a keen collector of the type of collective nouns you've been using there, and apparently himself came up with 'A condescension of actors.'

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@jayles - that doesn't really work; you get too much noise. Click on 'police is' at the bottom of Ngram, and all the entries that show the words 'police is' are stuff like:

"This view of the police is in keeping with ..."
"The effectiveness of the police is also reduced ..."
"the primary goal of the police is public cooperation"
"the understanding between the general public and the police is undermined"

Add The (capitalised) at the beginning and 'The police is' virtually drops away to nothing, in both British and American English, although it seems to have been more popular before 1850.

By the way, there's something very strange about Ngram. When you do 'wide range of people were,wide range of people was' on English they are roughly equal. When you do it on British English, only the 'were' version appears, but when you do it on American English, nothing appears! It makes no sense. It's probably because the numbers are so small as to be meaningless.

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@WW yes ngram is a bit quirky and sometimes misleading: I'm really just interested as to whether there is a cohort (or shortlist) of collectives that are almost always used with a plural verb on both sides of the Atlantic. (Although I guess in fact I'll never get to use it - not "semi-retired" but "retired" now but hey I met more people had more fun teaching than I ever did as an accountant).

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Headline from The Daily Express:-
"European elections are almost here - and Ukip are threatening to rewrite the electoral map"
??????????

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"the crowd goes wild" outnumbers "the crowd go wild" 9:1


books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+crowd+goes+wild%3Aeng_us_2012%2Cthe+crowd+go+wild%3Aeng_us_2012%2Cthe+crowd+goes+wild%3Aeng_gb_2012%2Cthe+crowd+go+wild%3Aeng_gb_2012&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cthe crowd goes wild%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthe crowd goes wild%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThe crowd goes wild%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bthe Crowd Goes Wild%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cthe crowd go wild%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cthe crowd goes wild%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthe crowd goes wild%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThe crowd goes wild%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0

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Just looking at the results for "pair of * is,pair of * are" and "pair of * was, pair of * were" on ngrams and there doesn't seem to be a preponderance of either singular or plural, or any marked us/gb split. Does this mean that prima facie they don't "naturally" take a plural?
"the couple is" also outnumbers "the couple are" 2:1, which suggests that a plural verb may be less than automatic.

books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=each+couple+is%2Ceach+couple+are%2Cthis+couple+is%2C+this+couple+are%2C+every+couple+is%2Cevery+couple+are&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1920&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Ceach couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Beach couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BEach couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ceach couple are%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cthis couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthis couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThis couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cthis couple are%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthis couple are%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThis couple are%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cevery couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bevery couple is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BEvery couple is%3B%2Cc0

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books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=each+family+is%3Aeng_us_2012%2Ceach+family+are%3Aeng_us_2012%2Ceach+family+is%3Aeng_gb_2012%2Ceach+family+are%3Aeng_gb_2012&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1920&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Ceach family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Beach family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BEach family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ceach family are%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Ceach family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Beach family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BEach family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ceach family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0

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books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=this+family+is%3Aeng_us_2012%2Cthis+family+are%3Aeng_us_2012%2Cthis+family+is%3Aeng_gb_2012%2Cthis+family+are%3Aeng_gb_2012&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1920&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cthis family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthis family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThis family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cthis family are%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthis family are%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThis family are%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cthis family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthis family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThis family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cthis family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bthis family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bthis Family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BThis family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0

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Well I haven't seen a transatlantic split in usage yet: all I seem to get is a minumum 3:1 ratio in favor of collective noun+singular verb.

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@jayles - Ngram is mainly based on books, and it is generally accepted that singular forms occur more often in more formal language. You could perhaps try with the British National Corpus - simply google BNC

I deliberately put in couple and pair as there doesn't seem to be such a difference here between AmE and BrE - see this from Bryan Garner - in fact this is an excellent account of the grammar of collective nouns and its history by one of America's most respected commentators on language, Bryan Garner.

http://books.google.pl/books?id=mVcJqKs1isUC&am...

