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Joined: August 12, 2010
Comments posted: 741
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Five eggs is too many

June 30, 2013

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

jayles May 19, 2014, 2:19am

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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.

jayles May 18, 2014, 11:50pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse 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

jayles May 18, 2014, 11:47pm

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jayles May 18, 2014, 11:43pm

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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. 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

jayles May 18, 2014, 11:39pm

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

jayles May 18, 2014, 8:36pm

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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.

jayles May 18, 2014, 8:16pm

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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."

jayles May 18, 2014, 3:52pm

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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).

jayles May 18, 2014, 10:15am

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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 May 18, 2014, 9:48am

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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 May 18, 2014, 1:29am

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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 May 17, 2014, 10:59pm

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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 May 17, 2014, 8:29pm

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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 May 17, 2014, 7:21pm

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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 May 17, 2014, 6:59pm

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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 May 17, 2014, 6:24pm

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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 May 17, 2014, 3:19pm

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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 May 17, 2014, 12:13pm

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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 May 15, 2014, 3:49pm

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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 May 14, 2014, 3:46pm

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