Collective nouns - the enemy, family, government, team, Boston trade/trades?

renrah

Member
USA - English
I was reading about an NBA (Basketball) trade on BBC News Online, and the headline began "Boston trade Antoine Walker..." I was thinking this must be a badly overlooked error because in the US, we would say, "Boston trades Antoine Walker..." Of course it was referring to the team, the Boston Celtics, and if the headline was, "The Boston Celtics trade Antoine Walker...," I would have no qulams.

However, when I looked at some more sports headlines, I saw the same thing - i.e. the plural form of the verb used with the singular proper noun (the city or country name). For example, one of the headlines today is, "England take control at Edgbaston." The US headline would read, "England takes control at Edgbaston."

My life partner of 8 years is English and I am from the US (we're sports fans, too), and I have never encountered this! Is there anyone who can explain this grammatical anomaly?
 
  • renrah

    Member
    USA - English
    I could understand a team name being a plural noun because it often is. However, Boston is not the name of the team. The team name is Celtics. Thoughts?
     

    Nick

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think that in British English, collective nouns are often treated as plural. I have no idea why. As you can see, this sounds horribly, horribly wrong to the rest of us. This is yet another reason why I refuse to get my news from BBC.

    The enemy are at the gates.
    My family are fighting again.
    The government, who are trying to pass still more tax reforms, have not actually issued any new policies.
    The team are playing in Atlanta next week.

    (Thus, it follows that the actual name of the team would also be plural)
     

    renrah

    Member
    USA - English
    The enemy are at the gates.
    My family are fighting again.
    The government, who are trying to pass still more tax reforms, have not actually issued any new policies.
    The team are playing in Atlanta next week.

    Yes, they do sound horribly wrong. Is there a British English speaker who might be able to shed some light on why this is?
     

    renrah

    Member
    USA - English
    garryknight said:
    In my opinion, it's simply because in each case there's more than one of them. So pragmatics defeats grammar.

    But in the case of sports teams, like, "Boston trade..." or "England take...," the city/country is singular. Would you say that this is because it is assumed that the reference is to Boston's team, which is comprised of many players?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Nick said:
    ...and altered by Panjandrum...:)
    The enemy IS at the gates.
    My family IS fighting again.
    The government, who IS trying to pass still more tax reforms, HAS not actually issued any new policies.
    The team IS playing in Atlanta next week.
    Oooh, how gross!
    It's just another AE/BE thing. I have no idea why you decided to change from the norm - and so have come to find that norm so horrible.
     

    renrah

    Member
    USA - English
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Nick
    The enemy IS at the gates.
    My family IS fighting again.
    The government, who IS trying to pass still more tax reforms, HAS not actually issued any new policies.
    The team IS playing in Atlanta next week.
    Oooh, how gross!
    It's just another AE/BE thing. I have no idea why you decided to change from the norm - and so have come to find that norm so horrible.

    Wait a minute, Panjandrum, you are a native of Ireland - that make you a BE speaker, correct? The sentences the way you have corrected them are the way we'd say them in AE. This contradicts the whole thing! Help!
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    renrah: Sorry to have been the cause of confusion.
    I didn't CORRECT the sentences, I INCORRECTED them:D
    I replaced the plural bits of Nick's examples with equivalent single bits.
    The result is at least as horrible, to me, as the original is to Nick.

    My point, made very clumsily, is that we are entirely comfortable with the plural usage - it's what we've heard all our lives.
    But it sounds really dreadful to you.

    Similarly, the version I presented sounds really dreadful to me - although, as you say, it is perfectly OK for you.

    It's an AE/BE thing - there ain't no fixing it.
     

    garryknight

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    renrah said:
    But in the case of sports teams, like, "Boston trade..." or "England take...," the city/country is singular. Would you say that this is because it is assumed that the reference is to Boston's team, which is comprised of many players?
    I would personally say that, yes. But don't ask me why as I've forgotten a lot of the grammar I know. And I ought to add that it seems a little contradictory when you take into account usage like the following:

    England have signed two new players this season.
    England expects every man to do his duty.

    In the first case, it's because we're talking about a team comprised of many players, managers, support staff, and so on. In the second we're talking about England as a political entity.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I'm astonished that some of my compatriots are making such a stink about how horrible this sounds to them. It's simply a difference in usage...AE generally prefers to treat these as singular nouns, while BE sometimes treats them as plural nouns.

    To forego a good news source over something so trivial seems a little extreme. Should I abandon The Economist because it's not written in AE? If so, I suppose I should give up Argentine literature because of the voseo.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Dear Teachers,
    Good morning.

    "The team meets tomorrow." This is a sentence given as an example after the rule that collective nouns (usually) take a singular verb. I think, without any object of the verb "meet", it should be the plural, "meet", not "meets". Right? Please enlighten me on this.

    Thank you very much in advance.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Moderator note: Engishmypassion's question has been added to an earlier thread. Please read the comments above.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    I wasn't aware of the BE vs AE difference here, though I knew that the singular-plural verb usage with collective nouns is ambiguous. I have read in grammar books that when we are considering a collective noun as a single unit or thinking of it as a whole, we use the singular verb, but when we are thinking of it as individuals/parts in plural, we use the plural verb. The examples I recall were something like the following:
    1. The committee has taken a good decision.
    2. The committee have not reached a consensus yet.
    3. The team has won the match.
    4. The team are having lunch.

    Applying that logic, shouldn't it be "meet" (The team meet tomorrow) as the members of the team will be meeting each other since there is no object of the verb "meet", that is, nobody else to meet the team?
     
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