The Economist recommends using plural for both couple and pair. But as I keep saying, nothing is automatic; it's your choice.

'each family' - of course 'is' is going to predominate here, by using 'each' you have already identified them as entities, and something pretty similar is happening with 'this'.

Change 'this' to 'my' and you'll get a rather different result. Family, by the way, is one of the key words in the difference between American and British usage.

BNC - my family are - 21, my family is - 12

But basically these phrases you're trying are too open to other things happening to be very meaningful; you need to look at the context underneath. For example for 'my family is', we get things like:

"The most inexpensive bonding activity I've done with my family is enjoying ..."
"My family is something I have inherited"
"and the soul of my family is the act and the process of creating itself"
"The past of my family is in a sense my identity"
"the separation from my family is a Sacrifice"

That's five out of the first twenty, and the rest include both American and British examples. Ngram is a very blunt instrument unless used very carefully.

We might argue about the grammar, but as for there not being a Transatlantic split, that goes against what just about every professional commentator says. I would refer you to Bryan Garner again.

@HS - so, what's wrong with using standard British English ???????????????

"Nigel Farage's UKIP are on the verge of winning a Scottish seat" - The Daily Record

"Ukip are the pro-Europeans' most dangerous weapon"- The Telegraph

"Ukip are true libertarians" - The Guardian

"Eric Pickles: Nigel Farage's Ukip are 'xenophobic' but not racist" - The Standard

"Ukip are a racist, anti-white party encouraging the genocide of British people, the British National Party have said." Huffington Post (UK)

"UKIP are very adept at ignoring the (generally accepted scientific) truth" - The Economist

"But that could all soon change, as UKIP are now a serious electoral force in Essex." - BBC

"UKIP are desperate to make waves in the European elections" - Sky News

I know they are basically a one-man party, bit in theory at least they are a group of people. And is it really so strange that the British media should reflect the language of its/their readers?

@everyone - I think it might be time for this, from the (American) Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage:

"Collective nouns ... have had the characteristic of being used with both singular and plural verbs since Middle English. The principle involved - referred to elsewhere in this book as notional agreement - is simple: when the group is considered as a unit, the singular verb is used; when it is thought of as a collection of individuals, the plural verb is used. All grammarians and usage commentators agree on the basic sentence."

"Those commentators who mention British-American differences agree in general that singular verbs are more common in American English and plural verbs more common in British English. Beyond this generality it can be unsafe to venture; where notional agreement operates, there are no absolutes."

"The difference between British and American English usage may be illustrated by the word 'family'. ". And from various studies they draw various conclusions:

1. Plural forms are more common in BrE, although there is some resistance to things like 'his family are'.

2. In BrE plural forms are used more often in speaking than in writing.

3. While in American English the singular is more common, plurals are not unknown, and they quote from Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, from Time Magazine and form Erich Segal writing in the NYT.

What has surprised me is that in fact the theoretical grammar, as outlined in the MWDEU and in Garner's book linked to above is pretty well identical; the difference is in usage.

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That last paragraph should have read:

What has surprised me is that in fact the theoretical grammar, as outlined in the MWDEU and in Garner's book linked to above is pretty well identical in both British and American grammar; the difference is in usage.

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I'm really only interested in what is acceptable in formal writing; specifically for IELTS academic purposes.

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@jayles - OK, but there isn't really a rule about this. Some British newspapers for example have no policy, some generally use plurals, others (like the Times) have a policy of using a singular verb. The Economist say(s) use your common sense, the BBC has about three different policies, depending which part you're talking about. Funny that, I automatically used plural for the Economist, but singular for the BBC. I wonder why?

A lot of international publications will follow American practice, so if there's any doubt it's probably better to go for singular, but make sure any personal or relative pronouns agree.

I notice that IELTS Language Practice uses singular verbs with jury, and the fact that IELTS is often asked for by Australian institutions is another factor in favour of using singular. In any case it's probably easier for students, as we've both already said.

