Submitted by Dyske on May 22, 2003

Couldn’t Care Less

A pet peeve of mine is people incorrectly using the expression “I could care less”. I’m no grammar nazi as you can tell from this email, but it doesn’t make sense to say. Here is an example.

Rooomate 1: “You suck at this video game. I always kick your butt in it.” Roomate 2: “I could care less.” Roomate 1: “Haha.”

If you say you COULD care less then that means you care to some degree. However, if you COULDN’T care less (the proper way of saying the expression) then it means you absolutely don’t care at all, therefore properly expressing your apathy.

From Brad Davis

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I would have to agree with you if it weren't for that wonderful invention called sarcasm!

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wha ?

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To clarify:
If I said "I couldn't care less," then thats what I mean, but if I said "I could care less," then I could mean/say it in a sarcastic way.

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If I were to say "I could care less" I would mean that I probably could care less if I wished to, but that is beyond my caring-to-do to do it. In other words, as IngishKahn said, sarcasm.

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Well, the Australian version has always been "I couldn't care less." I had only learnt of the other version recently thanks to Australia’s overexposure to American television.

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The logical inconsistency of this expression has always bugged me as well. The sarcasm/irony interpretation sounds logical but I doubt most users of the expression are being that sophisticated by intention. My theory is: This is the "contraction effect" at work. The expression has been around so long that you only need to say part of it for people to know what you mean, so the expression is "shrinking" in common usage.

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gay

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I once got into a heated debate about "could care less" versus "couldn't care less". The person with whom I argued stated that "couldn't care less" was a double negative and was improper in the English language. This person was also an English teacher. However, I also agree that the meaning of "couldn't care less" means that the person who makes this comment does not care at all. Any response?

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Double negatives are not wrong in English per se. In the rhetorical form of litotes, for example, they are an elegant form of understatement. Double negatives that cancel each other out to express a positive statement are perfectly acceptable.

The English teacher to whom Audi refers is obviously an example of the kind of idiotic pedagogue who half-learns grammatical rules and then regurgitates them without properly understanding them, thereby giving many dozens of pupils an incorrect understanding of the English language which will hamper them for the rest of their days. Such people are beneath contempt.

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Language don't got to make no logical sense, especially where idioms are concerned.

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There's a joke that's made the rounds a few times about this.

In some American school, the English teacher addressed the class, "In some languages languages, a double negative means a negative. In other languages, a double negative means a positive. This is possible to do in English, but it is not considered correct. However, there is no language in which a double positive means a negative."

Drawled a student from the back of the room, "Yeah. Right."

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Since when is "less" a negative?

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I ask the same question as Patrik: is 'less' a negative? Isn't it just the comparative degree of an adverb?

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Actually double negatives have nothing at all to do with it. We're sort of off track here.

Think of what you mean when you say the expression. If you say "I could care less," what you mean is it is possible that you could care less. If you say "I couldn't care less," you mean that it is impossible for you to care less.

Think about a comparable case involving "more." You might say "I could have more" (of this wonderful dessert), or you might say "I couldn't have more" (I'm so full already, I could pop).

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Speedwell, I do realise that. I'm just wondering why an English teacher claims that "couldn't care less" is a double negative. Now is it?

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'Less' is considered a negative, grammatically. There are several words that FUNCTION as a negative within a sentence. Less is one of them.

Regardless, it's idiomatic, it's older than most of us, and idiomatic language isn't about logic or mathematics; in other words, who cares.

Anyone who seriously thinks "oh, you must care a little" if someone says 'could care less' to them, is a tool.

Or they're not paying attention.

Or both.

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The English teacher labelling "couldn't care less" as an incorrect double negative is mistaken. For one thing, If he or she were right, that would not justify saying "could care less". It would justify saying "could care more" which is what you get when you cancel the "double negative". Obviously "could care more" (or, even worse, "could care more or the same".) does not convey the same sentiment or have quite the same meaning.

I can care more, I can care less. Not caring more is not the same as caring less, and vice versa. I can eat more. I can eat less. Not eating more is not the same as eating less and vice versa. If I take off my clothes then I can't weigh any less. Saying I can weigh more is irrelevant and does not mean the same thing. Etc., etc.

Oh, and I always thought that "could care less" was just intentionally stating the opposite of "couldn't care less" with the addition of a lot of sarcasm, usually preceded by "oh, like I..." or sometimes "as if I..."

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to be honest... "I couldn't care less!"

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^^^ I think 'could care less' is the left-over from some more complete statement. When I say it, I say it from the standpoint of: "I could care less, if I cared at all..."

Obviously, no one wants to say all that -- I don't; I'm lazy -- so just "could care less" will do. And when I say it, there's absolutely no confusion as to my meaning. None.

Also, 'less' IS a grammatical negative, which is how it came to be used on your check deposit slips. $___.___ less cash, which means to take away from the cash that you just deposited.

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Well I'm not a tool but I do know 2 things: "less" is not a negative nor is it considered a negative "grammatically" and 2) the expression is "I couldn't care less" and that's final. People try to justify a ludicrous misuse of the expression by claiming it is used sarcastically but that is just blowing smoke. What I do find somewhat puzzling is how you americans can come to alter a perfectly clear, simple English phrase. I mean how? why? beats me.

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I say "I could care fewer" just to REALLY annoy the grammarians.

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as this is new to me, i defer to others about the historical progression of this discussion. however, please do not paint all americans with one brush. i'm an american and i have always used the phrase "couldn't care less." i am 51 years old and have never, to my recollection, heard the phrase any other way until recently, when my teenage daughters took it upon themselves to correct me. i was taken aback that they scolded me for using what seemed to me a perfectly logical phrase. and i had no idea that i had stumbled over the tip of a grammatical iceburg. also, this notion that "could care less" is a form of sarcasm seems a bit of a red herring. sarcasm is most powerful when the pendulum swings fully in the opposite direction. "could care less" hardly meets that criteria without substantial modification. (and yes, my almost exclusive use of small case letters is intentional, but unrelated to the topic at hand.)

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As MesMom2 argues, not all Americans say "I could care less" when they mean just the opposite. However, I do believe it is only Americans who commonly use this expression. I have travelled extensively throughout English-speaking nations and in no other country is this expression comnmonly used.

