Collective nouns - a group of people + singular or plural verb

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Dalian, Jul 8, 2006.

  1. Dalian

    Dalian Senior Member

    Shanghai, China
    Mandarin
    Hello people,

    If I make a sentence starting with "a group of people...", should the predicate agree with "group" or "people"? Like:

    A group of people is playing soccer.
    or
    A group of people are playing soccer.

    So which one is grammatically correct?
    Thank you for your help.

    Regards
    Dalian
     
  2. rominetimma Senior Member

    English, USA
    In English, I would say A group of people are playing soccer. Using 'is' could be correct grammatically, but if it is, it is never used anymore. 'Are' sounds right.
     
  3. Kevman Senior Member

    Phoenix, Arizona
    USA English
    I agree. "...are playing soccer" sounds best.

    In American English I think you can get away with "...is playing soccer", which would emphasize that "A group is playing", but I don't think that's as acceptable in British, where they tend to treat words like 'team' and 'band' as plurals.
     
  4. thacerine New Member

    USA
    USA (English)
    The irony here is that I know a lot of people, if they were grading a paper or something like that, would mark "is" as correct and "are" as wrong, yet if the sentence were actually spoken, "is" would sound completely out of place.
     
  5. rominetimma Senior Member

    English, USA
    Well, we're not graded on how we verbally speak, most of the time...

    One/A group=is
    People=are
    One/A group + people = are

    Too bad it wasn't that way? So I guess this makes "is" gramatically correct?
     
  6. Random1 Senior Member

    Upstate New York (State)
    English - USA
    I would probably leave out "the people." What else would be playing soccer? If I saw dogs playing soccer I wouldn't say "there is a group of dogs playing soccer," more like "HOLY SH!T THOSE DOGS ARE PLAYING SOCCER!!"

    So I would just say "A group is playing soccer (over there)."
     
  7. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    It depends on whether the group, in the context of the sentence, is/are being treated as a group or as individuals. I will provide examples using class first:

    The class receive candy for participating in discussions.

    Here, I use the plural "receive" because I speak of the class as a plural noun composed of individual students, and these indivudal students each receive a candy [well, whoever in the class participates]. If I had said, The class receives candy..., I would mean that the class as a whole receives a sum of candy (to dispense among themselves).

    The class goes on a field trip once a year.

    Since the class must travel together as a single group, and since they probably do not travel individually, I use the singular.

    Now as to group of people:

    A group of people is playing soccer.

    I use the singular because they are not each playing soccer by themselves in a group, each to his own game of soccer! Absurd! :D Rather, they play soccer together as one group in one game.

    I know it sounds crazy, but this is how I think it works. Here's another example that doesn't sound as awkward:

    A group of people is forming around that tragic accident.

    Others may disagree, but this sounds natural to me. I would not say A group of people are forming. Some final evidence that I think "is" is right is if you flip around the sentence: There is a group of people playing soccer. This sounds natural to me, too. There are a group of people sounds awkward. And there are many more words like "group" and "class":

    That flock of birds is in a V-formation.
    The bag of onions is on the table.
    ...


    Brian
     
  8. Otter Senior Member

    New York, New York
    English/American
    I agree with Brian, although I don't know how many people would still say, "the class receive. . . "
     
  9. modus.irrealis Senior Member

    Toronto
    English, Canada
    This is a good example. I don't think "are" is even possible here, at least not for me. But I think Kevman is right in that this puts the focus on the group and since only groups can form and people can't, you have to use "is."

    But when you're not specifically focusing on the group, I think "a group of" is just like "a lot of," "a bunch of," "a couple of," etc. where I don't think anyone would demand "is" with those constructions.
     
  10. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If you use the forum search and search English Only for
    singular plural collective
    you will find 35 threads, many of which discuss this topic.

    Singular or plural

    is a good one.

    It is not easy to explain because, as Brian said, it depends:)
     
  11. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    You can avoid the question by:

    There's a group of people playing soccer.

    Or,

    What can you see?
    A group of people playing soccer.
     
