a bunch of flowers <were/was> left at the scene

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JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
The Sun's article starts with this passage:
The youngster, 12, died at the scene of the accident in Glenaylmer Road, Kelloholm, near Sanquhar, around 4pm yesterday afternoon.

But officers confirmed that he was severely injured by the telephone style pole and later died at the scene of the accident.

Today a bunch of flowers were left at the scene, with the message inside reading: "Fly high Keiran. Miss you so much."
The writer seems to be talking about a single bunch of followers instead of bunches of flowers, because a single message inside the bunch is mentioned.

So, I wonder why it's "were" not "was".

Now, let's change the context a bit, forget about the message, and assume that different people left two or more bunches of flowers at the scene. In this context, I think you can say "Today many bunches of flowers were left at the scene" or even "Today a number of bunches of flowers were left at the scene".

In this case, can you still use "a bunch of flowers" to refer to "a number of flowers" and treat the noun phrase as plural as follows?
Today a bunch of flowers were left at the scene.
 
  • JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks.
    In the second case where you're talking about several bunches of flowers, though, if you were to write it yourself, which would you go for?
    (1) Today a bunch of flowers was left at the scene.
    (2) Today several bunches of flowers was left at the scene.
    (3) Today several bunches of flowers were left at the scene.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    So, I wonder why it's "were" not "was".
    "Were" is incorrect in American English, but British English habitually regards collective nouns as plurals.

    For example, American English would say "the committee does not like this proposal", but in British English you would hear "the committee do not like this proposal."

    In this case, the writer from the Sun (which is a British newspaper) regards "a bunch of flowers" as a plural, because it is made up of a number of individual flowers.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    "Were" is incorrect in American English, but British English habitually regards collective nouns as plurals.

    For example, American English would say "the committee does not like this proposal", but in British English you would hear "the committee do not like this proposal."

    In this case, the writer from the Sun (which is a British newspaper) regards "a bunch of flowers" as a plural, because it is made up of a number of individual flowers.
    As far as I know, just because you speak BE doesn't mean you can always treat collective nouns such as "committee" as plural.
    For example, I don't think you can treat 'committee' as plural even in BE in the following sentence:
    The committee consists of one chairperson and at least ten members.
    The plural override is impossible, I think, because committee here cannot mean individual members but can only mean the whole committee as a single entity.

    By the same token, I would think, 'a bunch of flowers' in the article doesn't refer to individual flowers but one bunch as a single entity.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Your #7 is correct, Jung Kim.

    A bunch of flowers
    is a singular noun phrase, in BrE too, so the verb is singular without a shadow of doubt. It's not regarded as a collective noun like a team or a flock.
    The plural is (article) bunches of flowers.
    It doesn't matter if what follows 'of' is singular or plural, the first noun directs whether the verb is plural or singular.
     
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    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's just sloppy writing by "The Sun". In the sentence in question, the verb "were" agrees in number with the nearest preceding noun ("flowers") and not, as it should, with the subject: "a bunch". I see this mistake quite often these days.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Why would anybody expect anything other than sloppy writing from the The Sun?

    I agree that it not regarded as correct in BE, but it is an increasingly common error, so no doubt it will have become correct by the time somebody places a bunch of flowers on my grave.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    In #7, I put out the wrong example by mistake.
    (1) Today a bunch of flowers was left at the scene.

    I actually intended to ask about this:
    (1') Today a bunch of flowers were left at the scene,
    as shown in the second part of the OP:
    Now, let's change the context a bit, forget about the message, and assume that different people left two or more bunches of flowers at the scene. In this context, I think you can say "Today many bunches of flowers were left at the scene" or even "Today a number of bunches of flowers were left at the scene".

    In this case, can you still use "a bunch of flowers" to refer to "a number of flowers" and treat the noun phrase as plural as follows?
    Today a bunch of flowers were left at the scene.
    Does (1') work in the new context?
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The error in "A bunch of flowers were left at the scene" is not modified in any way by context. It's just wrong. The subject is "bunch". And that is the same in AE and BE. I thought that had already been said - posts 9, 11 & 12 for BE.

    Edit. Following a deletion That's 8, 10 & 11.
     