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Earlier, I stated that "I could care less" is just sarcasm, intentionally stating the opposite of "I couldn't care less". Well, for what it's worth, I recently (and lightheartedly) questioned a friend who said 'I could care less". Without missing a beat, he said, "what are you talking about? I know it's the opposite. It's just sarcasm."

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I could care less about this thread.

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As a Brit I really shouldn't get involved in this very American question. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have the vague memory from American movies that 'I could care less' is stressed differently from 'I couldn't care less', with the accent in the former on 'I', while in the latter it's on 'couldn't'. So I think that porsche is probably right in that it's an ellipsis of 'As if I could care less' - which has much the same meaning as 'I couldn't care less'.

It may well often be used sarcastically, but I think it is also possible to make the case that it is in fact quite logical if we take that unspoken 'as if' into account.

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If you think I could care less you have another thing coming. :-))

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@HS - I think that could qualify as a double whammy.

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Nice one, Hairy.

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Age 73, me, here—I'm sure that "I couldn't care less." was the only expression around in the (my) olden days.

Somewhere, and I have no idea when, I found mySELF saying "I could care less." and noticed that others were saying it, too. I thought it sounded more "cool" in way to say "I could care less," but ever since I noticed that it doesn't mean "I couldn't care less.", it has annoyed me.

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http://painintheenglish.com/case/60/#comment-9132

Well, I find it ludicrous that Europeans tend to use plural verbs with singular nouns. As in, “Ford Motor Company have layed off more employees.” Ford Motor Company is singular as in one company and requires a singular verb. It is properly written “Ford Motor Company HAS layed off more employees.”

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@Funslinger

Layed?

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@Funslinger - before telling us 'Europeans' what is and isn't proper, or that our practice is ludicrous, you might like to check a grammar book. North Americans use formal agreement, i.e. a singular noun takes a singular verb. In Britain, we also use formal agreement when the noun is seen as a single entity, for example, the Ford Motor company is one of the biggest corporations in the world.

But we often see the entity as a group of people and then use something called notional agreement or synesis. I know this sounds strange to American ears, but it is absolutely standard in British English, and is well understood by linguists and grammarians. It was apparently also used in Classical Latin and Greek.

"The family are coming to stay with us at Christmas" - my family are made up of individuals, so I see them as a group. On the other hand, when I see the family as a unit, I use a singular verb - "The family is the mainstay of the social system".

There is nothing improper about it, it's just a different way of thinking, that's all. And in fact Americans are quite used to it the other way around - "The United States is the world's leading power". If a singular noun must take a singular verb then surely by the same token a plural verb must take a plural verb. But of course nobody says "The United States are ..." because although it's a plural noun, it's a single entity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesis
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/function/...
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Notional+agree...

And it goes back a long way:

"Then the young Couple are set at Table" - Adam Olearius and others - 1669

"then all the Family are like to be crushed with the same ruine" - Jeremy Taylor - 1673

"The couple are usually prevented from marrying earlier by one or several reasons" - Hubert McDermott - 1693

"every time the Family are call'd together to Prayers" - Thomas Bray - 1697

"In the mean while the Young Couple are lead to a Room with a fine Bed in it ; where they are shut in, and left to their liberty," - Christoph Frick - 1700

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Correction - If a singular noun must take a singular verb then surely by the same token a plural noun must take a plural verb.

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And relating to companies:

"That this House will hear the Cause wherein the East India Company are Appellants" - House of Lords - 1691

"The preamble also observes that the East-India Company are possessed of and entitled to the Capital Stock of ..." - Alexander Dalrymple, 1772

"Moreover, the Bank of England are liable to have Cash demanded of them" - House of Lords, 1796

"Cause wherein Richard Hotchkis is Appellant, and the Royal Bank of Scotland are Respondents" - House of Lords 1796

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@WW
Anent your last post; I'd say that the House of Lords and Dalrymple got it wrong in each of those examples.
I've never heard a plural verb used with a company or a bank.
I'd also maintain that using a plural verb with team is incorrect.
Nothing worse than hearing a commentator say "England are leading by one to nil".

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@HS - then I'm afraid you've got a bit out of touch with British English and have started thinking more like an American. Now there's a bombshell indeed!

Virtually every grammar book we use with students points out this difference, as do websites that show the differences between British and American English. From my 'bible', Practical English Usage, by Michael Swan:

'In British English, singular words like family, team, government, which refer to groups of people, can be used with either singular or plural verbs and pronouns.

This team is/are going to lose.

Plural forms are common when the group is considered as a collection of people doing things like deciding, hoping or wanting; and in all these cases we use who, not which, as a relative pronoun

The firm are wonderful. They do all they can for me.
The firm was founded in the 18th century.

Examples of group nouns which can be used with both singular and plural verbs in British English:

bank, the BBC, choir, class, club, committee, England (the football team), family, firm, government, jury, ministry, orchestra, party, school, staff, team, union' - Practical English Usage, by Michael Swan

I understand this being new to Americans, but I'm a little surprised that you were unaware of this very standard feature of British English. So if you still maintain that using a plural with team is incorrect, I'm afraid you're rather out of kilter with standard grammar teaching, and standard practice:

'Subject-verb agreement. In British English, collective nouns (referring to groups of people) are often followed by a plural verb even when the noun is singular. This does not occur in American English. For example:

British English: The football team are rather weak this year.
American English: The football team is very weak this year.

Other common collective nouns that often take a plural verb in British English are: army, company, jury, audience, crowd, majority, class, enemy, staff, committee, government and union.' - Macmillan English Dictionaries

"Verb agreement with collective nouns - In British English collective nouns, (i.e. nouns referring to particular groups of people or things), (e.g. staff , government, class, team) can be followed by a singular or plural verb depending on whether the group is thought of as one idea, or as many individuals" - OneStopEnglish - major EFL site

"Formal and notional agreement - In British English (BrE), collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is on the body as a whole or on the individual members respectively; compare a committee was appointed with the committee were unable to agree. The term the Government always takes a plural verb in British civil service convention, perhaps to emphasize the principle of cabinet collective responsibility. Compare also the following lines of Elvis Costello's song "Oliver's Army": Oliver's Army is here to stay / Oliver's Army are on their way . Some of these nouns, for example staff, actually combine with plural verbs most of the time." - Wikipedia

"Collective nouns like jury, team, family, government etc., can take both singular and plural verbs in British English. In American English they normally take a singular verb.T" - The British Council

You might have heard that there's a little fuss going on in Britain about Pfizer at the moment:

"Pfizer are serious and they've got a lot of money to spend. They'll need first-class people doing first-class research," - GlaxoSmithKline boss Sir Richard Sykes

‘They hadn’t had anything new out of Sandwich for ten years, and Pfizer are not a company to reinforce failure,’ said Mr Bragg - in the Daily Mail

"Pfizer are said to have given undertakings to the UK Government as they increase the money they are offering the AstraZeneca shareholders," - Allan Black, GMB national officer for the chemicals industry.