  12. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    "There's" is only an abridgement of "There is". It may be sneaking into use as a replacement for "There are four people at the door" — "There's four people at the door", but I wouldn't want to see it written down.
     
  13. sjofre

    sjofre Senior Member

    Portugal
    Portuguese, Portugal
    I think the question is that "group" is the subject of the phrase, not people. And group is a singular word. If it was "groups of people", it would be "groups (subject) of people are playing soccer" but it is only ONE group so it is "a group of people IS playing soccer".

    That's what I think... but I'm not an english native speaker.
     
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    That is logical, but unfortunately does not represent how native speakers speak or write.

    Brian8733's short comment ...
    ... is the key.

    A group of us are going to Hungary in August.

    As a rough illustration, I searched for two phrases in Google:
    about 66,300 for "a group of people is"
    about 102,000 for "a group of people are"

    If I restrict to UK sites:
    about 466 for "a group of people is"
    about 10,900 for "a group of people are"

    This suggests that BE has a much stronger preference for a plural verb with a group of people than the world as a whole.
     
  15. deslenguada

    deslenguada Senior Member

    Spain
    Castellano
    I've found that there are some words that in AE are treated as singulars, whil(st) in BE, are plurals like "team" or "group", as in football (soccer)teams, actually I can't think of more examples I know they will come out, thanks to you all ;) I would like you to give your opinion about it (and some instances we could speak of) :p
     
  16. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I believe I have also seen "company" and "corporation" treated as plural, as well as any company name - "Texaco are stopping production of..." in BE. In AE, they are singular.

    I don't know if it's true or not, but I've gotten the impression over the years that any word that refers to a collection of people is treated as plural. I'm interested to see what BE speakers can do to enlighten us on the matter. I've always been curious just how far this extends.
     
  17. swyves

    swyves Senior Member

    UK English, Living in Peru
    A British friend of mine found it a big change when he started writing for the New York Times and was told that house style was "The audience got to its feet, clapping vigorously".
     
  18. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    In British English I would say that group nouns (e.g. family) in general do tend to be treated as plurals.

    For example: 'My family are coming for tea tomorrow'.

    Although, 'my family is coming for tea tomorrow' doesn't sound too strange to me either.
     
  19. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    Your meaning is more important than the grammar. If by group you mean "some," use the plural verb. Try the sentence with "kids" or "girls": A group of girls are playing soccer sounds more natural to me. Change "soccer" to "swimming":A group of kids are swimming in the pool sounds much better than "is." What's right is what sounds right.
     
  20. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    But I think it's a clear difference between AE and BE that in AE we would not say:

    "Intel are launching a new chip today..."

    We would say:

    "Intel is launching a new chip today..."

    For better or worse, we treat a company as a single entity, not a group of people.
     
  21. Giordano Bruno

    Giordano Bruno Senior Member

    English, England
    No! It's not a difference between BE and AE.
    The football/baseball team were exited. (A team can't get exited)
    The football/baseball team was victorious. (Only a team can win)

    So "A crowd of people were playing..." (A crowd cannot play, only people can do that)
     
  22. deslenguada

    deslenguada Senior Member

    Spain
    Castellano
    I have heard and read "manchester united, arsenal or whatever team have won the cup (or something)" not has, treating football teams as plurals.

    "Pakistan have won the toss" for example.
     
  23. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    The Wall Street Journal's stylebook entry on collective nouns advises that with words such as variety, number and total, [and group] a rule of thumb is to use a singular verb when the article the precedes the noun and a plural verb when the article a is used.
     
  24. Giordano Bruno

    Giordano Bruno Senior Member

    English, England
    Buonas diaz, Deslenguada,

    There can always be situations where there is the possiblilty of both interpretations. It surely depends upon whether you are thinking that all of the team members have won the toss or whether the team has won the toss. Your quote sounds a little odd to my ears, but I will allow for other opinions here.
     
