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Subject and Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns

Do you use a singular or plural verb to match a collective noun such as team or staff? The answer is, It depends. If these nouns are acting as a unit, use a singular verb.

Example: The team is heading for practice this afternoon.

If the sentence indicates more individuality, use a plural verb.

Example: The team are eating with their families tonight.

Would you choose is or are in the example below?

Example (an actual headline from CNN.com): Nearly one in four people worldwide is/are Muslim.

People is NOT a collective noun like team or staff. It is a plural noun. However, the subject is one, which is singular and takes a singular verb. So the answer is is. In the above sentence, the prepositional phrase is in four people. This means that people is the object of the preposition.

Let’s get real here, however: The intention in this headline is to let us know that nearly 25% of the world’s population is Muslim. That intention gets lost by focusing on one is. It might be better to reword the sentence: Nearly 25% of people in the world are Muslim.

Why is 25% of people are correct? The subject of this sentence is 25%. Fractions and percentages, like team and staff, can be either singular or plural depending on the object of the preposition following. In this case people is the object of the preposition of. We have already said that people is plural. Therefore, 25% becomes plural in meaning.

Example: Twelve percent of the building has/have been renovated.

The subject is twelve percent, which will be either singular or plural depending on the object of the preposition that follows. In this sentence, the object of the preposition is building, which is always singular. So the correct answer is has.

To learn more about subject and verb agreement, click here.

Ready to challenge yourself?

Pop Quiz

1. The team is/are headed to the nationals since winning the state finals.

2. The mock trial team was/were happy with their presentations to the judge.

3. Nearly 25% of the population is/are Muslim.

4. Our staff meets/meet on Tuesday mornings to discuss customer complaints.

5. Our staff works/work hard to meet their goals and deadlines.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The team is headed to the nationals since winning the state finals.
Team is being used as a cohesive unit so a singular verb is required.

2. The mock trial team were happy with their presentations to the judge.
Team is plural because separate presentations were given. Also, when the plural their is used, the implication is that the collective noun is being used as a plural.

3. Nearly 25% of the population is Muslim.
The word population is a collective noun that can take either a singular or plural verb, depending on the intention of the author. The intention here is to indicate that this percentage represents a single group.

4. Our staff meets on Tuesday mornings to discuss customer complaints.
Staff, a collective noun, is acting as a single unit in this sentence.

5. Our staff work hard to meet their goals and deadlines.
Their is a clue that staff is not acting as a unit. Therefore, the plural work is needed.

How do you know that work, not works, is plural? Think about which word you would use with he and which word you would use with they.

Examples:
She works too hard for her age.
They work harder when the foreman is around.

Posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2010, at 2:47 pm


114 Comments

114 Responses to “Subject and Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns”

  1. John Kudlacek says:

    I respectufully disagree with your use of the plural verb form when referring to “team or staff”. I recently heard a national TV reporter use a plural verb when refering to a married COUPLE–she used it twice. That prompted me to look into it as it is contrary to what I learned in public school (1937 to 1950.) I realize language evolves but I will continue to use the singular verb with all collective nouns and when I hear otherwise it will continue to grate on my nerves.

    • Jane says:

      I understand why some words can grate on our nerves or ears when they differ from what we have learned and used over the years. Chicago Manual of Style advises, “A mass noun (sometimes called a noncount noun) is one that denotes something uncountable, either because it is abstract {cowardice} {evidence} or because it refers to an indeterminate aggregation of people or things {the faculty} {the bourgeoisie}; the latter type is also called a collective noun. As the subject of a sentence, a mass noun usually takes a singular verb {the litigation is varied}. But in a collective sense, it may take either a singular or a plural verb form {the ruling majority is unlikely to share power} {the majority are nonmembers}. A singular verb emphasizes the group; a plural verb emphasizes the individual members.”

      As I mentioned in our blog on “Subject and Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns,” if the nouns are acting as a unit, use a singular verb, but if the sentence indicates more individuality, use a plural verb.

  2. Mark says:

    John

    Language is more than a bag of rules. You can think of collectives in two ways – as a collective of parts or as parts of a collective. Both are utterly identical in ‘total’ meaning, and so the need for the other can seem quite superfulous at first. A bit like trying to decide which is best, driving on the left or on the right side of the road. It happens that in the UK, we tend to prefer plural nouns, while in the US I notice they prefer the singular more often than not.

  3. Gerry O'Sullivan says:

    John,
    I have just read the sentence ” The couple is to honeymoon in Barbados” in one of our broadsheet newspapers and unlike you this sounded discordant to my ears. Having finished my Secondary education in 1966 I can only presume that there may have been different emphasis during the education process in America and Ireland. Incidentally when I queried a number of friends -mostly under 30 – I got an initial 60/40% tending towards using “are” in the above sentence.
    I wonder if there is a definitive Legal interpretation of the verb to be used in this case ?