My position in this discussion has never been to advocate the use of plural verbs with collective nouns, only to say that it is perfectly standard British English and is an available option for those who want to use it. And to point out that, as they say at MWDEU, "All grammarians and usage commentators agree on the basic principle." (Mistyped in my previous post).

I would also stress that it is only used for groups when they are seen as individuals "doing personal things like deciding, hoping or wanting" or doing actions of some sort. Merely following them with 'is/are' is not going to give you this sense of action, nor are passive sentences like "A murder of crows was seen in the field." - by using the passive, the crows are no longer the agents.

And incidentally (naughty!) - "Each family are" is simply ungrammatical. Dig down and you'll find they were all things like "members of each family are". On Ngram, I really think you have to force 'family' to be the subject by capitalising the first word.

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@WW thank you ; that just about wraps it up as far as I'm concerned.
Not surprised results for "Each family are" are spurious ; I really expected zero when I keyed it in.

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@WW
Quoting examples like these:-
"Nigel Farage's UKIP are on the verge of winning a Scottish seat" - The Daily Record
"Ukip are the pro-Europeans' most dangerous weapon"- The Telegraph
"Ukip are true libertarians" - The Guardian
"Eric Pickles: Nigel Farage's Ukip are 'xenophobic' but not racist" - The Standard
"Ukip are a racist, anti-white party encouraging the genocide of British people, the British National Party have said." Huffington Post (UK)
"UKIP are very adept at ignoring the (generally accepted scientific) truth" - The Economist
"But that could all soon change, as UKIP are now a serious electoral force in Essex." - BBC
"UKIP are desperate to make waves in the European elections" - Sky News

Only reinforces the view that the media is at the forefront of many of the problems in BrEnglish.
(Or would you say the media are?)

A political party contains many members certainly makes more sense than a political party contain many members. Or don't you agree with that either?

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Ngram must be a very blunt instrument indeed as I still can't get "My family are" to top "My family is" , just lots of "noise" on the former and seemingly rare true instances of family with a plural verb.

/books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=My+family+is%3Aeng_us_2012%2CMy+family+is%3Aeng_gb_2012%2CMy+family+are%3Aeng_gb_2012%2CMy+family+are%3Aeng_us_2012&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CMy family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family are%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0

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books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=My+family+is%3Aeng_us_2012%2CMy+family+is%3Aeng_gb_2012%2CMy+family+are%3Aeng_gb_2012%2CMy+family+are%3Aeng_us_2012&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CMy family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family are%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=My+family+is%3Aeng_us_2012%2CMy+family+is%3Aeng_gb_2012%2CMy+family+are%3Aeng_gb_2012%2CMy+family+are%3Aeng_us_2012&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CMy family is%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family is%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family are%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CMy family are%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0

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Sporting myths of our time

The use of verbs with team names is down to a handful of commentators
myth - it's stipulated in the BBC style guide, as it is in the Guardian Style Guide

This use is recent
myth - plural verbs have been used with team names since team sports started appearing in the 18th century, especially in cricket, for example in Wisden's.

Sussex were put in the last innings for forty-eight runs.
Sporting Magazine 1828

Whilst we are writing Kent are playing Sussex their return match at Tunbridge Wells.
Baily's Magazine 1860

and in 1862 Eton were declared the victors late on the afternoon of Saturday.
The Saturday Review 1865

and before the clock struck 6, the M.C.C. were all out for 112.
John Wisden's Cricket Almanack 1870

When Cambridge were out for 134 there was much shaking of heads.
Baily's Magazine 1877

In the cricket match between Oxford and Cambridge, the former were beaten by two hundred and eixty-six runs.
The Liberal and the New Dispensation 1893

The Australian team have defeated the Derby eleven by an innings and seventy-one runs.
Ibid 1893

Is it that Sheffield United are really so good as their League position indicates?
The Sketch 1895