  25. deslenguada

    deslenguada Senior Member

    Spain
    Castellano
    Hello ;) I took it from a British newspaper (I don't remember already...sorry it was long time ago) but I'm sure you can exchange the sport and it will work the same way ;)
     
  26. AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    I agree with Sjofre in this instance. That collective noun (group) is singular and it's the subject of the sentence. If you were to diagram it, "group" would take a singular verb because it's a single entity in this case.

    In AE, that's the way I would interpret this particular example.



    AngelEyes
     
  27. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The discussion of there is/ there's and whether or not it must be followed by a singular noun is separate from a discussion on whether the noun in question is singular or plural.
    It has therefore been moved to its own thread.
    There is / there's - with plural
     
  28. PY2YP New Member

    Sao Paulo, SP - Brazil
    Portuguese, Brazil
    Hello,

    May I ask which one of the two phrases below is correct?

    1) The group of Brazilian amateurs who signs this e-mail...
    2) The group of Brazilian amateurs who sign this e-mail is...

    I'm a bit confused with.

    Thanks in advance.

    Cesar
     
  29. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    It's sign because the "amateurs" is plural. He signs, they sign.

    In this sentence it should probably be past tense, however, they signed.
     
  30. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    Connecticut
    US-English
    I disagree - I would say #1, because 'group' is a singular noun (even though it refers to more than 1 person, it's a collective noun like water or money).

    "The group who signs this email..." would be correct. Just remove the prepositional phrase (of amateurs) because the sentence does not require this phrase - you just need subject+verb+object.

    For example, you would say "The group goes to school at 8:00am every day" or "The group practices soccer twice a week" (not "The group go to school" or "The group practice twice a week").
     
  31. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I know what you are saying, and I have no argument when group is used alone, but when "group" is extended with it's plural members it sounds wrong to treat it as singular in this construction.

    I guess I have to concede that you are right, though. However, I would prefer, myself, to break the grammatical rule here, rather than sound awkward. Still, I think its academic, because the sentence construction is awkward to begin with, and would be unlikely to be used by a native speaker.
     
  32. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This is another of those AE/BE group is singular/either questions.
    In this context, BE-speakers will happily consider "the group" as plural. In fact, because the group must have signed individually (though I'm tempted by the idea of them all holding the pen together at the same time) the verb would have to be plural in BE.
    See earlier posts on this now-merged thread.
     
  33. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Panj, in that case, PY2YP would need to change that last word in his example, right?

    2) The group of Brazilian amateurs who sign this e-mail is => are...
     
  34. Orange Blossom Senior Member

    U.S.A. English
    Let's look at this some more. I say the 2nd sentence is correct. Here is my reasoning:

    2) The group of Brazilian amateurs who sign this e-mail is...

    who sign this e-mail <-- This is a subordinate clause. Who is the subject of sign. Who in turn is modifying amateurs, not group.

    Leaving out the subordinate clause, we have: The group of Brazilian amateurs is . . .

    Group is the simple subject, and is is the main verb of the sentence.

    Orange Blossom
     
  35. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Are you sure? I would have thought that 'who' would refer to all of 'the group of Braziliam amateurs'.

    That depends if 'group' is singular or plural. Panj (above) said that in BE it could be plural.
     
  36. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Correct from the BE perspective.
    But I would need to see the rest of the sentence before deciding finally.

    I don't mean that to sound pompous - I mean that any BE-speaker would decide the forms of the verbs in this sentence depending on the full context, and we don't have that.
     
  37. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    Connecticut
    US-English
    But what about collective nouns? You wouldn't say "The rain are falling", rather, "The rain is falling @ 1 inch/2.56 cm per hour" even though there are million raindrops involved.

    Sorry to be such a pain, but I think I'm right (even though it sounds awkward when saying the above sentence).
     
  38. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    I do know what you're saying, but collective nouns have to be decided on a case-by-case basis: it depends on the word. Even though most of the time in my experience the collective does end up being singular, there are definitely exceptions to the rule.
     
  39. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'd say "probably yes" in BrE.