    • Jane says:

      In my opinion, the word couple is acting as a single unit (especially since they are on their honeymoon)! I would, therefore, recommend the singular verb. I suppose that this is one of those sentences that is open to interpretation.

      • Maggie says:

        I would consider it plural. It takes two to tango.

        • Kert VanderMeulen says:

          In a tango dance contest there can be only one winner- the couple that dances best. It there are two dancers on the floor, there is one couple, if there are four dancers on the floor, there are two couples. Ergo, the winning couple is one; maybe two dancers, but only one couple. Same with team and band- at least in America. Only one team wins the Super Bowl and the World Series. It is the team with the most points at the end of the game. The winning team is on the field, talking to the press. If you want to have plural predicate, write or say a plural subject: dancing partners, teammates, bandmembers.

          • CJ Pogar says:

            I understand the discussion about plural nouns and using either singular or plural verbs.

            My beef is that the winner should be the couple “who” (instead of “that”) gets the most points.

            “Who” is for people; “that” is for anything else.

          • Jane says:

            The pronoun who refers to people only, but it is a myth that that may not refer to people as well as things. It has for centuries. The King James version of the Bible, for example, refers to “He that is without sin.” We will acknowledge this use of that in the eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, which will be published in February 2014. We will also be making this change to the GrammarBook.com website at that time.

  4. Elsa says:

    Hi,

    So should the sentence read:

    Option 1) 50% of X amount was paid out; or
    Option 2) 50% of X amount were paid out?

    Thanks.

    • Jane says:

      Percentages are expressed in numerals except when they occur at the beginning of a sentence. Our blog “Subject and Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns” states,”Fractions and percentages, like team and staff, can be either singular or plural depending on the object of the preposition following. ” The subject of the sentence is fifty percent. The object of the preposition of is a monetary amount. Chicago Manual of Style says, “For measures or money or any other quantities, when the items form a whole that isn’t meant to be divided, use a singular verb.”

      Fifty percent of $500 was paid out.

  5. Richard says:

    UK English makes no sense:
    Our team meets on Tuesdays. The team work hard.
    Our staff meet on Tuesdays. The staff work hard.

    I think those would be likeliest.

    • Jane says:

      My emphasis in the blog “Subject and Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns” is to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb depending on whether these nouns are acting as a unit or with individuality within the unit, regardless of any UK or American tendencies. The team and staff in your four sentences each appear to be acting as a unit. Therefore, the singular verbs meets and works should be used in each case.

  6. Chami says:

    Is “1% of the Americans comprises the richest of the world” correct- grammatically?

    • Jane says:

      The subject of this sentence is one percent. Fractions and percentages, like team and staff, can be either singular or plural depending on the object of the preposition following. In this case Americans is the object of the preposition of. Since Americans is plural, one percent becomes plural in meaning. In the example sentence, the word the is unnecessary and the word richest is an adjective that is missing a word to modify.

      One percent of Americans comprise the richest people in the world.

  7. S Park says:

    Hi,

    Thank you for your helpful blog! Is the sentence “The majority of the population reside in urban areas” in correct form? Thank you

    • Jane says:

      The rule in our blog “None Were” vs. “None Was” says, “With words that indicate portions–some, all, none, percent, fraction, part, majority, remainder, and so forth –look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb. The word population is a collective noun that can take either a singular or plural verb, depending on the intention of the author. If you are the author, you determine whether majority of the population represents a single group or multiple groups (perhaps because they live in various different urban areas).

  8. Andy says:

    Jane, how would you treat the word, ‘college?’ Seems to me it is in the same family as ‘team’ and ‘staff’ in that it can be treated as both singular or plural, depending on the sentence. Most of the time it is treated as singular as in:

    ‘The college celebrated its anniversary this year.’

    But if, say, the college’s stakeholders or students are being referred to, can it be plural, as in,

    ‘I really like Humber College’s mission statement–theirs is the easiest to understand.’

    Your thoughts?

    • Jane says:

      In your second sentence the word college is possessive rather than plural. I recommend emphasis on the subject of the sentence which is mission statement. Also, in formal writing an em dash should be used sparingly.

      I really like Humber College’s mission statement. It is the easiest to understand.

  9. Flora says:

    Could you please help me? Which is correct of the following two sentences?

    A large proportion of subjects with this disease were reported.

    A large proportion of subjects with this disease was reported.

    • Jane says:

      With words that indicate portions–some, all, none, percent, fraction, part, majority, remainder, and so forth –look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb. Since the object of the preposition is subjects, use the plural verb were.

      A large proportion of subjects with this disease were reported.