The Rugby 'Varsity battle is over, and Cambridge are the winners.
The Sketch 1895

Yorkshire are so sure of winning the championship that ... .
The Truth 1895

Scotland are playing two distinct teams against Wales and Ireland.
Baily's Magazine 1896

when the match ended Harrow were by no means in a bad position.
Cricket, a Weekly Record 1896

In this match Gloucestershire were quite outplayed.
Cricket, a Weekly Record 1896

Cardiff are, perhaps, the best team in the principality.
Country Life Illustrated 1897

Surrey are again showing themselves to be somewhat of a fair weather team.
Country Life Illustrated 1897

Sheffield United are still at the top of the tree in the League matches.
Truth 1897

Yorkshire were again beaten by 140 runs. The North of England were beaten by 42 runs at Manchester. Hampshire were defeated by an innings and 25 runs.
Whitaker's Almanack 1897

Bristol are running Southampton a close race for the championship.
Baily's Magazine 1897

Since 1890 Oxford have won nine races in succession.
Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes 1898

South Australia were dismissed in their second venture for 32.
The Ludgate Illustrated Magazine 1898

I'm not saying that singular verbs weren't also used, perhaps more often than plural ones; sometimes you find them in the same publication. But there are plenty of examples of plural verbs being used with team names in the 19th century.

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The teaching of collective nouns in British schools in the middle of the 20th century

Sir Lancelot Oliphant was a diplomat and the author of several grammar books for British schools, including A General Certificate English Course (1928). I've no idea how widespread the use of his books was, but the fact that this book was still being reprinted in 1966 suggests that his books were quite widely used. The book of his I'm going to quote from apparently sits on the shelves of arch-prescriptivist Neville Gwynne, so that might also tell us something of his status. In 'English Observed, Common Errors in Written English', published in 1946, he has one question related to collective nouns:

"'The frenzied mob was now seen at their worst.'

(A collective noun in the singular may be followed by a verb in the singular or the plural, according as we regard a thing as an undivided whole or as consisting of individuals that compose the whole. But the noun cannot be treated as both singular and plural at the same time. Write, ‘The frenzied mob was now seen at its worst’; or, ‘The frenzied mob were now seen at their worst’.) "

As in all the traditional grammar books I've looked at, he says that both singular and plural verbs are possible. What most concerns him. and the same goes for the grammarians before him, is that any pronouns should agree with the verb, and that the sentence should be grammatically consistent.

Rather like Fowler before him, Oliphant seems to have been a strange mixture of prescriptivist and descriptivist. In a section called 'Words commonly misused' as well as the usual suspects like literally and decimate, he lists the following - the comments after each are from Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO):

aggravating - shouldn't be to mean annoying, only to make heavier or worse
ODO list the annoying meaning as informal but point out that it dates back to the 17th century 'and has been so used by respected writers ever since', although disliked by traditionalists.

awfully - shouldn't be used to mean very - awful means ‘inspiring fear or reverence’
ODO list Oliphant's preferred meaning of awful as archaic.

demean - doesn't mean lower or debase yourself - it simply means conduct yourself
ODO gives the debase meaning and makes no mention of Oliphant's definition

nice - means ‘fastidious’, ‘delicate’, ‘refined’, and should not be used indiscriminately to mean ‘pleasant’, ‘agreeable’, or ‘beautiful’.
ODO list Oliphant's preferred definitions as archaic

practically - shouldn't be used to mean almost (although it's OK in conversation). His definition is more like 'in practice'
ODO list almost as its main meaning, and also in a practical manner, but not in practice

I certainly remember being taught something similar about nice at school. It just goes to show, though, for those of us who were at school rather longer ago than we care to remember, not everything we were taught in English is particularly relevant today.

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From a couple of Scottish educators:

'Rule XXIX. — Collective Nouns take a singular verb or a plural verb, as the notion of unity or of plurality is uppermost in the mind of the speaker. Thus we say : "Parliament was dissolved." "The committee are divided in opinion." '

The English Language: Its Grammar, History, and Literature, by J.M.D. Meiklejohn.
Meiklejohn was Professor of the Theory, History and Practice of Education in the University of St.Andrews.


