Category: Subject and Verb Agreement

Collective Nouns and Consistency

Posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at 4:43 pm

In American English, most collective nouns take singular verbs—except when a sentence emphasizes the individuals in the group, not the group as a whole. In a sentence like The faculty is organized into eight departments, the collective noun faculty is singular. But consider The university’s faculty are renowned scholars in their own right. In that …

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These Nouns Present Singular Problems

Posted on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, at 9:02 pm

Let’s talk about nouns with split personalities. A collective noun (e.g., group, team, jury, flock, herd) is a paradox: singular in form (the team, a jury, one flock) but plural in meaning—who ever heard of a one-person group or a one-goat herd? Whenever we use a collective noun as a subject, we must decide whether …

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When They Is a Cop-out

Posted on Monday, April 28, 2014, at 6:40 pm

Ours is a language of traps and pitfalls. Anyone serious about writing in English has to take on problems no one has ever quite solved. One of the most obstinate of these, as inescapable as it is confounding, concerns singular pronouns that have plural connotations (everyone, nobody, anyone, somebody, etc.). Even fine writers on occasion …

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The Wicked Of

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014, at 5:03 pm

What would prompt H.W. Fowler to pick on the word of? Fowler (1858-1933), whom many regard as the dean of English-language scholars, ascribed to of “the evil glory of being accessary to more crimes against grammar than any other.” Do not be fooled by looks. Weighing in at a svelte two letters, this petite preposition …

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Media Watch

Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2014, at 5:41 pm

Recent cringe-inducers from the print media … An upscale music venue ran ads for “An Evening With Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.” The second line said, “Formally of the 5th Dimension.” It was only after several weeks that someone caught the silly gaffe and sheepishly changed “Formally” to “Formerly.” From an article about a …

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