  10. joemer says:

    What to punctuation mark should be used in this sentence?

    The candle becomes shorter. Heat changes the _______ of the candle(period or question mark)?

    pls. help, thank you

    • Jane says:

      If this is a written exercise for students, I assume you have provided instructions to fill in the blank with the correct word. Since your sentence is not a question, use a period. Heat changes the _______ of the candle.

  11. ken says:

    “A family of ducks was resting on the grass.”
    “A family of ducks were resting on the grass.”

    Sentences of this form are more difficult than the examples above, because the verb immediately follows the plural noun while the subject is indisputably singular and is enforced by the article. It makes one envy those whose vernacular uses only “was” as in “Them ducks was ….”

    In these no-win cases, I usually make the choice that seems less likely to disrupt the majority of readers, though it is grammatically wrong. Agreed?

    (Would be grateful for your reply by email.)

    • Jane says:

      In formal writing, we recommend the grammatically correct construction even if it might trouble some readers. In this case, the collective noun, family, is singular as each duck is doing the same thing and therefore acting as a unit: “A family of ducks was resting on the grass.”

      • James says:

        Hi.
        I am confused about this. You wrote earlier:

        ‘Example (an actual headline from CNN.com): Nearly one in four people worldwide is/are Muslim.
        People is NOT a collective noun like team or staff. It is a plural noun. However, the subject is one, which is singular and takes a singular verb. So the answer is is. In the above sentence, the prepositional phrase is in four people. This means that people is the object of the preposition.’

        Are you saying that the correct answer would then be:
        Nearly one in four people worldwide are Muslim.
        rather than, ‘…the answer is is.’?

        If this is so, then it makes sense to me and conforms to what appears to be happening in the example of the ducks sentence. If not, then can you explain, please?

        Many thanks.

        • Jane says:

          The correct sentence is Nearly one in four people worldwide is Muslim. The subject of the sentence is one, which is singular and takes a singular verb. The rule you are writing about only applies to collective nouns. The word one is not a collective noun, it is a singular noun. In the sentence A family of ducks were resting on the grass, the subject of the sentence is family, which is a collective noun. In this case, the verb must agree with the object of the preposition, which is ducks.

          • Bob says:

            Dear Jane,

            If we use a mass noun (such as “furniture,” that normally takes a singular verb) but talk about two or more units, should we use a singular or a plural verb?
            - Two pieces of furniture are available.
            - Two pieces of furniture is available.

            My bet is that the verb should be plural (e.g. are). However, I am a non-native speaker of English and got confused after Reading here that the verb must agree with the object of the preposition (which I think is “furniture” in this case).

            Any help will be greatly appreciated!

          • The subject in your sentence is pieces. Therefore, the verb must be plural (are) to agree with the subject. The rule you are referring to applies only to portion words such as a lot, some, all, etc., which are singular or plural depending on what they refer to in the sentence, which is usually the object of the preposition of.

  12. marta says:

    Could you please help me? I can use the word “State” like a collective noum and to write the verbs in plural. When I am talking about State as an isntitucion. For example, The state have to look after the citizens.

    • Jane says:

      Regarding capitalization, Chicago Manual of Style says, “Words denoting political divisions—from empire, republic, and state down to ward and precinct—are capitalized when they follow a name and are used as an accepted part of the name. When preceding the name, such terms are usually capitalized in names of countries but lowercased in entities below the national level. Used alone, they are usually lowercased. Example: Washington State; the state of Washington.”
      It does take a singular verb: The state has to look after its citizens.

  13. alexia says:

    Is this correct??

    “The Senior Class of 2012 announce its commencement exercises.”

    Thank you

    • Jane says:

      Class titles should be capitalized when used formally with a specific school such as Washington High School Class of 2012. Terms denoting student status such as senior and junior are lowercased. Also, since the senior class of 2012 is acting as a single unit (further evidenced by the use of the singular possessive pronoun its), the singular verb announces should be used.

      “The senior class of 2012 announces its commencement exercises.”

  14. Courtney says:

    I came across a sentence that I believe has a subject/verb agreement problem. Please find the example below:

    This was taken from your web-site

    He is one of the men who does/do the work.
    The word in front of who is men, which is plural. Therefore, use the plural verb do.

    Now, the sentence below, in assessment, has a subject/conflict, when your above stated rule is applied.

    This was taken from Purdue’s web-site

    An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.

    Isn’t both sentences follow the same pattern and have the same elements; and therefore, they should carry the same subject/verb agreement.

    • Jane says:

      You have found a couple tricky sentences and we must be careful selecting the correct rules to apply. The example from our website is from Rule 14 of Subject and Verb Agreement and deals with the pronouns who, that, or which, and how the verb must agree with the noun in front of these pronouns. The Purdue example does not contain the pronouns who, that, or which. It does follow our Rule 2 of Finding Subjects and Verbs which states, “A subject will come before a phrase beginning with of.” That subject is group and it agrees with the singular verb contains.