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    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    The error in "A bunch of flowers were left at the scene" is not modified in any way by context. It's just wrong. The subject is "bunch". And that is the same in AE and BE. I thought that had already been said - posts 9, 11 & 12 for BE.

    Edit. Following a deletion That's 8, 10 & 11.
    I think the subject is not "bunch" but "A bunch of flowers" in any context. I think what's important is whether 'a bunch of flowers' can only be used for flowers held together as a single group.

    Let's say a bunch of people left a bunch of flowers at the scene.
    Maybe people each left one flower; maybe some each left one flower and some their own bunch of flowers.
    But at the end of the day, when the writer looks at the scene, what he or she sees is a group of flowers from a bunch of people.
    In that case, I don't know why you can't collectively call the whole flowers a bunch of flowers.
    And if you can, why can't it be treated as plural?
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    But at the end of the day, when the writer looks at the scene, what he or she sees is a group of flowers from a bunch of people.
    In that case, I don't know why you can't collectively call the whole flowers a bunch of flowers.
    I wouldn't. To me, a bunch of flowers is a distinct collection of flowers, often tied up together.
    But at the end of the day, when the writer looks at the scene, what he or she sees is a group of flowers from a bunch of people.
    If different people each left a bunch of flowers somewhere, I wouldn't call them "a bunch" or "a group". If I had to describe the scene, I'd say: Many people left flowers at the scene.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    A bunch of flowers is the name given to a number of flowers tied together. It has nothing to do with the slangy term 'a bunch of people', which isn't something I would ever say anyway. It might be an Americanism.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think the subject is not "bunch" but "A bunch of flowers" in any context.
    A bunch of flowers - the subject is a bunch. It is a word meaning a group of things tied together in a way that allows them to be carried as a single object. It doesn't matter whether it is flowers, carrots, spring onions or garden canes. If the things cannot be tied together they cannot be a bunch: there's no such thing as a bunch of potatoes (slang excepted). Similarly, if they aren't tied together, they are not yet a bunch.
    In that case, I don't know why you can't collectively call the whole flowers a bunch of flowers.
    Because nobody has tied them all together.

    As Hermione said, there is a slang usage where "bunch" means a large number, but that is not relevant to the contexts in this thread. A bunch of flowers here is a normal bunch, not a slang bunch. Even when it is slang, it's still singular - "A bunch of people took flowers to the funeral. There was a whole bunch of flowers all round the grave."
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    So, I wonder why it's "were" not "was".
    In summary,
    A bunch is the subject, and is merely modified by the adjectival phrase "of flowers."

    Adjectival modifiers do not influence the status of the noun as singular or plural.

    The question then is "Does "bunch" take a singular and plural verb?" and GWB gives the answer:
    "Were" is incorrect in American English, but British English habitually regards collective nouns as plurals.

    For example, American English would say "the committee does not like this proposal", but in British English you would hear "the committee do not like this proposal."

    In this case, the writer from the Sun (which is a British newspaper) regards "a bunch of flowers" as a plural, because it is made up of a number of individual flowers.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    However, the view of most BE speakers in this thread is that BE speakers do not regard "bunch of flowers" as a plural and consider the Sun writer to be in error.

    GWB's statements were inaccurate:

    but British English habitually commonly regards some collective nouns as plurals.

    For example, American English would say "the committee does not like this proposal", but in British English you would may hear "the committee do not like this proposal.", but you will also commonly hear "the committee does not like this proposal."

    And I, for one, am more likely to consider "the committee" as singular and would be astonished to find myself saying "the committee do not like this proposal". However, as I would be far more likely to talk about what a committee did rather than what it is doing, you would find it hard to tell that I was using the singular form of "did".
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    [[ Moderator note. There are many existing threads about collective nouns and singular/plural verbs, and the variations in usage AE/BE.
    Just look for the list at collective nouns.
    This thread has run its course - and all the native BE speakers who have contributed, including this one, consider a bunch of flowers to be singular, and the Sun to be wrong. ]]
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    In WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English "bunch" is defined as:
    1. a connected group;
      cluster:a bunch of grapes.
    2. a group of things: a bunch of papers.
    3. a group of people:They're a fine bunch of students.
    And in Collins Concise English Dictionary, as:
    1. a number of things growing, fastened, or grouped together: a bunch of grapes, a bunch of keys
    2. a collection; group: a bunch of queries
    3. informal a group or company: a bunch of boys
    The latter dictionary represents BE while the former AE. In both the dictionaries 'bunch' could mean a group or collection that is not necessarily tied or connected (as shown in bold type).