    Having started the sentence thinking of the group as a set of individuals, we'd probably carry on with that mindset: the group are.

    But to know for sure we'd need more context;-)

    Loob
     
  40. Orange Blossom Senior Member

    U.S.A. English
    I am quite sure that who is referring directly to 'amateurs' not 'group' given the partial sentence we have.

    Here is a similar sentence:

    The group of oak trees which shed numerous acorns in the fall provides shelter for my house.

    The group provides shelter; the oak trees shed numerous acorns.

    The group could very well have been composed of elm trees which do not shed acorns, but the group would still provide shelter. :)

    Too bad we don't have the predicate beyond the "is" in the original sentence.

    Orange Blossom
     
  41. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Now this is interesting. From your example, I would say that if one said

    The group of oak trees which shed numerous acorns in the fall provides shelter for my house.

    Then, as you said, 'which' would be the trees. I would say this because of the plural conjugation of 'shed'.

    But on the other hand, couldn't one say:

    The group of oak trees, which sheds numerous acorns in the fall, provides shelter for my house.

    And in that case wouldn't 'which' refer to the whole group?
     
  42. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    Panjy, I also think context is terribly important. By the way:

    Results 1 - 10 of about 24,300 for "The group of people who are.
    Results 1 - 10 of about 166,000 for "The group of people who is.

    (This is just a suggestion of usage and MAY be descriptive of region—AE vs. BE.)

    "The Senate is the group of people who are not elected, but are chosen by the prime minister."

    Regardless of descriptive rules, I would use "are" here, twice. I think, in the end, it is another case in which "feel" is the most important factor. :)

    Gaer
     
  43. MilesofJoyfulBaguettes New Member

    USA; English
    I think it depends on the word "who": "the amateurs who sign" is correct, but if you wanted to talk about a group of amateurs, it'd be: "the group of amateurs (which/that) signs." In other words, you'd only use "who" when you are talking about real people, and "(which/that)" when talking about a group as a whole, non-individual entity. I don't know if that contemplation helps at all...
    -Baguette
     
  44. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    Hmm....

    Yeah, I see what you mean.
     
  45. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think I'm going to have to keep injecting the BE note here.
    Orange Blossom's group of oak trees, which cover my house with leaves in the autumn, provide shelter for my house against the prevailing winds.

    It is really important, based on all the previous conversations, to keep this discussion carefully balanced mid-Atlantic. AE-speakers will come to their own views on what is correct, as will we BE-speakers. Neither side of the Atlantic will persuade the other to change.

    We can explain each other's usage and seek to understand.
     
  46. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    And context! ;)

    Gaer
     
  47. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK

    Welcome to the forums, Baguette, and thank you for a thought-provoking post.

    I think you're right that the relative pronoun for "group" would normally be which or that whereas for "amateurs" (ie people) it would be who or that.

    So if PY2YP wanted the focus to be on "group" rather than "amateurs", he would be better advised to use which or that, rather than who.

    That said, we're still left with the tantalising transatlantic difference that in BrE collective nouns can be singular or plural, depending on whether you're focusing on the entity or individual members; whereas in AmE (as I understand it) collective nouns are always singular.

    Vive la différence!

    Loob
     
  48. AWordLover

    AWordLover Senior Member

    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    USA English
    Hi Folks,

    I don't think that in AE collective nouns are always singular, as usual, it depends on intent. I guess we have learned that it is more common in BE for collective nouns to be considered plural.

    I don't know why I decided to quibble,
    AWordLover
     
  49. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    Did you see the example sentence I used?
    I just can't make myself use "is" there. I might reword the whole thing, to avoid the problem in writing, but I'm almost sure I might say that, with "are".

    This reminds me a great deal of a previous discussion concerning "none" in which most of us seemed to agree we would use either singular or plural according to context.

    Gaer
     
  50. AWordLover

    AWordLover Senior Member

    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    USA English
    Not many would use is in your sentence, we seem to be talking about the individuals chosen by the Prime Minister.
     

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