  15. Shubhajit Chowdhury says:

    Hi Jane,

    Here are my doubts.

    1) “We have a team of professionals who take care of their duties.”

    2) “We have a team of professionals, which takes care of its duties.”

    3) India has a team of players who are dedicated.

    Which of these is right? Can one use all these variations? I have come across people preferring the first and the third ones, and they have argued that we should use ‘who’ in both cases because it comes just after “professionals” and “players”, both of which are living beings. And we can only use which after inanimate things.

    Can you please throw some light on this and explain what one should do with such constructions?

    • Jane says:

      The rule in our blog “Who vs. Which vs. That” states, “Who refers to people. Which refers to animals, groups, or things. That may refer to people, animals, groups, or things, but who is preferred when referring to people.” Also, another rule in the same blog states, “That introduces essential clauses, while which introduces nonessential clauses.”

      Since the word team is considered a group, and since the clauses are essential to the sentences, I recommend using that.

      However, there are two other aspects to keep in mind here. First, some grammar reference books, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, allow that who may also refer to groups of people. Therefore, while GrammarBook.com recommends that in your sentences, who is also acceptable. Second, the word team is a collective noun which can be either singular or plural depending on the object of the preposition following. In each of your sentences, the objects of the preposition are professionals and players, which are plurals. Therefore, you should use plural verbs and pronouns.

      India has a team of players that are dedicated. OR India has a team of players who are dedicated.
      We have a team of professionals that take care of their duties. OR We have a team of professionals who take care of their duties.

  16. Aftab says:

    I would like help from you. Can you tell me which one of the sentences mentioned below are grammatically correct?

    1. I have finished my homework. I will take rest now.
    or

    I have finished my homework. I am going to take rest now.

    2. I have finished my homework. I think I am going to have a cup of tea.

    I have finished my homework. I think I will have a cup of tea.

    • Jane says:

      Both pairs of sentences 1 and 2 are grammatically correct. However, regarding pair number 1, in American English, we would omit the word “take.” We would simply say “I will rest now” or “I am going to rest now.”

  17. Emma says:

    Hi Jane,

    Could you please tell me which of these two sentences is correct?

    1. “Loss of life and serious injury in our skies are unacceptable.”

    Or

    2. “Loss of life and serious injury in our skies is unacceptable.”

    Thank you!

    • Jane says:

      Our Rule 6 of Subject and Verb Agreement says, “As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and.”

      “Loss of life and serious injury in our skies are unacceptable.”

  18. Sally says:

    I receive your newsletter and always enjoy, and learn from, your very clear and concise explanations of grammar rules.

    One thing I read and hear that diverts my attention from what is being said to how it’s being said involves number agreement. For instance, someone may say “My number one fear is heart attacks.” Obviously, the speaker fears “a heart attack” or simply “heart attack,” yet so often the subject and predicate nominative (if I remember my junior high school English correctly) don’t agree in number. In my career as a court reporter, I was not in a position to alter any spoken words, but as a fledgling writer, I still reword sentences to avoid this construction simply because it doesn’t sound right.

    Secondly, another question involving number: “Would everyone please take their seat.” I don’t think anyone would say, “The drivers got in their car and left,” yet it’s common to hear that they should “take their seat.”

    Would appreciate your help. Thanks so much,

    • Jane says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I agree that we often see and hear incorrect subject and verb agreement. In the case of your first sentence, “My number one fear is heart attacks,” the sentence is not necessarily incorrect, but it is awkwardly stated. The subject of the sentence is fear, which is singular. The singular verb, is, agrees with the subject. The object, heart attacks, is plural which makes the sentence sound odd. Does the person fear having a single heart attack or having multiple heart attacks? We don’t know.

      Regarding the second sentence, our Rule 8 of Subject and Verb Agreement says, “The pronouns each, everyone, every one, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, and somebody are singular and require singular verbs.” The grammatically correct sentence could be “Would everyone please take your seat,” or the cumbersome “Would everyone please take his or her seat.”

  19. mac says:

    help me on this sentence..which one is correct?

    1. But if the team consisted of 10 or more, grouping of teams will be consummated.

    2.But if the teams consisted of 10 or more, grouping of teams will be consummated.

    “team” or “teams” over the verb consisted

    • Jane says:

      From what you have stated, I cannot tell whether you are addressing your comment at one team or more than one team, whether you are referring to the number of teams, or to the number of players on each team. Also, I do not know what came before this sentence to justify beginning with the word But. Finally, grouping of teams will be consummated is an odd phrasing. I do not understand what this means. I’m sorry, but I can make no recommendation on how to properly write your sentence.