And then there's the banks:

"RBS have been awarded 'Best Mortgage Lender Scotland' in the 2013/14 Your Mortgage Awards."- Royal Bank of Scotland

"The Bank of England have kept interest rates on hold at 0.5%." ITV

"Barclays are founding members of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) " Barclays Bank

And companies:

"Ahead of an exciting summer of football, Vauxhall are giving England fans the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of their footballing heroes" - The FA

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@WW
While I do have reservations about some aspects of American English, there are many areas where our transatlantic cousins do get it right.
You can post as many examples of misuse as you choose, they do not change the facts.
In fact there are probably many more examples of correct use than there are of the opposite.
The last four example that you quote are quite obviously arrant nonsense written by people who should really know better (or perhaps they don't).
At school I was taught that collective nouns take a singular verb and nothing is going to change that.

"The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day,The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea"
"A pride of lions was sighted"
"The RBS is a financial institution, as is The Bank of England. So too is Barclays Bank."
"A flock of sheep has blocked the road."
"Manchester United is a great club."

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"At school I was taught ....." (HS)

One should not believe everything one is taught at school. Knowing what is worth knowing and what is bollocks is all that matters.

“My education was interrupted only by my schooling” - Winston

"Schools have not necessarily much to do with education...they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school." ~ Winston Churchill

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http://painintheenglish.com/case/60/#comment-25579

@Warsaw Will
If you wish, you can refer to the vast number of people in the organization rather than the organization. Then a plural verb is appropriate. i.e. “The employers of Ford Motor Company have laid off more employees.” No matter how you argue it, it is not proper to use a plural verb for a singular subject unless the members of that group are not acting with a like purpose. e.g. “My staff disagree about my next course of action.” Here, a plural verb is appropriate because you are referring to the many different opinions of the staff, not the staff as a whole. In the previous example, all pertinent personnel are acting in unison to lay off employees. Therefore, a singular verb is used to refer to the action of the group as a whole.

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The plural verb with a single group is becoming very prevalent now in the United States as well. Sigh.

As to United States, it is not a plural. The uncapitalized term of “united states” is plural, but the capitalized term of “United States” is singular.

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Even though my previous example of “My staff disagree about my next course of action” could be considered correct with the plural verb, it is still more appropriate to say “The members of my staff disagree about my next course of action.”

I just remembered another instance were a plural verb is appropriate with a singular noun. The subjunctive case. e.g. “If I were you, I wouldn't dream of doing that.”

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@Jayles
A somewhat cynical view which I may well have adopted at various points during my education.
However, in the long run, I can only express gratitude to the many harried souls who strove to pound understanding into my thick skull.
I'd like to believe that they did not do so in vain.

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@HS Those "harried souls" must be proud to see you have your own well-founded views despite (!) their teachings. Perhaps the real question is why did those "harried souls" teach that collective nouns must take a singular verb? Whence came this wisdom of the ancients?
Although to be fair I cannot imagine either of us standing up in class and asking:
"Please Sir, where did you get all this bollocks from Sir?"

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@jayles
I suppose the reason they taught that collective nouns take a singular verb was because that was what they had been taught and what the text books said.
To be honest, does "that herd of cows are restless", or "the Royal Bank of Scotland are closed" not sound just a little bit strange?
"If it sounds strange then it's probably wrong" is, I think, a reasonable tenet.

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@HS Good - it's all about what criteria we are using.
By the way, "if it sounds strange" - to whom? To you, to me or to 5000 Man C fans?

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@Funslinger - my remarks apply only to British English. I realise Americans intuitively think using formal agreement, and find notional agreement hard to take. Incidentally, were in 'If I were you' isn't a plural verb, as the subjunctive mood (not case - that's for nouns and pronouns) has only one form for both singular and plural.

By the way, notional agreement is also usually used with the expression 'a number of':

A number of incidents have happened in the last few weeks. - accent on incidents
The number of incidents has increased recently. - accent on number

@HS - "You can post as many examples of misuse as you choose, they do not change the facts." - What facts, pray? Since when was grammar about facts? And if we're quoting 'facts', how about some references?

You dismiss my quotes, but say nothing about my grammar references. So just to make sure, I can assume that all the following people are/were wrong then:

Henry W Fowler (author of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage)
Robert Burchfield in the third edition of Fowler's
Eric Partridge (author of Usage and Abusage)
Sir Ernest Gowers (author of Plain Words)

Here's Gowers - 'In using collective words or nouns of multitude (Department, Parliament, Government, Committee and the like), ought we to say "the Government have decided" or "the Government has decided"; "the Committee are meeting" or "the Committee is meeting"? There is no rule; either a singular or plural verb may be used. The plural is more suitable when the emphasis is on the individual members, and the singular when it is on the body as a whole. "A committee was appointed to consider this subject"; "the committee were unable to agree". '
(http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/...)

Fowler specifically mentions flock, incidentally, - 'it may be treated as singular or plural'. And even the rather stricter New Zealander Eric Partridge agrees - "'Such collective nouns as can be used either in the singular or in the plural . . . are singular when unity (a unit) is intended; plural, when the idea of plurality is predominant.'

And Oxford Dictionaries Online - "Generally speaking, in Britain it is more usual for collective nouns to be followed by a plural verb, while in the US the opposite is true."
David Crystal - probably the leading expert on British English
(http://www.davidcrystal.com/?id=2829)

The British Council - Learning English (ditto)
BBC Learning English
(http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningengli...)
University College London Linguistics Department (see link above)
Michael Swan - one of the leading British writers on grammar and usage for foreign learners and their teachers (ditto)
Raymond Murphy, author of the most popular grammar exercise book for foreign learners
Macmillans Dictionary (see reference above)
OneStopEnglish - Macmillans' EFL site (ditto)
Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaum, authors of 'The Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language' - highly influential reference grammar published in the 80s

So to sum up: the use of plural verbs with collective nouns was thought to be absolutely standard by the three grand old men of twentieth century British English commentary - Henry Fowler, Ernest Gowers and Eric Partridge, not to mention virtually every other commentator on British grammar. Those are 'the facts'.