    And there's no indication in either dictionary that this usage is slang. Apparently, this second meaning of the word is not a literal meaning of the word but a rather loose interpretation.
    The question is why 'bunch' in 'a bunch of flowers' can never be loosely interpreted and used as in the second meaning of the dictionaries.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The question is why 'bunch' in 'a bunch of flowers' can never be loosely interpreted and used as in the second meaning of the dictionaries.
    It can be.

    "My back is aching - I've planted a whole bunch of flowers this morning." (mainly AE)

    "What do you think of the garden?"
    "Hmmm... there is not enough variety - there's grass and there's a bunch of roses1 over there, but that is about the limit of it."

    There's even a verb "to bunch".

    1 in the sense of rose bushes or rose plants.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    "My back is aching - I've planted a whole bunch of flowers this morning." (mainly AE)
    In this case, I'd think 'a whole bunch of flowers' doesn't refer to a single bunch but simply a whole lot of flowers, and therefore that it'd have to be treated as plural.
    A whole bunch of flowers were planted this morning.:tick:
    A whole bunch of flowers was planted this morning.:cross:


    No?
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I think the subject is not "bunch" but "A bunch of flowers" in any context.
    A bunch of flowers - the subject is a bunch.
    The reason why I said the subject is not "bunch" but "a bunch of flowers" is crucial in this thread.
    So, I'd like to make sure we're on the same page.
    The term 'subject' is defined in Oxford as:
    A noun or noun phrase functioning as one of the main components of a clause, being the element about which the rest of the clause is predicated.
    That is, a clause (a bunch of flowers were left at the scene) consists of a subject (a bunch of flowers) and a predicate (were left at the scene). There's no denying that the predicate is were left at the scene. And if only bunch is the subject, then what a and of flowers are? Are they neither the subject nor the predicate? That doesn't make any sense.

    As defined in Oxford, the whole noun phrase (a bunch of flowers) is the subject.

    Now, which noun determines the grammatical number of the noun phrase is another story. Sometime, bunch does. Sometimes whatever noun follows of does, as in A bunch of people were seen leaving flowers at the scene.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'd don't quite know why you ask us since you are so sure you are right, whatever we tell you. You prefer a mistake in a rubbish newspaper and dictionaries. It's extraordinary.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I'd don't quite know why you ask us since you are so sure you are right, whatever we tell you. You prefer a mistake in a rubbish newspaper and dictionaries. It's extraordinary.
    I do agree that the Sun's original sentence is erroneous. Not disputing that.
    As PaulQ has said in #22, the use of 'bunch' for things when the things are not literally tied but simply are in a group or collection is more like AE, so I'm simply waiting on AE speakers.

    Now, are you suggesting that this particular definition in dictionaries (#2 entry) is not even AE but just "rubbish"??
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The use of a singular or plural verb is entirely dependent upon how the group that has been described is envisaged by the speaker/writer. If you are looking for a definitive "rule", you are going to be disappointed. Language - all languages are an art, not a science.

    It has been explained that the verb choice is partly cultural, partly a personal view and cannot be restricted by a rule. In short, there is no "absolutely correct" answer to most of these "a <collective noun> of <nouns>"

    In "A bunch of flowers were/was by the side of the road" do you see the "bunch" as a single item that was there, or do you see it as "many flowers that were there together"?
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    The use of a singular or plural verb is entirely dependent upon how the group that has been described is envisaged by the speaker/writer. If you are looking for a definitive "rule", you are going to be disappointed. Language - all languages are an art, not a science.

    It has been explained that the verb choice is partly cultural, partly a personal view and cannot be restricted by a rule. In short, there is no "absolutely correct" answer to most of these "a <collective noun> of <nouns>"

    In "A bunch of flowers were/was by the side of the road" do you see the "bunch" as a single item that was there, or do you see it as "many flowers that were there together"?
    If the 'bunch' literally means the flowers are tied together in context, I see 'a bunch of flowers' as a single item and 'was' I think is correct. On the other hand, if the 'bunch' simply means the flowers are loosely put together but not tied together in context, I see 'a bunch of flowers' as 'a number of flowers'. Hence, 'were' is correct, I think.