  20. Abhishek Khurana says:

    Hi Jane, I was going through the blog and believe me it is quite a helpful one. Just one query mentioned above has created a doubt in my mind.

    Could you please tell me which of these two sentences is correct?
    1. “Loss of life and serious injury in our skies are unacceptable.”
    Or
    2. “Loss of life and serious injury in our skies is unacceptable.”

    As per your answer above the 1st option is correct but I have read a rule that “If two singular nouns joined by and refer to the SAME THING the verb used with them should be singular.
    Hence I am a little confused. It will be great if you can elaborate a little on the words “same thing” in the rule I have stated above.

    Many Thanks,
    Abhishek

    • Jane says:

      Note that my Rule 6 of “Subject and Verb Agreement” states “As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and.” There are exceptions to this rule when the subjects or nouns in the sentence form a single entity or unit, collective idea, or oneness of idea. (You called it “the same thing” but that may be too restrictive.) Examples I have seen where a singular verb is used with two subjects connected by and include “Peanut butter and jelly is my favorite snack,” “Profit and loss is important to every business,” and “Spaghetti and meatballs goes well with garlic bread.” In these cases, the interpretation of “oneness of idea” is essentially up to the author of the sentence. Thus, either “Loss of life and serious injury in our skies are unacceptable” or “Loss of life and serious injury in our skies is unacceptable” are ok.

  21. Peter says:

    I come from a bygone age when, from the age of nine years, I was taught to parse sentences. Additionally, I studied Latin for four years in my adolescence and at the same time became reasonably proficient in French. I speak Hungarian as well. I believe I have a reasonably firm grasp of grammar.

    A collective noun is a singular noun – always. Therefore, when it is the subject of a verb, that verb is conjugated in its singular forms. Therefore, an army always IS, a parliament always IS, a couple always IS.

    The reason why some people think correct grammar might sometimes sound strange is because formal grammar has not been taught in our schools for decades (it stopped being taught in Australian schools in the 1970s, though it has returned in a cruder form recently) – I believe for ideological reasons. People simply are not used to hearing English spoken in its correct form and revert to the constructions they hear commonly, often on that great educator of the masses: television.

    Not only do the present teachers not know grammar but those who taught those teachers did not know it. Consequently, this knowledge has been lost and the result is that English has become even more chaotic than it was previously. What is now taught in our schools (at least in my country) is a pale and poor reflection of the richness and depth of grammar that was taught before.

    It follows, we are confused about collective nouns, ratios (by that I include percentages) and apostrophes. To add further insult to literacy, spelling has become an inconvenient irrelevance.

    (Don’t get me started about apostrophes…)

    • Jane says:

      Our English language evolves whether we like it, or whether we like the reasons for it, or not. I am following The Chicago Manual of Style’s rule which says, “When the subject is a collective noun conveying the idea of unity or multitude, the verb is singular {the nation is powerful}. When the subject is a collective noun conveying the idea of plurality, the verb is plural {the faculty were divided in their sentiments}.”

  22. souvik basu says:

    help me on this sentence….which one is correct?
    1. five months is over.
    2. five months are over.

    • Jane says:

      Since the word months is plural, use the verb are.
      Five months are over.
      You could also write “The five-month waiting period is over” since the noun is now period, which is singular.

  23. evelyn says:

    i am a researcher and i want to know about the common errors in subject-verb agreement and i wish i have some of the theoretical framework and conceptual framework of your book. i’ll use it as a reference. . .thank you good day

  24. Debi O. says:

    I have a question I’m sure I know the answer to but would like clarification on since I use the phrase daily in my work.
    90 days jail were ordered
    or
    90 days jail was ordered.
    Seems like either days is probably the subject since it should probably read 90 days of jail were ordered, making jail part of a preposition phrase.
    Would love your opinion. Thanks!

    • Jane says:

      Our Rule 13 of Subject and Verb Agreement says, “Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.”
      Examples:
      Ten dollars is a high price to pay.
      Five years is the maximum sentence for that offense.

      Also, Rule 16 of Writing Numbers says, “Write out a number if it begins a sentence.”

      Therefore, your sentence should be written “Ninety days jail was ordered.” Or, avoid these sticky areas with “The defendant was sentenced to 90 days in jail.”

  25. Indira Majumdar says:

    Dear Friend,
    I would like to know about the ‘A group of schools invites’ or ‘invite’ for some occasion.Our school is going to hold a programme and we are a part of other two schools or rather it is a group of schools….So what should be use as verb agreement here? Carmel group of schools invites you or Carmel group of schools invite you….Indira Majumdar.