I find it really hard to believe that teachers fifty years ago were going completely against Fowler, Partridge and particularly against Gowers, whose 'Plain Words' was probably the most influential book on British English in the post-war years.

And yet you call it a 'misuse'. Sorry, Hairy, but pull the other one! I leave the rest of you to judge for yourselves.

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@WW
So you're telling me that the following are correct?
"The crowd are on their feet"
"The government are convinced"
"The herd are lowing"
"The RBS are closed"
"The East India Company were a famous organisation"

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@HS - "Manchester United is a great club." - Sorry, but that's a straw man argument, because yes, of course, we are talking about the club as an entity here, and nobody has suggested that you use a plural verb when using a collective noun to talk about an entity.

But when we say "United are playing well today", we're talking about the players, so most Brits (according to most accounts) seem happier to use a plural here.

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@HS - The first three yes (but singular verbs would be equally correct - you have a choice), the last two, no. It's a lot subtler than just singular or plural; rather the application of logic (semantic, rather than grammatical).

And it's not me who's telling you. It's just about every commentator on British English from the last century or so. I challenge you to find any reputable source that says anything different. By the way, I've read that Australians follow the Americans on this one, so maybe it's the same in New Zealand.

So let's look at your examples:

""The Government are convinced" - Yes, it's government ministers who are convinced.

"The Government are convinced that the above measures will lead to a strong balance of payments" - James Callaghan 1967. According to Wikipedia, this use of the plural is especially common in political circles as it reinforces collective responsibility.

"The crowd are on their feet" - Yes, it's the members of the crowd who are their feet - "is on its feet" would sound quite weird to me here. How many feet does a crowd have?

"The crowd were on their feet again on the half hour as Wilson scored the opener." - Irish Independent

"The herd are lowing" - Yes, it's the individual cattle that are lowing - but in "The herd is one of the largest in this part of the country" - we see herd as an entity and so use a singular verb.

"The herd are lowing far across the field" - The Lady of Dardale (poem) - to be honest, pretty hard to come by, but then so is the 'is' version (mainly North American, including one from Leonard Cohen).

"The RBS are closed" - No, it makes no sense. It's not the people who are closed. But "The RBS is/are recruiting new staff" - Yes. It's people at the RBS who have made the decision to recruit.

"The East India Company were a famous organisation" - No, of course not, because you are talking about it as an organisation, not people 'doing things like deciding, hoping or wanting' (Swan), so of course it's 'was'. Even with a plural noun we can use a singular verb when talking of it as an organisation - "Clifton Cub Scouts is one of the oldest Cub Scout Packs in the country" - 'are' seems to be also possible but is outnumbered 3 to 1 by 'is' on Google in this particular construction.

But in "many other European countries had their own trading companies, but the East India company were (or was) the first to trade globally on any significant organised scale" - It was people who did the trading, so a plural verb is fine.

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@WW
Some interesting distinctions there, and some a bit difficult to swallow.
With all due respect to yourself and the luminaries you quote, I'd favour the simple approach and go one way or the other so my choice would be to stick with a singular verb for collective nouns regardless of any niceties or nuances regarding individual or collective action.
But, as they say, one is never to old to learn. So who knows. :-))

BTW:
Would one treat choir in the same way as herd or team?
Does the team think that a choir sings or does a choir sing?

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PS
As the title of this topic states "I couldn't care less."

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@HS - Not sure what your last comment is meant to mean.

Firstly, about nuances, no British speaker thinks twice about this; it comes automatically, we do this instinctively. I was simply showing how it worked. As for choir, you'll find the answer further up the page.

What you do is entirely up to you: that's the beauty of the system, and I have absolutely no complaint about people using singular verbs with collective nouns if they want to, regardless of how unnatural it sometimes sounds to me.

What I do question, however, is when somebody repeatedly calls something which is absolutely standard in British English, copiously covered in grammar books and usage guides, a 'misuse' or 'incorrect', against all the evidence provided, without themselves offering a shred of evidence to support this position. I may not remember much from my English classes, but that's certainly not how I was taught to present an argument.
:)

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@WW
It would seem that things have changed since I attended school.
One of those shifts or phases of evolution which are used to justify the adoption of changes to the language.
Either that or my memory has completely deserted me.
If I see something that is contrary to what I was taught then I do tend to view it as erroneous.
There are a lot of things which you class as standard or idiomatic which in my view are non-standard and erroneous and which fly in the face of logic.
As for my methods of debate; I was taught that being condescending and patronising was definitely bad form.
It would seem that there has also been a sea change in that area.
My last comment was a summing up of my position on this and many other topics.
While I do enjoy debating and sometimes playing devil's advocate there comes a time when the game is just not worth the candle.

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@HS It is indeed very hard to escape the outlook that was embedded by our schooling; although by the standards of the time I myself was very fortunate indeed and has some of the very best available. (Though of course nothing is magic).
I do recognize that somehow where I grew up the pre-1960's people didn't seem to question everything in the same way as us baby-boomers did; I well remember the deputy principal describing my views as "iconoclastic" ( I was reading "So Sprach Zarathustra" at the time). I think over the last ten years "Western" education has changed again, as so much material "knowledge" is just a click away on the web.
That said I think I learnt more about life from blundering round Europe and finding out to soon that with a little help from a friend one plus one can all to easily make three.
I am not quite clear on where you went to school but will ask a friend who went to Rosmini about collective nouns and singular verbs at the hands of the Brothers.

