Collective nouns - the couple <was, were> ... ?

sus4

Senior Member
Japan - Japanese
#1
Hello,

Which one of the following two sentences sounds more natural to you?

1. The couple were finally divorced.
2. The couple was finally divorced.

According some grammar books I referred to, both are grammatically correct. But I wonder which one is more common.

Thank you
 
  • TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    #2
    The first sounds better to me, because there are two people, each of whom "was finally divorced." Using the singular verb makes it sound like the couple, as a unit, was divorced from someone/something else.

    Elisabetta
     

    roniy

    Senior Member
    ISRAEL: Fluent Hebrew ( Speak Russian, Learning English)
    #3
    TrentinaNE said:
    The first sounds better to me, because there are two people, each of whom "was finally divorced." Using the singular verb makes it sound like the couple, as a unit, was divorced from someone/something else.

    Elisabetta
    But "couple" is like "family"

    we don't say " the family are large"
    we say " the family is large"
    don't we ?

    but I don't know, as a non native speaker I would say "is" sounds better.
    But who am I to decide ??
    There is a native speaker above he should know better.
    But let's wait for other natives to see their answer :)
     

    cj427

    Senior Member
    US English
    #4
    Well, they both sound odd to me, because I'd probably say "The couple got divorced." But if I were forced to pick one of those two, I'd go with "The couple was divorced", because "the couple" is definitely singular.
     

    swyves

    Senior Member
    UK English, Living in Peru
    #5
    This is a tricky one -- the couple is singular, but it's their "made up of two" nature that's key to the divorce. To me, "were" sounded best at first, but "was" makes more sense on thinking about it. This may also go back to another thread we had today, http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=185106.
    I (British) would write "the couple were on holiday in Spain" rather than "the couple was...", but that might seem wrong to an American.
     

    Moogey

    Senior Member
    USA English
    #7
    Basically, here's how it goes. In BE, they use plural verbs for collective nouns (usually). In AE, they use singular verbs for collective nouns (usually).

    I don't have any reports of this being true but it's 100% true to what I've observed. This is how I see and hear it on TV and in talking to people ;)

    I always use singular verbs with collective nouns.

    -M
     

    rsweet

    Senior Member
    English, North America
    #8
    With collective nouns (like council, staff, couple, etc.) use a singular verb when thinking of the group members as a unit. "The council is one of the nation's best." Use a plural verb when thinking of the group members as individuals. "The council spent the entire session squabbling among themselves."

    Here's another thread on this subject.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    #9
    This is a very helpful thread in which I agree with rsweet, as evidenced here.

    EDIT: Sorry, swyves...just realized you linked to the same thread as I. Ah well...
     

    sus4

    Senior Member
    Japan - Japanese
    #10
    Thank you all for the comments. They are very helpful.

    The rule rsweet mentioned is the one I'm familiar with. So, the first one sounds better to me.

    -sus4
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    #11
    rsweet said:
    With collective nouns (like council, staff, couple, etc.) use a singular verb when thinking of the group members as a unit. "The council is one of the nation's best." Use a plural verb when thinking of the group members as individuals. "The council spent the entire session squabbling among themselves."
    Yes, that's what I meant! :D

    Thanks, rsweet.

    Elisabetta
     

    candy-man

    Senior Member
    Polish/Poland
    #12
    Hello to everyone,

    Another problem,obviously ;=)
    I've been revising some stuff in my Longman Phrasal verbs dictionary and it includes the following and unexpected thing:

    "After the press conference, the royal couple WERE spirited away in a black limousine."

    Isn't it considered a mistake or are was and were applied here interchangeably?
     
    English, U.S.A.
    #14
    I would say that "couple" is most certainly a singular noun. This is just a common mistake because of the awareness that it refers to more than one person.
     

    candy-man

    Senior Member
    Polish/Poland
    #15
    Look here: another Longman dictionary implies something like that:

    "They are a nice couple"

    PS Peaches, I guess your example is more probable in that way: The royal couple are: the King and Queen.
     

    peaches2002

    Senior Member
    United States
    #16
    Oopsss. Wrong answer.

    "Were" is usually used after a plural word such as "couple."

    "was" would be used if the sentence referred to a single person (singular)

    She/he was taken to the hospital She/he=Singular=only one

    They were taken to the hospital. They= Plural=more than one

    They was taken to the hopital would be wrong because was is usually singular.