    • Jane says:

      The word group is a collective noun. Collective nouns can be tricky because it is up to the author of the sentence to determine whether the noun is acting as a single unit, or whether the sentence indicates more individuality. In your sentence, if there is one program and you want to emphasize that the group of schools is coming together as a unit to sponsor the program, you should write “Carmel group of schools invites you…” If you want to emphasize that the three schools individually are sponsoring the event, write “Carmel group of schools invite you…”

  26. Michael says:

    Thank you for your clearly stated and helpful responses on this topic. I’m having trouble with singular-plural subject mixes where it seems an argument could be made for each form. Which is correct in the following examples?

    1. A series of forums begin today
    2. A series of forums begins today

    and

    1. A group of doctors is traveling to Haiti
    2. A group of doctors are traveling to Haiti.

    Thank you.

    • Michael says:

      And along the same lines:

      “There are a total of 39 candidates.”

      • Jane says:

        A series is singular, while several series, multiple series, etc. would be plural. Therefore, “A series of forums begins today” is correct.

        Similarly, “A group of doctors is traveling to Haiti” is correct.

        As for total, it follows roughly the same rules as number: a number of/total of will generally be plural, the number of/total of will be singular. Therefore, “There are a total of 39 candidates” is correct.

        • shilpa says:

          hey hi ,in the case of a group of doctors is travelling ….in the earlier rules u’ve mentioned that a collective noun followed by a plural object of preposition agrees to a plural verb in various instances…. Eg “India has a team of players who are dedicated” here we use ‘are’..
          similarly, group is a collective noun followed by doctors.. should’nt it it be ” a group of doctors are traveling to haiti? “…I’m confused please help..!!

          • shilpa says:

            in the same lines..
            a family of ducks were resting on the grass

          • Our response of April 20, 2012, now reflects the family acting as a unit, “A family of ducks was resting on the grass.”

          • Some collective nouns may take either a singular or a plural verb, depending on their use in the sentence. Collective nouns can be tricky because it is up to the author of the sentence to determine whether the noun is acting as a single unit, or whether the sentence indicates more individuality. In your first example, “India has a team of players who are dedicated,” the team of players are acting with individuality within the unit. In your sentence “A group of doctors is traveling to Haiti,” the word group is a collective noun that is acting as a unit. Therefore, it is treated as a singular noun and uses the singular verb is.

  27. Muzeyyen Babalık says:

    This is very helpful. Thank you for your time!

  28. Genie says:

    On this page, http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/subjectVerbAgree.asp, in rule 14

    “He is one of the men who does/do the work.
    The word in front of who is men, which is plural. Therefore, use the plural verb do.”

    Shouldn’t the answer be “does”?

    I am asking because even though “men” is plural, the “one of the men” is indicating a singular object which would require the use of a singular verb.

    I would just like to know if I am incorrect with this thought.

    • Jane says:

      The sentence you cite is intentionally meant to illustrate how Rule 14 works. Again, Rule 14 says, “Sometimes the pronoun who, that, or which is the subject of a verb in the middle of the sentence. The pronouns who, that, and which become singular or plural according to the noun directly in front of them. So, if that noun is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.” Since who is in the middle of the sentence, preceded by the noun men, which is plural, we use the plural verb do. You need not consider the word one in the sentence.

      This is a different situation from the sentence, “One of the men do/does all of the work.” One could also fall into the list of pronouns contained in Rule 8, “The pronouns each, everyone, every one, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, and somebody are singular and require singular verbs. Do not be misled by what follows of.” Since this sentence does not contain who, that, or which, follow Rule 8: One of the men does all of the work.

  29. Gwennaford says:

    Brilliant! This has bothered me for a long time. Now I can confidently explain why staff TAKES vacation time. I am still bothered by using plurals to modify singular collective nouns with plural subjects. I would feel better if staff MEMBERS take separate vacations.

  30. Jim says:

    “Stop Traffic! The Bush Family Are Related To A Slave Trader”.
    Shouldn’t the verb in this case be “is”?

    This brings up a larger point. English plural is being used in an increasing number of instances for all collective nouns. (This is appearing in AP press releases, local newspaper articles, NYT articles, TV guide on-screen descriptions of cable programs.) It seems to be the beginning of an incremental approach to the using of English rules of grammar in lieu of American rules of grammar.

    Do you see this trend? If so, do you know why it is happening?