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@jayles
I attended school in Scotland from 1951 until 1963.
From 1968 till 1981 I worked for an international company and during that period I had a lot of interaction with with Americans and Europeans and spent a fair bit of time in France, Italy, and Germany.
I am sure if I had the inclination I could dig up the type of proof demanded by WW but since most of the documents are actually based on the opinions of various luminaries one could argue that rather than definitive proof what has been written or said is merely opinion.
I am sure we all know the old saw about opinions being like haemorrhoids. :-))

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@HS I would not doubt your own recollections: frankly what happened to me in those far off days is still clear as a bell - tolling over a fleld in Austria with black-clad peasants scything the wheaten harvest in '63 - whereas well where did I park the car?? But I digress..
My experience is that there was a seismic social shift in the early sixties and English people just a few years older then me are quite nice enough but have a totally different mindset. There is sometimes a gulf of non-understanding between the last of the 'silent generation' and the baby-boomers.
That aside, I teach "people are..", "the police are..", "the staff are .. " to ESOL students and let it go at that. And I'm okay with "the team are disgruntled" or "the team is disgruntled", although I recognize that one or other may well sound "wrong" to some people (depending on which side of the Atlantic or whatever).
These days there is little that is "right" or "wrong", as some politicians at home and abroad have amply demonstrated. I'm pretty certain St Peter himself, who is still swotting up on English grammar and will be for some time, won't hold it against us.

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@jayles
Thanks for your insight. :)

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@Warsaw Will
“United are playing well” makes no sense to me. If I were implying that the players as separate entities were all playing well, I'd say “The United players are playing well”. When I am referring to the team as an entity, I say “United is playing well”. I can't fathom why one would use a plural verb for a singular subject. It makes no sense at all.

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by Warsaw Will
"The crowd are on their feet" - Yes, it's the members of the crowd who are their feet - "is on its feet" would sound quite weird to me here. How many feet does a crowd have?

@Warsaw Will
If you are referring to the “members” then say “The members of the crowd are on their feet.”. But if you are referring to the crowd as an entity say “The crowd is on its feet.” A crowd by definition is an indefinite number of people so the number of feet that it has is random. However, all feet belong to the “crowd” and therefore are its feet.

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synecdoche - totum pro parte - or sometimes pure ellipsis of the word "members".

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Google Books ngram suggests that:
"crowd was on its feet" outnumbers the rest by at least 5:1, by far the commonest;
"crowd was on their feet" in US books is next,
and the rest are also-rans - right or wrong, they are comparatively uncommon.

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I see that WW was holding forth the same theories last year:-
http://painintheenglish.com/case/4394

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@HS - Yes, I overstepped the mark, for which I apologise, but I do find this attitude that you are right and that just about everyone who has written about British English is wrong exasperating - there really is no debate about this among professional commentators on British English.

However, there might well be some people who don't care less or would like to talk about 'care less' so I suggest we carry this on in its proper place -

http://painintheenglish.com/case/4394

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@WW
"I do find this attitude that you are right and that just about everyone who has written about British English is wrong exasperating"
I do not maintain that they are wrong, I merely question their opinions.
As I have said before, there are many people who share my views, and as you yourself have pointed out on many occasions "there are many grey areas in the English language".
However one has to wonder why so many people seem to have been taught the same "rules of English" as I have been.
I doubt very much if I will take up your invitation to discuss this further in another thread. Since I consider the game no longer worth the candle, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

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@HS - 'I do not maintain that they are wrong, I merely question their opinions.'

'I'd also maintain that using a plural verb with team is incorrect.'
'You can post as many examples of misuse as you choose, they do not change the facts.'

Terms like 'misuse' and 'incorrect' sound pretty like 'wrong' to me.

'However one has to wonder why so many people seem to have been taught the same "rules of English" as I have been.' - Well, in this particular case it's likely that most British people of our generation were actually taught that singular verbs with collective nouns are perfectly OK, as school textbooks were saying that as early as 1886, not to mention Fowler, Gowers and Partridge, who were enormously influential on the English teachers of the post-war years. Those are also 'facts'.

I don't suppose you'll be interested, but on that other page I've posted quotes from and links to two school grammar books from the end of the nineteenth century which talk about collective nouns and their use with plural verbs.

Basically, what it boils down to is that you don't like it, which is fair enough, nobody's asking you to use it, but that doesn't necessarily make it incorrect. I may have gone over the top, but that is because I've scrupulously tried to argue my case on evidence alone, to be treated as though this is just my little theory - 'I see that WW was holding forth the same theories last year' ' - well, I might also find that rather condescending, as I might 'You can post as many examples of misuse as you choose, they do not change the facts.'

All I ask is that people are objective, and try and understand - 1) that there is a lot of (hard) evidence to show that most Brits do indeed use collective nouns in this way, especially when talking of sports teams, and have done so for at least a hundred years; 2) that most commentators on British English find this perfectly OK; and 3) those who are really interested in grammar make a little effort to understand why this is so. That seems to me a rather more interesting approach to grammar than simply condemning something out of hand, on very little basis other than personal opinion.

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Many years ago when I began teaching Business English, I had daily sessions with the then director of IBM France to practice business negotiations in English. Frankly I think I learnt more than he did. Instead of sitting facing me across the desk his first move was to rearrange the furniture, come and sit next to me and ask: "So how do you see this situation, J?"
Down the years I "taught" many executives in/from various countries with widely varying styles and learnt a certain respect. For myself I find that when something is blindingly obvious to me it means I've lost the plot already. I also recall a motto from my earlier job as a software consultant "Win the arguement, lose the customer".
Just wish I'd remembered that a bit more often in my last marriage.

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@WW

If the sole point of debate on grey areas is victory, then OK, you win.
I very much doubt we shall have many more debates, for me the fun is in the chase not in the kill.

Perhaps you should ponder why it is that so many of the positions and opinions that you uphold are so often in the minority, and if common usage is a proper criterion, why it is that the common usage which I favour appears to be more common than that favoured by you and your illustrious luminaries?

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Which all brings to mind the journey of Saul, later Saint Paul, and the voice from above:
"It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
I guess that is stage we all go through before we see the light; but I wonder whether the voice betrayed some exasperation or not.
As my yoga teacher would sigh (with a holier-than-thou smile): Ah, we all have our journey.

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@jayles

At the risk of being thought facetious; your last post reminded me of a quip made when Barclay's Bank in South Africa became First National Bank of South Africa and chose a thorn tree as its emblem.

I'm sure you can work it out.

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@jayles

PS
I'm sure that you are not suggesting that any contributors to PITE should/could be considered pricks. :-))

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@HS Far be it from me. Although one should distinguish between "crucifying the opposition" (which involves holding the arms down and bashing a six-inch nail between the radius and the ulna - 'Hold still there mate or we'll hit the artery') and merely "winning".