    Hope this helps
     

    candy-man

    Senior Member
    Polish/Poland
    #19
    that is what i actually meant :/

    so... that is wrong: "Were" is usually used after a plural word such as "couple."

    Hey, you made me mixed up ;P In that case they wanted to ephasize that it was not only the King and Queen but also the other members of the family?? shittt.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    #20
    that is what i actually meant :/

    so... that is wrong: "Were" is usually used after a plural word such as "couple."

    Hey, you made me mixed up ;P In that case they wanted to ephasize that it was not only the King and Queen but also the other members of the family?? shittt.
    Ohoh, don't be so angry, I was trying to help....
    No, if they want to say that there were other members of the royal family, they would have said: .....the royal couples were.........
     

    candy-man

    Senior Member
    Polish/Poland
    #21
    hehe,i'm not angry at all :) according to what I've browsed through it is not clear even among native speakers. thanks so much!
     
    English, U.S.A.
    #22
    "The royal couples" would indicate multiple king-queen/prince-princess/etc.-etc. pairings.

    Most likely, in the sentence provided by candy-man, the writer used "the royal couple were" to emphasize that the subjects are two separate individuals that have been paired rather than considering them as a single group (of two).

    I believe that we tend to do this when considering the individuality of the members of the couple.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    #24
    Please do not rush to conclusions on this.
    For example, if you search Google you will find:
    483,000 for "the couple was
    471,000 for "the couple were

    It depends on where you are and on the context.
    The generalisation for collective nouns is that they are singular in AE and variable in BE depending on context.
    This is a gross simplification.
     

    candy-man

    Senior Member
    Polish/Poland
    #25
    Guys,
    To make it clear once and for all :p

    My Cambridge Dictionary indicates that:

    -An elderly couple (UK) live/(US) lives next door.(btw. I've never checked it out,hahaha)

    And my Longman American Dictionary points out the following:

    -An elderly couple was sitting on the park bench.

    Sleep well :)
     

    peaches2002

    Senior Member
    United States
    #26
    Yes it can get very tricky. Here are a few examples maybe they will help.


    "The couple was found dead" Correct
    "The couple were found dead" Incorrect

    "The couples were found dead" Correct
    "The couples was found dead" Incorrect

    "The couple was having fun" Correct
    "The couple were having fun" Incorrect

    "The couples was having fun" Incorrect
    "The couples were having fun" Correct
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    #27
    Yes it can get very tricky. Here are a few examples maybe they will help.


    "The couple was found dead" Correct
    "The couple were found dead" Incorrect:tick:

    "The couples were found dead" Correct
    "The couples was found dead" Incorrect

    "The couple was having fun" Correct
    "The couple were having fun" Incorrect:tick:

    "The couples was having fun" Incorrect
    "The couples were having fun" Correct
    Please note that the red sentences are not incorrect in BE.
     
    English (Canada)
    #28
    They're not incorrect in CaE either, though many people would probably say "The couple was."

    Collective nouns regularly take a plural form in BrE, but in North American English, the plural form is preferred when it is obvious that the action was performed by more than one person. So "The couple were having fun." is also correct.

    Information on collective nouns here:
    http://www.answers.com/topic/collective-noun
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    #29
    For BE, here are some wise words from The Economist.
    There is no firm rule about the number of a verb governed by a singular collective noun.
    [...]
    Do not, in any event, slavishly give all singular collective nouns singular verbs: The couple have a baby boy is preferable to The couple has a baby boy. Indeed, in general, treat both a pair and a couple as plural.
    Source
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    #30
    For BE, here are some wise words from The Economist.
    Additional food for thought:

    Results 1 - 10 of about 148,000 for "The couple have a * boy".
    Results 1 - 10 of about 104,000 for "The couple has a * boy".

    If the use of singular were primarily BE, there would be more hits for singular, since AE tends to dominate in Google searches.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    #31
    From inside the world of UK Google, the results are much more dramatic:
    22,000 for "the couple have a * boy"
    "the couple has a * boy" - did not match any documents.
     

    AWordLover

    Senior Member
    USA English
    #32
    Hi,

    I won't rehash the AE/BE difference in the use of collective nouns, but I will say that couple and pair get special treatment even in AE, they are treated as plural if they refer to people. I lost an argument on this point with a speaker of CaE.

    According to dictionary.com

    collective noun. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved May 17, 2007, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/collective noun

    When the collective nouns couple and pair refer to people, they are usually treated as plurals:
    The newly married couple have found a house near good transportation. The pair are busy furnishing their new home..


    I have underlined usually.
     
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