    • Jane says:

      I agree; the verb should be “is.” I have not noticed English plural being used in an increasing number of instances for all collective nouns. AP Stylebook’s rules regarding collective nouns are as follows:

      Nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs and pronouns: class, committee, crowd, family, group, herd, jury, orchestra, team.
      Some usage examples: The committee is meeting to set its agenda. The jury reached its verdict. A herd of cattle was sold.
      Team names and musical group names that are plural take plural verbs. The Yankees are in first place. The Jonas Brothers are popular.
      Team or group names with no plural forms also take plural verbs: The Miami Heat are battling for third place. Other examples: Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz.
      Many singular names take singular verbs: Coldplay is on tour. Boston is favored in the playoffs. The Cardinal is in the NCAA tournament.
      But some proper names that are plural in form take a singular verb: Brooks Brothers is holding a sale.
      PLURAL IN FORM: Some words that are plural in form become collective nouns and take singular verbs when the group or quantity is regarded as a unit.
      Right: A thousand bushels is a good yield. (A unit.)
      Right: A thousand bushels were created. (Individual items.)
      Right: The data is sound. (A unit.)
      Right: The data have been carefully collected. (Individual items.)

  31. Ruel Ursabia says:

    Is furniture a mass noun? if so, is there such a possibility to use it in plural form. i’m just a bit confused actually. please help me know.Does it require a plural or singular verb? please provide me lot of illustrations. thank you. god bless!!!!

    • Jane says:

      Yes, furniture is a mass noun. It is considered singular and requires a singular verb.

      Your new furniture is beautiful.
      Her furniture was delivered yesterday.
      That furniture makes the room look smaller.
      Our living room furniture needs to be replaced soon.

  32. Prem says:

    Jane, is this correct?
    “Now I understand why people in Saudi keeps on asking Panadol eventhough they aren’t in pain.”
    or should I say,
    “Now I understand why people in Saudi keep on asking Panadol eventhough they aren’t in pain.”

    • Jane says:

      The word people is a plural noun so you need the plural verb keep. Note other needed corrections in italics.

      “Now I understand why people in Saudi Arabia keep on asking for Panadol even though they aren’t in pain.” OR “Now I understand why people in Saudi Arabia keep on taking Panadol even though they aren’t in pain.”

  33. JJWS says:

    Are both of these correct or only one?

    “A group of cowboys are sitting around the campfire”

    “A group of cowboys is sitting around the campfire

  34. joshi sunny says:

    Our staff meets/meet on Tuesday mornings to discuss customer complaints.(ans: meets)
    how come ‘meets’ is the answer? my doubt is the staff are going to discuss the customer complaints so i feel like ‘meet’ is the answer…plz explain..

    • Jane says:

      In your sentence the word staff is a collective noun that is acting as a unit. Therefore, in American English, it is treated as a singular noun and uses the singular verb meets. However, in British English, the staff are would not be considered wrong.

  35. joshi sunny says:

    Team names and musical group names that are plural take plural verbs.
    eg:The Yankees are in first place. The Jonas Brothers are popular.

    how can we use plurals in this case?
    http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/sentences/20-Rules-of-subject-verb-agreement.html
    In this link 19th rule is contrary to what you have said.

    can you please explain….thank you…

    • Jane says:

      In the link you provided, Rule 19 refers to titles of books, movies, and novels. This rule is talking about the entire title being singular, not just the subject of a sentence. In the example, The Burbs is a single title of a movie.

  36. Nikki says:

    Which is correct?

    The pack of wolves is running through the forest.
    The pack of wolves are running through the forest.

    I think “is” is the correct form.

  37. JP says:

    Hi Jane, could you please help with this sentence:

    Our licensed, credentialed, and multidisciplinary
    team of professionals works together…

    OR

    Our licensed, credentialed, and multidisciplinary
    team of professionals work together…

    I thought the first one is correct, but perhaps I’m wrong.

    Your help is greatly appreciated!!

    • Jane says:

      Since team is a singular noun, the sentence as written creates an awkward problem. This problem is perhaps best avoided by rewriting the sentence: The licensed, credentialed, and multidisciplinary professionals on our team work together…

  38. bk says:

    “One in five plays wins.”

    or

    “One in five plays win.”

    I feel like “five” is the subject in this sentence, but can’t seem to get much traction here in the office.

  39. Martha says:

    Hi, Jane:
    I am writing a poem with the line…”Your face, your smile, your laugh, your life, are yours alone.” I am pretty sure ARE is correct, but both are and is sound equally right to my ear! Can you tell me the correct one? Thanks.
    Martha

  40. Rajesh Bhat says:

    We have faith in citizen’s participation and the strength of civil society. Is this correct?

  41. SC says:

    Hi Jane,
    I was wondering if you could help:
    To eat and to sleep is/are?
    To run and to jump is/are?
    My mother, along with her friends is/are going to the movies.
    Many thanks!

    • Jane says:

      Your first two examples each contain two subjects linked by and. Therefore, use the plural verb are. Regarding your sentence, sometimes the subject is separated from the verb by words such as along with, as well as, besides, or not. Ignore these expressions when determining whether to use a singular or plural verb. A comma is needed after the word friends.