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@jayles
Lost me there I'm afraid, or are you saying that I am intent on "crucifying the opposition"?
I assure you that is not the case.
However I will stick to my opinions, and if subjected to personal comments then I will respond in kind.
We are often reminded on PITE that in English "common usage" overrides any and all rules and that there are no right and wrong answers. Therefore we have grey areas.
However it does seem that those criteria may be applied selectively.
My contemporaries and I were taught and used a certain type of English in our Scottish primary and secondary schools and universities.
A type of English which seems to differ from that learned or later adopted by WW and some others and which apparently is also at odds with that advocated by certain luminaries.
Yet I am almost certain that advocates and users of the type of English that I learned far outnumber the others.
Hence my point about our common usage being the more common and perhaps then the more acceptable.

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@HS Not aimed at anyone at all; just I get carried away sometimes; you should know that I learned the word "facetious" when it appeared on my school report at age ten.....
I agree English does indeed have gray areas (and I do too). And I agree - the people I have asked all just say: collective noun plus singular verb.
Perhaps if you could get to grips with Ngram or something you might be able to prove your point more satisfactorily; although it is clear to me that google books is only a sample of bookish English, perhaps written by people who tend to use the language in more creative ways than the rest of us.
The point here is no agreement is possible unless we first agree on what type of evidence is acceptable; anecdotal vs whatever else. I am not questioning your assertions, but now we have stuff on the internet it makes sense to check that out too.

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@Warsaw Will,

"Basically, what it boils down to is that you don't like it, which is fair enough, nobody's asking you to use it, but that doesn't necessarily make it incorrect."

Yes, but the converse is also true, just because other people like a usage and use it doesn't mean it's correct—it just means that it is popular, and popular opinion doesn't always constitute what's right.

@Hairy Scot,
I, too, must say that I find myself surprised that thou use something typically considered a rule of American English. I've learned that there are times when American English does use the plural verb, and Warsaw Will has already stated reasons why. Those are pretty valid and logical reasons, which I have seen in my own (American) grammar textbook.

"We are often reminded on PITE that in English "common usage" overrides any and all rules and that there are no right and wrong answers."

Is that true on PITE? I've not noticed it. I stick to my moderate stance between prescriptivism and descriptivism. I see a need for a standard, for the sole reason that communication hinges on it, but see nothing wrong with informal language, idioms, dialects, and variants of English (British vs. American vs. Indian etc.). I have grown more descriptivist since I came here though.

Honestly, I would like to see a resurgence in thou/thee/thy/thine/thyself because it distinguishes it from you/you/your/yours/yourselves. Sometimes it's confusing seeing "you" and whether it's singular and plural. Ye, however, is unimportant and unnecessary to revive. I think I'll finally start that revival.

"I'm sure that you are not suggesting that any contributors to PITE should/could be considered pricks. :-))"

I was a prick on here before.

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@jayles
I have used Ngram on occasion and have found that the percentage usage shown for UK English is pretty much on the side of the angels. :-))
In fact it is on Ngram graphs that I have based my conclusion that my views and opinions are in agreement with what is shown as majority usage.

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@Jasper
If I have used something that is a rule of AmEnglish it is only because it matches what I believe to be a rule of BrEnglish, or at least what I was taught was a rule of BrEnglish.
I will freely confess that I do tend toward pedantry and that I may have on occasion displayed a smidgeon of prickishness.
However I do try not to give offence and to avoid personal comment as far as possible although I suppose there are times when my "tongue in cheek" comments do appear somewhat provocative.
I'm here for fun not foolishness and for interest not insult.

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@HS That sounds promising.
So (swiftly rearranging the furniture, and sitting down beside you) where do we go from here?

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@Jasper - 'Yes, but the converse is also true, just because other people like a usage and use it doesn't mean it's correct—it just means that it is popular, and popular opinion doesn't always constitute what's right.'

To be honest I don't think too much in terms of 'what is right' but more in terms of whether it is grammatical (acceptable to a majority of native speakers) and whether it's Standard English, in this case, Standard British English. But I'd disagree with you on two things.

In linguistics, extensive usage by educated speakers is exactly what makes something correct; that's how the rules have been formed over the centuries. Grammarians simply codified existing practice, but unfortunately some of them decided to add their own rules, or elevate tendencies into strict rules. As someone who teaches foreigners English I teach a grammar which is firmly based on descriptive grammar, and nowadays, usually on corpus linguistics.

Secondly, this is not simply a matter of it being popular. There really is no debate about this in grammar circles. The 18th century prescriptivists accepted it; all the principal commentators on British English accepted it; it is taught as standard when teaching foreign learners British English; it is accepted as standard by all the main British dictionaries, and put forward, to varying degrees, in certain media style guides, such as that of the Economist. And it's even accepted in 19th century American grammars, such as those by Noah Webster and William Chauncey Fowler. I have not seen one grammar book (and I look at a lot) that questions this. Couple that with actual usage, and I can't really see how much more 'correct' you can get than that.

What has changed is that in America the singular versions have become more popular, I would guess as a result of the influence of books like The Chicago Manual of Style. In 'Garner's Modern Usage', American commentator suggests that after the revolution, Americans still often used collective nouns with plural verbs and pronouns 'The House of Representatives shall chuse [sic] their Speaker etc', where today 'its' would be more common. But he points out that 'you can't be doctrinaire on this point of usage'.

And while Americans have moved in one direction, we have moved in the other.

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

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Sorry, Bryan Garner got missed out somehow - American commentator Bryan Garner.

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@Jason - about thee/thou/you - one of the reasons it no doubt disappeared was that it was a great source of snobbery - thou downwards but you upwards. This can still be seen in police practices in France (although it was meant to have been changed last year). When a prisoner is charged he immediately becomes/became 'tu', but of course he still has to call the policeman 'vous'. What's more even the French can have problems knowing when to 'vousvoyer' and when to 'tutoyer', as do the Spanish - when addressing a youngish aunt, for example.

We're well rid of thou etc, except its use in dialect, where it has none of these social overtones, and I can't think of a single occasion when it has led to any confusion. These changes usually happen for a reason.

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@Warsaw Will,

"... that's how the rules have been formed over the centuries. "

Yes, first, you have to create a standard out of commonalities before having that standard. The greatest threat that unbridled descriptivism poses is that it can lead to the formations of mountains, or perhaps fissures, between other variants of English. A few differences are not going to eradicate communication outright, but vigilance of both descriptivism and prescriptivism is necessary.

