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Trend of referring to a singular collective as a plural noun

In American Grammar specifically, there is a somewhat new trend of referring to a singular collective as a plural noun. For example, “The band are playing at the Hall tonight.” To which I want to reply “It are?” While the British and Canadians have never understood the concept of singular collectives such as large companies or the aforementioned musical groups known by a name such as Aerosmith or Saint Motel, but why is this becoming popular in America where singular collectives have been referred to, until recently, as a singular entity? It’s on the radio, it’s on TV commercials and even in print. Are singular collectives now plural?

  • September 12, 2016
  • Posted by Stacy
  • Filed in Usage
  • 22 comments

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This keeps popping up, and there are those who will insist on using a plural verb for certain collective nouns.
IMHO a collective noun gets a singular verb. End of story.
Despite arguments to the contrary, "family" is a collective noun, and I don't care how many family members there might be, it therefore gets a singular verb.
Similarly team, government, IRS, etc etc are all collectives and get singular verbs.
No doubt Warsaw Will and Jayles will now climb in with contrary positions based on some spurious concept of pluralism.

Hairy Scot September 21, 2016, 8:14pm

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My apologies for the typo in my previous post.
I should of course have used plurality instead of pluralism.

Hairy Scot September 22, 2016, 3:29pm

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@HS Could you please complete the following:
a) Quick! The police ___ coming!
b) The cattle ___ lowing, the baby awakes.

Please also explain how, in your world, we can tell which nouns are "collective" and which are not.

jayles the unwoven September 23, 2016, 1:03pm

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@jayles the unwoven

There are nouns which are recognised as having only a plural form and as such are not relevant to a discussion on collective nouns.
These include police, cattle, oats, tweezers, pants, remains.

Hairy Scot September 24, 2016, 4:59pm

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@HS So how can we tell that "cattle" is plural but "herd" is a "collective" noun?

jayles the unwoven September 24, 2016, 7:10pm

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I would also like your analysis of whether "family" is a collective or plural noun in the following extract taken from Pride & Prejudice, Chapter VI of Volume II (Chap. 29):
"...and it was but the other day that I recommended another young person, who was merely accidentally mentioned to me, and the family are quite delighted with her."

jayles the unwoven September 24, 2016, 7:55pm

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@jtu
In answer to your two previous posts.
1.
Education
2.
Family is and always will be a collective noun.

Hairy Scot September 24, 2016, 8:27pm

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@HS You have not actually explained Jane Austen's use of 'family' - a "collective" noun - with a plural verb, which seems contrary to your opening post: 'Despite arguments to the contrary, "family" is a collective noun, and I don't care how many family members there might be, it therefore gets a singular verb.'

jayles the unwoven September 24, 2016, 10:05pm

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@jtu
Are you saying that Jane Austen could not have been wrong?

You know, it really surprises me that people who are apparently reasonably well educated seek to gainsay what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere.
It's a bit like the old lady watching troops marching past and exclaiming, "They're all out of step bar our Willie".

Hairy Scot September 24, 2016, 10:34pm

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jayles the unwoven September 25, 2016, 1:35am

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@jtu
"@HS It's not just Jane Austen:
http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=%22the+family+...

Does that makes it correct?

Hairy Scot September 25, 2016, 3:24am

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Whether it is "correct" or not would hinge upon the criteria used. However if "people who are apparently reasonably well educated" persistently and knowingly use words such as "family" with a plural verb, despite "what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere", there must be a good reason, they must feel comfortable doing so, and editors do not automatically edit such constructions out. If you feel uncomfortable with this, then your eduction or background or thinking must be different to theirs.

jayles the unwoven September 25, 2016, 11:00am

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@jtu
That is a typical descriptivist cop out.
Your use of "different to" illustrates that you are firmly in the camp of those who just like to be different for the sake of being different and who have absolutely no respect for the language.
No doubt you will soon be advocating the use of "should of" as a correct alternative to "should have" and that perpendicular just means at right angles with no regard to plane.
How do you stand on mixing up past tense and past participle?

Hairy Scot September 25, 2016, 2:02pm

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@jtu
I just have one more question:
Do you, and those who share your thoughts on issues like this, believe that those of us who attended schools and universities prior to 1965 should forget all that we learned about the English language in that time and adopt the various fads and errors that have become commonplace since then?

Hairy Scot September 25, 2016, 3:53pm

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@HS I don't recall being taught anything about collective nouns plus singular verbs at school; perhaps it was taught and I was so busy daydreaming about our French conversation mistress at the time and worrying about my sinful thoughts that I missed it. Presumably your syllabus was different or you were more attentive.

jayles the unwoven September 25, 2016, 6:38pm

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@jtu
I rest my case.

Hairy Scot September 25, 2016, 7:16pm

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It seems to me that the premise of this assertion is entirely false. The British do use plurals where North Americans tend to use singulars. Words such as family and staff are commonly construed as being plural in Britain. This is not a new phenomenon. I think the import part is to be consistent and to be attuned to one's audience.

Richard Pelland September 28, 2016, 5:48am

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@HS No, far be it from me to suggest that "those of us who attended schools and universities prior to 1965 should forget all that we learned about the English language in that time". On the contrary, one should remember and question everything, especially the assumptions behind so much of what was taught. Education begins when you leave college and life hits you in the face. Clinging unquestioningly to what we were taught simply leads to fossilized thinking. If education is in part an older generation passing on what they believe to important or useful skills and knowledge, then we must recognize that the framework of our education for our generation was founded in a "Victorian" view of the world, and a "Victorian" view of the English language. What was right for them, may, or may not, be right for us in our time. But mostly I question the whole attitude that some (upper-class) can make up rules for my language by mere fiat or diktat. Not that I wish to begin the whole argument anew; merely that in my world my education finally led me to question everything, and come to the conclusion that in so many things there is no black and white, no right and wrong except in the mindset of so many blinkered people. Fortunately I managed to emigrate, get away from it all, and learn what is important and useful for myself.

jayles the unwoven October 13, 2016, 11:23pm

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@jtu
That was a somewhat petulant and insulting post.
I am certainly not trying issue you with any fiats or diktats, but merely pointing out that there are those of us whose views differ from yours.
You are of course entitled to your opinions, as am I.
I also like to question many things; among these are the way our language has been and is being bastardised and the laissez faire attitudes of those who consistently trumpet the dubious virtues of common usage.
As for my education being founded in a "Victorian" view; that premise is not even worthy of comment, let alone discussion.
I do not cling unquestioningly to any facet of the English language, but it does seem that there are those like yourself who are quite happy to see the language sullied in support of common usage.

Hairy Scot October 15, 2016, 6:33pm

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It is important to understand the change in English teaching in the UK in the 1960s which meant that children were no longer taught the structure of the language. From then on understanding of usage was gained passively. This meant that the next generation of teachers did not know the correct use of English and this has had a knock-on effect over the intervening years. Reading internet posts shows the low level of literacy in English.
I have found that those who use English best are the people who learned it as a second language and were taught the rules formally.

ron2 December 9, 2016, 3:14am

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English, at least American English, is an evolving language. I am abhorred by radio, television and my own just-adult children who have seemed to have forgotten what an adverb is. The sentence "He ran really quick" irks me constantly but seems to be common usage these days. While I dislike the new usage, I am also not an advocate of using Old English, ergo - I am accepting of the evolving language.

Thad B March 27, 2017, 7:20pm

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