      To eat and to sleep are…
      To run and to jump are…

      My mother, along with her friends, is going to the movies.

  42. KB says:

    Hi Jane,
    Please help me confirm the following sentence is correct:

    “It is important to attend the meeting because ‘resources’ is such an important topic.”

    Because there is a topic termed “resources”, I was thinking it should be treated as a singular noun. Am I incorrect?

  43. devin says:

    this information was very useful.

  44. Vivienne Diane Neal says:

    Hello, Which is correct when referring to couples’ names?

    The Collins are very popular or The Collins is very popular?

    Thank you for your answer.

    • If someone’s name ends in s, we must add -es for the plural. The plural of Collins is Collinses. Since the subject is plural, use the plural verb are.

      The Collinses are very popular.

  45. Ruth Gonzales says:

    What is the general rule on the use of “the number of” and “A number of”? I learned that to remember the rule, use the mnemonic PAST (Plural for “A number of” and Singular for “The number of”). Is this correct?

    A number of people long for love.
    The number of people who long for love increases everyday.

  46. Jan says:

    My colleagues and I are having a disagreement about whether “students” is a collective noun; perhaps you can decide the issue! Which sentence is correct and why?

    Ask students to return to their desk.
    Ask students to return to their desks.

    Or

    Have students trace the outline with their finger.
    Have students trace the outline with their fingers.

    • The word students is not a collective noun. It is a plural noun. Unless you are writing out a set of instructions, we prefer using the article the before the word students. Since you are writing about more than one student, there are multiple desks and fingers. Therefore, write the following:

      Ask the students to return to their desks.
      Have the students trace the outline with their fingers.

  47. Annie H says:

    Would you say ‘a series of studies was undertaken’ or ‘a series of studies were undertaken’ ? I feel the former although it sounds strange.

    • A series is singular, while several series, multiple series, etc. would be plural. Therefore, “a series of studies was undertaken” is correct. Better yet, rewrite the sentence to something like: “We performed a series of studies.”

  48. JMCabanis says:

    What about the noun “purpose”?
    In the case in question, it is the purpose of a process. Now, a process comprises a multitude of steps, practices, and procedures and therefore its purpose is many-faceted. When I said
    “The purpose of the process is to (a, b, c, and d.)” the copyeditor corrected it to “the purposes are”. Not sure I agree with this, as a – d are all PARTS of the purpose, not items you can pick and choose from.
    Your thoughts on that?

  49. hamdi says:

    I am happy to write to you again and I have 2questions, please
    1- How much milk and butter (is – or – are )in the fridge?

    2-I must have done my homework ,……….? ( Add tag question )

    • “Milk and butter” form an awkward singular, because “much” is the subject. It would be safer to rewrite the sentence: How much milk and how much butter are in the fridge?

      We do not understand your second question.

  50. allen says:

    please help me explain these sentences:

    1. the committee debates/debate these questions carefully.
    2. the committee leads/lead very different lives in private.

    thank you!

    • The collective noun committee seems to be acting as a unit in your first sentence and as individuals in the second one.
      The committee debates these questions carefully.
      The committee lead very different lives in private.

  51. Daniel says:

    Please help me write these correct in my CV.(please forgive me for these silly questions, it’s not my native language and “google translate” got me all confused)
    Lets say I’m trying to write those sentences and to keep them short(bolded as an Headline or bullet points).:
    Handful of skills in product and company management.
    (what I’m actually trying to say is:
    Handful of skills in product management and company management.
    (is the 1st sentence loyal to the meaning in the 2nd sentence? what is the right way to keep it short but maintain the meaning?)
    same goes here :
    ..And extensive Security skills & knowledge.
    instead of:
    ..And extensive Security skills & extensive Security knowledge.
    more..headlines/bullet points
    Product definition design and development, market & technology research,
    instead of:
    Product definition Product design and Product development, market research and technology research,

    Resource recruit & management,
    vs.
    Resource recruit & Resource management

    (I am sorry. I know that this might not be the right place for these type of questions, but I came across your wonderful site after googling around and reading for quite a while.. b.t.w. yours is The Greatest )
    Thank you!

    • Thank you for the compliment on our website. Grammatically speaking, your examples are not complete sentences, they are phrases. Initial capitalization is optional when using single phrases with bullet points. We recommend that capitalization of each point be consistent.

      “Skills in product and company management” is the correct way to convey your message. “Handful of skills” might imply to some people that your skills are limited. The phrase “Extensive security skills and knowledge” is also correct, however the word and at the beginning is unnecessary, the word security does not to be capitalized, and the ampersand (&) should be replaced with the word and. “Product definition, design, and development and market and technology research” is correct with added commas and replacement of the ampersand. “Resource recruit and management” would be consistent with the others, but we do not know what this means.

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