Dialects are fine, so long as the users know what situations in which it is fine to be informal and formal.

"And it's even accepted in 19th century American grammars, such as those by Noah Webster and William Chauncey Fowler"

Yes, I pointed that, if we're talking about the singular vs. plural verb with a collective noun, out in my response to Hairy Scot. I also never said anything about it being incorrect. I was simply stating that a usage isn't right just because it's popular, just as a usage isn't right for being in the minority, and pointing out two fallacies argument from popularity and argument from "minority".

My wish for reviving thou isn't because of snobbery but clarity.

"...I can't think of a single occasion when it has led to any confusion."

If it means thou, then no, you is my problem.

Singular Nom. Obj. Gen. Refl./Intsve.
You You Your, yours Yourself

Plural Nom. Obj. Gen. Refl./Intsve.
You You Your, yours Yourselves

That's my issue.

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Um, this should make it clearer because PITE comments dislike my table format:
Singular
Nominative: You
Objective: You
Genitive: Your, yours
Reflexive/Intensive: Yourself

Plural
Nominative: You
Objective: You
Genitive: Your, yours
Reflexive/Intensive: Yourselves

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@Jasper I love thee/thou/thine but it really does make life complicated for foreigners. I learned Hungarian from girlfriends with the result that the intimate (thou) form of "you" comes most naturally. When faced with a policeman, or a formal situation, there are four or five choices. I was quite put out when someone spoke to me using the "courtesy" format usually reserved for the elders and elderly. Best to avoid these nightmares: "you" is nicely egalitarian thank you very much.

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@jayles,

I'm not advocating to add them to English curriculums/a (per se) nor am going to prescribe or reproach someone for using "you" in singular. I just think it would be preferential/better for clarity's sake. When I was younger, I read some dialogue in a book that used "you" and couldn't figure out if he/she meant one person or more than one person.

I'm starting to use thou/thee/thy/thine/thyself in writing. Haven't had a chance in speech yet though, which will prove to be harder because of my natural flow of speech. It will take time getting used to. I suppose I'm like AnWulf in this regard.

Is there any issue in English that correlates with what you experienced in Hungary, because English doesn't have all these alternatives?

Again, not advocating for snobbery but for clarity.

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@Jasper Not really, but one could consider the way one uses "the Court" when addressing the judge, could one not? We tend to do it with length :
A) "I was just wondering if you could possibly pass the salt for just one moment?"
B) "Oh were you."

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Just a thought on the issue of "proof".
Does quoting an opinion that agrees with your opinion constitute proof?
Does quoting possibly isolated usage of certain words and phrases in famous works or by famous authors constitute proof.
Does minority usage, or even majority usage, constitute proof?

The logical answer is of course that none of those constitute proof.
Although it would seem logical that majority usage should carry a greater weight.
But then again it does seem that logic and language make for strange bedfellows, especially where English and the English are concerned.


Ave atque vale.

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@HS you are so right!
Often it's a question of what is "standard" or "normally used" in business, professional, academic, published writing, although some magazines are deliberately written for a teenage market in a more conversational style. Publishers' in-house style guides give an insight.
The fact that a couple of sports commentators are using it does not make it suddenly normal or standard, though in a sense part of their job is to create new and exciting language, so it's not automatically "wrong" either.
The ABs will deal to "the English" down your way and later at Twickenham.

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@jayles

One of the advantages of being a Scot transplanted in NZ via South Africa is that I can support multiple teams when the RUWC comes around:-
Scotland, The Springboks, The ABs, any team playing England, and any team playing Australia.

:-))

.

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@Jasper - I wasn't suggesting that you did want 'thou' for snobbery reasons. AnWulf could probably help here, but I don't think it was simply a matter of thou being singular and you being plural. I think you was also used as a polite singular, but also to demarcate social position - when speaking to one of your 'betters' you called them you, but they might will call you 'thou'. And its still happens to a small extent in French. And as I said, when you have two singular forms like this, it can also be confusing. So if you bring it back, you must insist that you is never used as a polite form, only a plural.

On the matter of confusion - I know what the forms look like on paper, but has that ever led you to any real confusion in real life?

"I was simply stating that a usage isn't right just because it's popular,"

As I told you, I don't find right a particularly useful term, especially when it comes to teaching. It's far too simplistic and imprecise a tool.

Right when? When you're talking to your mates in the pub? Right when you first meet the rather stuffy parents of your new girlfriend? Right when you are writing a formal letter?

And right according to who(m)? According to Neville Gwynne who thinks we should be going around saying things like 'Do you see whom I see?', or right according to the way normal people speak - 'Do you see who I see?'

We spend quite a bit of time with our students talking about register, i.e. the difference between the various levels of formal and informal English, what is appropriate when. Yes, I have a responsibility to my students to teach them what is grammatically correct, but I think that's rather different from your 'right'. But I also have a responsibility to make sure that they don't come out with grammatically 'correct' but inappropriate language. The last thing I want is people laughing at my students because they're being over formal or sounding pretentious.

For example there's one website that suggests that a good example of using 'whom' is 'With whom did you eat your pizza?' Grammatically perfectly correct, but not something you'd ever put into a formal document. This is informal spoken English where 'whom' is rarely used, and to many people sounds stilted and pretentious.

Lets go back to 'grammatical' and 'right'. This sentence is obviously ungrammatical - 'That's the man which gave me the money.' - no native speaker of standard English would say that, but a French beginner learner might, as there is no distinction in French relative pronouns between people and things (only subject and object). We can all agree that that sentence is ungrammatical. But what about this one - 'That's the car which ran over our cat.'

For linguists and EFL grammarians there is no question, 'which' has been used in defining (restrictive) relative clauses for centuries. But in 1908, the Fowler brothers thought it might be a good idea when talking about things to restrict 'which' to use in non-defining relative clauses and only use 'that' in defining relative clauses. This idea was largely ignored in their home country but taken up by certain style guides in the States and elevated into a golden rule. So while I maintain that that sentence is perfectly grammatical, there are some (many, even) who would consider it wrong. This is known in linguistics circles as 'whichhunting'. And funnily enough, they also use the confusion argument, although it never seems to bother them with 'who', which is of course used for both defining and non-defining.