    But this thread has been telling me all along that "a bunch of flowers" can never mean a number of flowers that are not tied together, has it not? Maybe it's a BE/AE thing. I don't know.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    But this thread has been telling me all along that "a bunch of flowers" can never mean a number of flowers that are not tied together, has it not?
    No, it has not.

    It has been telling you
    (a) that "bunch" in "bunch of flowers" is (a) a collective noun and (b) that "bunch of flowers" is often used to mean a group of cut flowers that are, in some way, closely together, or (c) that the flowers are not "cut" but are assembled in the same area and (d) that the singular and plural are use to signify how the object is perceived. :)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    According to almost all of the replies in this thread, both AE and BE speakers consider "a bunch of flowers" to be singular. I can imagine no context where I would ever describe a collection of flowers as a "bunch" if they were not tied together.
    But this thread has been telling me all along that "a bunch of flowers" can never mean a number of flowers that are not tied together, has it not?
    Yes. You are perfectly correct. Only one contributor to this thread has taken a contrary view.

    There is a general principle concerning the way collective nouns are treated in BE. This thread is not about the general principle concerning the way collective nouns are treated in BE. It is about the phrase "a bunch of flowers". "A bunch of flowers" to all but one respondent to this thread, both AE and BE, is always singular.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    "A bunch of flowers" to all but one respondent to this thread, both AE and BE, is always singular.
    And there is one respondent who has, as yet, not had the time to read what that other correspondent actually wrote.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    In "A bunch of flowers were/was by the side of the road" do you see the "bunch" as a single item that was there, or do you see it as "many flowers that were there together"?
    In the original sentence, I was fine with "were" until I got to the part about the message.
    A bunch of flowers were left outside Buckingham Palace.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    In the original sentence, I was fine with "were" until I got to the part about the message.
    A bunch of flowers were left outside Buckingham Palace.
    I suppose that's because you are American.
    A bunch of flowers is the name given to a number of flowers tied together. It has nothing to do with the slangy term 'a bunch of people', which isn't something I would ever say anyway. It might be an Americanism.
    But we also have this:
    "Were" is incorrect in American English,
    A bunch of flowers is a singular noun phrase, in BrE too, so the verb is singular without a shadow of doubt. It's not regarded as a collective noun like a team or a flock.
    The plural is (article) bunches of flowers.
    It's just sloppy writing by "The Sun". ... I see this mistake quite often these days.
    and all the native BE speakers who have contributed, including this one, consider a bunch of flowers to be singular, and the Sun to be wrong.
    And this is, of course, wholly irrelevant to the thread topic, which does not refer to bushes or plants.
    there's grass and there's a bunch of roses1 over there, ...
    1 in the sense of rose bushes or rose plants.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    In the original sentence, I was fine with "were" until I got to the part about the message.
    That was worth waiting for. :)

    But we also have this:
    "Were" is incorrect in American English
    That's because, I guess, GreenWhiteBlue considered the whole sentence including the part about the message, as I had done back in the OP:
    The writer seems to be talking about a single bunch of followers instead of bunches of flowers, because a single message inside the bunch is mentioned.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    A bunch of flowers was left at the scenegrammatical agreement: singular noun phrase/subject "a bunch" (with "of flowers" functioning as modifier) paired with singular verb "was."
    A bunch of flowers were left at the scenenotional agreement (or agreement based on meaning): "flowers" paired with plural verb "were."

    Language/communication isn't just a matter of grammar; sometimes meaning takes precedence. In this case, the writer goes with the plural sense of "flowers." Of course, not everyone would go with notional agreement in this context.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    not everyone would go with notional agreement in this context.
    I, for one, wouldn't.

    I don't use "bunch" as a collective noun, as in a bunch of people.

    Apologies if I've duplicated what people have said before.
    I got a bit lost in this thread.

    Edit
    I suspect what I wrote above may not answer the OP question. To which my answer is I would never say "A bunch of flowers were...".
     
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