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Joined: August 12, 2010
Comments posted: 733
Votes received: 92

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Five eggs is too many

July 1, 2013

Recent Comments

@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).

jayles the unmighty May 18, 2014, 2:15pm

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 18, 2014, 1:48pm

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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".

jayles the unmighty May 18, 2014, 5:29am

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

jayles the unmighty May 18, 2014, 2:59am

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 18, 2014, 12:29am

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 17, 2014, 11:21pm

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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".

jayles the unmighty May 17, 2014, 10:59pm

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 17, 2014, 10:24pm

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 17, 2014, 7:19pm

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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

jayles the unmighty May 17, 2014, 4:13pm

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My first question would be: English has changed a bit since William the Bastard and his mates landed in 1066 to undertake a social redevelopment program; under what circumstances is it okay to make changes now?

jayles the unmighty May 15, 2014, 7:49pm

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 14, 2014, 7:46pm

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

jayles the unmighty May 14, 2014, 1:48pm

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 13, 2014, 11:29pm

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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.

jayles the unmighty May 13, 2014, 8:20pm

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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?

jayles the unmighty May 12, 2014, 4:05am

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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?"

jayles the unmighty May 12, 2014, 1:11am

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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

jayles the unmighty May 11, 2014, 9:58pm

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So that makes it all pretty easy; all one needs is a sound knowledge of the GVS, a smaltering of Latin-ing, a soupcon of medaeval French and Bob is indeed to goodness your uncle. It is but a small "en-devoir" or endeavour or endeavor or whatever.
However sins enii olternativ speling sistem wud luk vaastlii diferent and distroi backwerds kompatibiliti chaenjing wud not bii werth it.

jayles the unmighty May 11, 2014, 5:52pm

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@HS "She had less family responsibilities" : one might (with a stretch) construe this as meaning the responsibilities were similar in number but less onerous; it is perhaps just a bit vaguer than "fewer responsibilities", although I wouldn't care to argue the toss.

"She had less responsibilities" does get several hits on google.

Whether one approves is one's own problem.

jayles the unmighty May 9, 2014, 4:51am

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