Collective nouns - 99% of, the majority of the congregation - singular or plural? percent per cent

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Twoflower

Member
UK, English
The English language allows many of the combinations set out above. The grammar may seem confused, but a brief application of real-world common sense sorts it all out. In searching for grammatical perfection, we should not ignore our own good sense. Sometimes, that's all we have to go on. We just have to write or say something that makes sense and doesn't jar the reader or listener.

In this case, the logical conclusion of the original sentence being singular is this:

"I heard a minister say that 99% of his congregation is earning its salvation."

This is nonsense by anyone's definition, and merits no further discussion.
 
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  • Forero

    Senior Member
    "I heard a minister say that 99% of his congregation is earning its salvation."

    This is nonsense by anyone's definition, and merits no further discussion.
    This is not nonsense by most American definitions. When congregation refers to the body rather than the members, it is singular. In such a case, 99% of it is also singular.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I wouldn't for a moment suggest that "99% of the congregation is earning its salvation" is nonsense. It is strange to me, but then the topic of collective nouns and their treatment in AE/BE has been the cause of many threads here.

    As a matter of curiosity, though, how do AE speakers grammatically determine the antecedent for "it" in sentences such as this?

    In the topic sentence, 99% of the congregation is earning its salvation, it is logical that "it" refers to "99% of the congregation".

    In another very similarly-structured sentence, 20% of the congregation contributes 80% of its income, it is logical that "it" refers to "the congregation" or the unspoken but implicit church to which the congregation belongs.

    I expect that AE speakers rely on common sense to understand the difference.

    I can see another meaning for the second sentence, that the members in that 20% each contribute 80% of their income to the congregation, but that is sufficiently implausible not to be seriously considered. In BE, there is no such ambiguity because we would express this meaning as 20% of the congregation contribute 80% of their income.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Since we have the option to take congregation as plural, we Americans can make the same distinction. I prefer the plural in the original sentence.

    But I would not bat an eye at something like:

    20% of the congregation approves of the new minister.
     

    jdotjdot89

    Senior Member
    American English
    Since we have the option to take congregation as plural, we Americans can make the same distinction.
    Since when do we have the option to take "congregation" as plural? It's a collective noun and therefore singular.

    Would you say "The congregation are ready to pray now"? No, no more than you'd ever say "The luggage are in the trunk."
     

    jdotjdot89

    Senior Member
    American English
    As for the issue regarding percentages, that's very similar. I'm surprised at the length of the discussion about it. For singular nouns (whether singular or collective nouns) it is singular, and for plurals it is plural.

    Examples:
    50% of the books are blue.
    20% of the luggage is gone.
    20% of the suitcases are gone.

    70% of the suitcase is full.

    Note here the difference:
    40% of the suitcase is full. would mean that 40% of one suitcase has been packed.
    40% of the suitcases are full. would mean that each suitcase of that 40% has been fully packed.
    40% of the luggage is full. means the same as the previous sentence.


    For "majority," you have the option.
    The majority of the people have fallen ill. (referring to "people")
    The majority of the people has fallen ill. (referring to "majority")
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Since when do we have the option to take "congregation" as plural? It's a collective noun and therefore singular.
    ... but not always.
    For other examples of the differences between AE and BE on this question see collective nouns
    Would you say "The congregation are ready to pray now"? No, no more than you'd ever say "The luggage are in the trunk."
    Perhaps I wouldn't consider the congregation plural in that example, but I would, in other contexts.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Since when do we have the option to take "congregation" as plural? It's a collective noun and therefore singular.

    Would you say "The congregation are ready to pray now"? No, no more than you'd ever say "The luggage are in the trunk."
    Which of the three choices below would be the expected one depends on the AmE vs BrE difference, which is relatively clear cut (that link of panj's will keep you busy for a while :D ). I wouldn't choose number one, using "it" for the congregation sounds strange to me. Would AmE speakers choose 1) or 3)? Most BrE speakers, I think, would choose 2).

    1)
    "Is the congregation ready to pray yet?"
    "No, it is not all here yet!"
    2)
    "Are the congregation ready to pray yet?"
    "No, they are not all here yet!"
    3)
    "Is the congregation ready to pray yet?"
    "No, they are not all here yet!"
     

    jdotjdot89

    Senior Member
    American English
    AE speakers (at least from my part of the country) would pick (3). It sounds contradictory, I know, but that's because the is and the they are referring to different things. Is refers to "the congregation," and they refers to the implicit "people" or "members of the congregation" in the next sentence.

    The real issue here just from what sounds right in my head is the pronoun. You could respond either "No, they're not here yet" or "No, the congregation isn't here yet" but not "No, it's not here yet." The it makes it sound like you're talking about an object when you are actually referring to people. I don't know if the same would apply if we were discussing a different collective noun.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I'm a dual citizen, bilingual, and have learnt (sic :D) both ways. I see you understand the "contradictory"-seeming AmE way - it follows the grammar of singular and plural, while the BrE sees plural people in both cases (whether it's the word or the pronoun), and feels comfortable with a collective being either singular or plural depending on the sense, as you illustrated at the end of post #56 for majority.
     

    Robds

    New Member
    English
    Now you are asking a very different question.
    You are asking about how to state a mathematical identity, not an English sentence.
    10% of 50, the number, is 5.
    10% of the 50 people in our club are going to Cornwall.
    I well the statement is really incorrect biblically and therefore grammatically. Salvation is a one time event, and to earn means to work salvation is a free gift of God . So it would not be continuous. The congregation has or have received salvation or has been saved! So have or has is the issue
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    "I heard a minister say that 99% of his congregation were earning their salvation."

    Since the people are presumably earning their salvation individually, not collectively, the verb should be plural.

    If you picture all these people entering heaven all together as a tour group with a group admission, you might express it differently. Still, would you really say the following:
    "I heard a minister say that 99% of his congregation was earning its salvation."
     
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