Saturday, January 15, 2011

Singular nouns with plural verbs

Which one of these sentences is correct?: “The band were playing” or “The band was playing”?
Havana Streetband

Especially in British English, certain singular words which refer to groups of people can be used as if they were plural. This happens when we consider the group as individuals. In this case, the verb that follows is in the plural, and the noun can be referred to by the pronoun they.

The crowd were shouting and singing. They were really noisy.
My family are coming tomorrow for Thaksgiving dinner. They will stay at home overnight.
The Government are debating the new act.

However, these words can be used with singular verbs and pronouns when we see the group as a unit rather than a group of individuals.

His family is from Scotland.
The Tunisian Government has fallen.

Note that these words are not used with plural verbs when they have a, each, every, this or that before them. Compare:
The team are training really hard.
That team is at the top of the league.

The family were having dinner together.
Every family has a black sheep.

The majority of our students are under 18.
A majority of just one vote is enough to win the election.

Some of these nouns are:
commitee couple crew
crowd family gang
government group herd
congregation jury majority
minority pair staff
team audience band

There are a few of them which are usually plural: the police, the press, the public, the aristocracy.
The police have arrested the criminals.

So, in the question above, which would you use, the plural or the singular? Both would be fine. It just depends on the context and on the meaning you want to convey.
If you want to read more on the subject, follow this link.

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