My concern for myself and my students is that we should use language which is grammatical, appropriate to the situation, natural and idiomatic. What other people do or say is really none of my business. I know it's a minority view here, but I think the whole idea of 'correct' lacks nuance, is often divorced from linguistic reality, and in some cases can lead to a rather unpleasant air of smugness and superiority.

This article at Macmillan Dictionaries more or less sums it up for me.

http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/because-...

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@HS - Just to remind you that you were the one who introduced the word proof. I would never demand proof, for the reasons I've outlined in my last comment to Jasper. I just don't get this overriding concern about whether something is 'correct' or not.

@jayles - I see were still on this myth that this is down to a couple of sports commentators, despite all the evidence I've given that this is a) centuries old and b) widespread.

If some people want to ignore everything that's been written about this question over the last three hundred years or so, together with contemporary corpus evidence, that's their prerogative, but I think, that for the time being anyway, I'm out. I don't really see the point any more.

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Perhaps the bit about sports commentators was not clear: I meant that just because one can point to a few examples or a particular usage does not prove that it is normal or standard; one needs to establish that the usage is common, widespread, and substantial.

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@WW
I would draw your attention to this statement from a previous post:-
"What I do question, however, is when somebody repeatedly calls something which is absolutely standard in British English, copiously covered in grammar books and usage guides, a 'misuse' or 'incorrect', against all the evidence provided, without themselves offering a shred of evidence to support this position."

Perhaps I confuse evidence with proof, but I did think the two were synonymous.
I'd also venture the opinion that usage by an average of ten to fifteen percent of British English speakers hardly makes something standard.

But once again I make the mistake of bringing logic into the equation.

Best we agree to disagree.

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As for thou/ye ... you was the objectiv, in OE thou (þu in OE) was singular and ye (OE ge) was plural there was also a dual. There was no polite singular. For a while, many tried to copy the French and make ye a polite singular. That pretty much went over like a led balloon and led to a lot of confusion. Many wouldn't fall in step with it ... for true, the Friends (Quakers) made of point of not doing it. In all of this, you started being noted as a subjectiv pronoun for both singular and plural which is where it stands now.

Sometimes the KJ Bible notes you in the subject but mostly sticks to thou as singular and ye as plural with no polite singular. Thee is singular objectiv and you is the plural objectiv. It truly does help at times to know when somone is talking to one or many.

BTW, somthing much like this happen'd in Spanish as well. 'Usted' is short "your grace" (vuestra merced, meaning "your mercy." in Spanish) and that is why it takes a third person singular verb. It bumpt out "vos" in many lands but oddly enuff, "vos" in S. America is now noted insted "tú". Yes, it can get befuddling.

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Okay, I'm back.

@Warsaw Will
"So if you bring it back, you must insist that you is never used as a polite form, only a plural."

My intention is using thou for singular and you for plural. Ye, I couldn't care less about, no use trying to resurrect that. Although it may have been clear, I should probably elucidate that I don't mean to bring any of the Middle English conjugations that accompany thou. So it would simply be a substitution with thou for you (thou=you in singular).

So, "are you going to the mall" would become "are thou going to the mall".

"but has that ever led you to any real confusion in real life?"

I can't think of one off the top of my head, but there may have been times.

When I say right, I typically mean grammatically correct. I do however hold a few prescriptions: who and whom, lie and lay. I also happen to believe that there should be a standard. Without a standard, the worst case scenario is that dialects become so alien from each other that they become distinct languages. I'm skeptical it would happen though. With a standard, the worst case scenario is lack of creativity and distinctive writing styles. These two are mainly because I detest the very thought of losing words. In the case of who and whom, whom is lost, and who subsumes the grammatical function of whom; with lie and lay, the past participle of lie, lain, is lost, and lay follows who's example.

Issues like splitting the infinitive, stranding prepositions, it is I/me, as/than I/me, me/my verb+"ing" etc. aren't that dire. Two are rules based on Latin. Using Latin grammar as precedence for English grammar is absurd.

"...to many people sounds stilted and pretentious"

Honestly, I couldn't care less whether people think of me as pretentious or not. I like using whom, and it only sounded stilted to me when I first started using it, *shrugs* and now, it isn't a big deal to me.

On which, as an American who learned from an American grammar book, I will say that I primarily use which for nonrestrictive relative clauses while I use that for restrictive relative clauses, but I've noticed that there are times when which doesn't read "right" in a nonrestrictive role. There is nothing tenable about which being strictly in nonrestrictive roles; it is merely a distinction like less and fewer. Distinctions, though, are nice to have. My views on it now are merely: there're a time and place for which to be restrictive.

"I know it's a minority view here, but I think the whole idea of 'correct' lacks nuance"

I agree, but then again I never clearly defined what I meant by correct.

"...but I think that's rather different from your 'right'."

I don't think it's a wise thing to assume thy opposing side's position/views.

"The last thing I want is people laughing at my students because they're being over formal or sounding pretentious."

Someone who laughs at a foreigner who is trying to learn and is learning a new language deserves nothing but contempt; that someone should be helping the foreigner instead of being an ass.

"...in some cases can lead to a rather unpleasant air of smugness and superiority."

And why should it not? It is not that hard to learn a person's native language's grammar. They have books, from libraries and such, and, with the internet, if they have the internet, an enormous amount of resources. All that it amounts to is an unwillingness to learn it, and the support that linguistics gives only adds another excuse.

These next two paragraphs are intended to clarify the preceding paragraph.

I'm not justifying superciliousness or arrogance. If a person doesn't want to learn grammar, fine, I don't care as long as these people aren't writers or academics in lingual fields. Do I think people should? Yeah. There should be pride (not arrogance) in being able to deduce whether something is an adverb or infinitive.

Now onto linguistics, I respect the field, and their documentation of everything is important, esp. since it's a scientific analysis of language, but their research _can_ be used to pander to those who are too lazy to learn.

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Until at least WWI, thou was widespread across a large expanse of Northern England.
It was still used withing the family in Derbyshire in 1970's. For instance, "astha put 'bike in't ginnel?" I think if you went there today and talked to older people you would find it still alive and well. "Art thou" sounds like "artha".
Check out D H Lawrence:
http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/parade/abj76/...

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Or alternatively one could join the Quakers who might accommodate your thou-ward leanings

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