'Collective Nouns generally have a Singular Verb, but when you think more of the individuals in the group than of the group as a single whole the verb may be plural — e.g.

"The mob assembles."
but
"The mob throw stones."

Advanced English Grammar through Composition, London 1917, by John D. Rose, Rector of Kirkcaldy High School.

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@HS - 'A political party contains many members certainly makes more sense than a political party contain many members. Or don't you agree with that either?'

Not only does the first sentence make sense, the alternative is both ungrammatical and without any sense, because 'contain' is a state verb; it doesn't describe an action carried out by or its individual members or their fortunes.

Sorry, but this is another straw man: nobody who says 'the party are doing well in the polls' would use a plural with 'contain'. You can only use a plural verb when you could substitute a plural pronoun for the noun. You can obviously say 'They're doing well in the polls', so you can equally say 'The party are doing well in the polls'. But of course you can't say 'They contain many members'; that would mean each member contains one or more members.

Yes, I usually treat the media as plural, as we're generally talking of a group of organisations. But media is a special case, as it can be seen as uncountable, singular or plural.

Incidentally, I'd love to know where you get your 'ten to fifteen percent of British English speakers' from.

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If two or more players are attacking, "England are on the attack" seems a better verbal description of the events than "England is on the attack".

I've never liked the American tendency to use a coolective noun with a singular verb. It never seems to marry well with the idea that individuals may have different opinions and perform different roles. I always think of a team as a "they", rather than a he/she/it. Thus, I prefer "Newcastle beat Chelsea" to "Newcastle beats Chelsea".

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Well, I for one have learnt quite a lot in the course of this discussion. For one, that there is even less disagreement amongst grammarians than I thought there was. And that we Brits use plural verbs with some types of collective nouns more than others. While they are pretty common with team and band names, and with the words family, couple and pair, use with company names is more limited to informal usage.

If anyone is interested in the history of this usage and how it is and has been treated in grammar books, usage guides etc, together with examples from Dickens and the eighteenth century, I've put together most of what I've found in a post on my blog.

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2014/05...

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@WW me too. I was wondering whether it might be a good idea to explore the usage of "quasi-determiners" (like 'the bulk of', "a great number of", and so on) and maybe come up with a list which are most commonly used with the plural verb even in US English, unless this is already covered in Hewins or somewhere I have missed. For instance:
"The overwhelming majority of students in my class falls asleep within ten minutes".
"The couple on the backseat was kissing". (see ngram below)
"The pair of doves was cooing." (50/50)
"Four pairs of trousers were found in her shopping bag.".
"The pair was inseperable." (not found on ngrams)
I do realise that one could apply the "notiional" agreement concept here; just looking for a shortlist which almost always use plural verb

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=th...

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The following illustrate deviant behavior of Brits


http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=th...

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http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=a+...*+was%3Aeng_us_2012%2Ca+number+of+*+were%3Aeng_us_2012%2C&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Ca%20number%20of%20*%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20years%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20leagues%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20men%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20cases%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20them%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20others%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20nations%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20people%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20times%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20persons%20was%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2Ca%20number%20of%20*%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20them%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20men%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20persons%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20people%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20others%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20whom%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20which%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20Indians%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20prisoners%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20these%20were%3Aeng_us_2012%3B%2Cc0

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http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=a+...*+was%3Aeng_gb_2012%2Ca+number+of+*+were%3Aeng_gb_2012&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Ca%20number%20of%20*%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20years%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20them%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20men%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20people%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20cases%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20experiments%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20countries%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20ships%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20occasions%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20others%20was%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2Ca%20number%20of%20*%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20them%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20people%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20men%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20persons%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20others%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20which%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20these%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20whom%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20women%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Ba%20number%20of%20children%20were%3Aeng_gb_2012%3B%2Cc0

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@jayles - I agree, that's why I put the question about majority, a number of, the young couple etc on the other thread

There is a school of thought that a number of X should always be used with a plural verb, and only with a singular verb when it is the actual number that is being referred to (usually with 'the'):

"A plural verb is needed after 'a/an (large, small, etc.) number of…'" - Oxford Learner's

"A small number of people were unable to make the meeting"
"But the number attending was still larger than last year"

I blogged about "a (small) number of" a couple of years ago:
http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2011/07...

and also "a (wide) range of:"
http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2013/07...

and "a succession of":
http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2013/03...

What interests me is what happens to couple and majority when they don't follow "of". I simply cannot bring myself to say "The majority was in favour" or "The couple on the backseat was kissing" - I go notional here, so I guess I must be deviant. But I'm in good company:

"But, the happy couple were not going to part with him in that way" - Our Mutual Friend
"as that unhappy pair were discovered" - Sketches by Boz.
"and it was to be inferred that the majority were in favour of it" - Thomas Hansard

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@WW Thanks.
I stumbled on a slip-up re "a number of" - the verb here refers to "increase" not number:
"There has been an increase in the number of incidents recently."

Unfortunately this type of sentence is very necessary to fulfil Task A (the graph description) in IELTS. It is also best to avoid "a lot of" which sounds rather informal, and substitute phrases like "a great deal of" or "a large number of", or much/many.

Incidentally there seems to be a rule of thumb for "number of":
"a number of * " takes a plural verb
"the number of * " takes a singular verb.

A careful look on ngrams seems to support this. (as do your examples in previous post)

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@WW The marking schema for IELTS writing band 8 (page 23)

http://ielts.org/PDF/IELTS_Guide_For_Teachers_B...

says:
"The majority of sentences are error-free" (using a plural verb)

Right now I cannot think of a context where I would regard "The majority of sentences is error-free" as normal, or standard.

However "a majority of students is ,," does crop up although seemingly rare in books.
When it comes to talking about votes/voting, majority is often used with a singular verb.

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@jayles - 'Incidentally there seems to be a rule of thumb for "number of":

"a number of * " takes a plural verb
"the number of * " takes a singular verb. '

I think that's more or less what I just said. :)

With majority of, I agree with you, it's like the other 'of' ones, but without 'of'?

"The majority was/were in favour of banning smoking." OALD - I think was might be seen as more formal.

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@jayles - you could add 'neither of / either of' and 'none of' to your list. Both formally take a singular verb, but are often used informally with a plural verb:

'Neither of them are coming'
'None of my friends have even heard of them'

"Neither of and either of are followed by a plural noun or pronoun and a singular or plural verb. A plural verb is more informal:Neither of my parents speaks/speak a foreign language." Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

"When you use none of with a plural noun or pronoun, or a singular noun referring to a group of people or things, you can use either a singular or a plural verb. The singular form is used in a formal style in British English:None of the trains is/are going to London" Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

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@colin shaw - in terms of "good grammatical rules" when using group nouns, sports commentators are only following standard practice in British English; just look at any British newspaper, British grammar book or British usage guide, or the Wikipedia article linked to above. This is sometimes called "notional agreement" and is the way most of us Brits naturally think about these things.

And what on earth is wrong with England supporter, after all we have Arsenal supporters, Liverpool fans etc?. You wouldn't normally talk about a Liverpudlian supporter (they might support Everton!). I see plenty of people in Poland wearing England T-shirts, but they're certainly not English. What is important is who they support, not their nationality. And a supporter of England sounds a bit long-winded to me.

A site search of the Guardian brings up these figures (and remember "supporter of / fan of" won't necessarily be about sport):

England supporter - 271
English supporter - 58
supporter of England - 4
England fan - 746
English fan - 220
fan of England - 26

and for comparison

Scotland supporter - 18
Scottish supporter - 7
supporter of Scotland - 1 (but possibly about the country, not the team)
Scotland fan - 63
Scottish fan - 16
fan of Scotland - 0 (1 about the country)

The ratios seem pretty consistent and conclusive to me. Again you may not like it, but it's certainly common usage.

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I maintain that England is (are) a country and not a euphemism for a football team . One ought to read . "The English football team is playing the Dutch team" ( or would you advocate the Holland team ) . If you wouldn't say Holland team or Denmark team then why would you say England team? The fact that everyone says something wrong does not make it right. This anomaly has crept into the England language, created by journalists for their own slick ends and people like yourself have forgotten what is actually correct. As far as Liverpool is concerned , you are right because Liverpool FC does not represent the city of Liverpool and it is therefore just a name . As far as Arsenal is concerned there is no adjectival form. Your point about not all supporters of England's national side is probably the reason why this anomaly was coined in the first place. When English fans behave appallingly abroad the use of England fan is an attempt to mitigate the damage done to England's reputation( or is that now the England reputation? ) by inferring that the supporters were probably not really English. Scottish supporters are Scottish and proud to be called so.

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In grammar it's the WORDS which are singular or plural not the things they describe. The same goes for masculine, feminine and neuter words found in most Indo-European languages . Die Regierung ( the government) in German is feminine but it's composed of both men and women . The WORD is a feminine singular and is treated as such . The English word government , a body composed of men and women.It has no gender but is also singular , the plural being governments.
Die Regierung ist eine höchsten Institutionen eines States . The government is one of the most important institutions of state. Nobody in Germany would dream of saying " Die Regierung sein eine "........The government are one of .... The same goes for French , Italian, Spanish and the other members of the language group of which English is a member. These peoples have not allowed semi- educated people to step in and savage their language the way English language ( or is that now the England language ?) has been savaged.

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@WW how odd! I had never thought about this before. Looks like it is about 50/50 in books:

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=no...

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@colin shaw - from Fowler's (Third edition) - "In BrE it is in order to use either a plural
verb or a singular verb after most collective nouns, so long as attendant pronouns are made to follow suit: 'when the jury retires to consider its verdict 'or 'when the jury retire to consider their verdict'. The same principle applies to all the main collectives like army, audience, clan, company, court, crew, folk, government, group, herd."

According to you, "people like yourself have forgotten what is actually correct". No, I'm afraid it's "people like you" who jump to conclusions without bothering to check with Wikipedia or any of the other sources I mentioned. This principle is very well known on grammar sites. And what the German grammar lesson had to do with anything beats me.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningengli...

http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/09/agre...

http://www.onestopenglish.com/grammar/grammar-r...

http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/...

As a Scot myself, I would probably refer to Scottish fans, but I think this is just a usage difference. The figures for the Scotsman and the Herald are about equal for Scotland and Scottish, for both supporters and fans. And both papers refer to both the Scottish team and the Scotland team. Personally I wouldn't say anything team, simply the name of the country. "Holland are playing Denmark" "Scotland are playing really well at the moment", but that doesn't make other people wrong.

Where I might agree with you is that when Scottish fans go on the rampage they are always Scottish, but on one famous occasion when the English did the same, Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister, announced that it was a sad day for Britain. Wait a minute, was our reply.

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I agree with Steve - Kestrel Aerie. I started watching more soccer/football this year, and it really perplexed me to hear constantly the singular team names followed by plural verbs. Last night I watched on TV a match played in Boston's Fenway Park (between Celtic F.C. of Glasgow and Sporting C.P. of Lisbon), and I believe the two American announcers always used singular verbs with the club names (Celtic and Sporting). But then a very good source notes that although in the US singular verbs are commonly used with team place names (Boston, New York, Colorado), plural verbs are used with singular team names such as the (Miami) Heat and the (Utah) Jazz: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/plurals....
And this Wikipedia article is pretty thorough on Brit vs US differences, including verbs used with collective nouns:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_Briti...

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