Collective nouns - the family <has, have> ...?

Oros

Senior Member
Korean
1. The family has an Internet connection at home.

2.The family have an Internet connection at home.

Which is the correct one? You would vote for the both sentence, wouldn't you?
 
  • Eddie

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Hi, Oros.

    In American English, the first sentence would be considered the standard form. For Americans, family represents a unit (one), even though it consists of more than one person. The fact that the word family has a plural form (families) seems to confirm its singular status.

    For my British cousins, I believe the second sentence would be the standard form.
     

    Phryne

    Senior Member
    Argieland--Esp/Eng
    Oros said:
    1. The family has an Internet connection at home.

    2.The family have an Internet connection at home.

    Which is the correct one? You would vote for the both sentence, wouldn't you?

    I vote for the first one. The family has/is/ etc. But, according to dictionary.com, it's very American.

    Check this out:

    collective noun
    Usage Note: In American usage, a collective noun takes a singular verb when it refers to the collection considered as a whole, as in The family was united on this question. The enemy is suing for peace. It takes a plural verb when it refers to the members of the group considered as individuals, as in My family are always fighting among themselves.

    ... But in British English:

    In British usage, however, collective nouns are more often treated as plurals: The government have not announced a new policy. The team are playing in the test matches next week. A collective noun should not be treated as both singular and plural in the same construction; thus The family is determined to press its (not their) claim. Among the common collective nouns are committee, clergy, company, enemy, group, family, flock, public, and team.

    source: dictionary.com

    saludos :)
     

    Oros

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I have learnt about those differences. For example, the EU consists of many countries. People accept both forms when writing something related to the EU.

    The EU has .........

    The EU have ..........

    I posted this here to learn the difference direct from the horse's mouth. I mean the native speakers should know better than me.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Oros,
    This is a question that needs a lot of explanation.
    The general answer depends on whether the collective noun is countable or non-countable.
    There was a long conversation about this last month. I think you should find this interesting.
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=33028

    The principles set out there will be useful, generally. For a collective noun referring to a small group - such as family - it is not always easy.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    In AE we use singular verb forms for countable collective nouns.

    "The enemy is at the gates."

    It's not just a preference-- at least to my ear, Americans wouldn't use are in this sentence, not at all.

    Edit:
    This tended not to be the case in the 19th century. Historians say we began saying "the United States is..." instead of "the United States are..." because the Civil War (of Northern Aggression) "made us one nation." But I think it was the usage in general that changed about then.
     

    Nick

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    foxfirebrand said:
    In AE we use singular verb forms for countable collective nouns.

    "The enemy is at the gates."

    It's not just a preference-- at least to my ear, Americans wouldn't use are in this sentence, not at all.
    Completely agree. These always take a singular verb.
     

    Tiger-Lilly

    New Member
    England - English
    Hi Oros,
    I am new to the forum but can definately advise that in England the second sentence would be used. The family is considered as more than one person and therefore 'have' would be the correct word.
    Hope this helps!
    Tiger
     

    Helicopta

    Senior Member
    England - English (Learning Spanish)
    I agree with Tiger-Lilly.
    Most collective nouns are treated this way in British English.
    What time are the band playing?
    The government are reviewing their strategy.
    The England football/cricket/rugby team have lost. (very common:mad: )
     

    Roberto1976

    Senior Member
    Italy, Italian
    Hallo! :)

    What about "audience"? Which of the following sentences is preferable in BE?

    1) The audience is encouraged to take a stand.
    2) The audience are encouraged to take a stand.

    From all these interesting discussions I infer that the second option is to be preferred, but I would extremely grateful if you could confirm my guess.

    Best regards,

    R.
     

    KON

    Senior Member
    I'm quite certain I've heard news presenters on the BBC news using collective nouns in a singular form eg. the government is adamant about its policy, rather than the govt. are adamant about their policy.

    The dictionary clearly points out the difference in the usage of collective nouns in American and British English, but I was wondering If it would sound odd to a Briton if you used a collective noun in a singular form.

    I have to admit, I've caught myself sometimes using both forms..
     
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    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I'm quite certain I've heard news presenters on the BBC news using collective nouns in a singular form eg. the government is adamant about its policy, rather than the govt. are adamant about their policy.

    More formal, edited language such as BBC news and broadsheet newspapers in Britain often use singular agreement. This never sounds wrong in BrE (except for sports teams, which have to take plural or you sound silly), but is not what most of us say in speech. If you have to choose for a language test, singular 'the family has', 'the government is' should be a safe choice.
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    I would be comfortable with either as well. Perhaps this is just self-justification, but I think of it as a choice between whether I'm envisaging the family/staff/government etc. as a single unit or as a collection of individuals in this particular case.
    Apropos of (almost) nothing: this is one of those annoying cases where Microsoft refuses to accept that English comes in varieties other than American. Grrrrr!
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    The family has been arguing about its housekeeping responsibilities when it comes home to visit.

    The family
    have been arguing about their housekeeping responsibilities when they come home to visit.

    In this context (gulp!) it is clear that it is the individual members who are being discussed as a singluar unit "the family". I think, even in the US plural would be used throughout this sentence, but I could be wrong :D - in either AmE or BrE one could insert "members" after family to resolve the issue, but that's not the point of this!
     

    hboo

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    ... If you have to choose for a language test, singular 'the family has', 'the government is' should be a safe choice.
    I'm glad I find this post, and this thread. We learn British English at school. So if it's really a British/American thing, I should go for British. Here are two problems from my English test.

    1. My family__having dinner.
    A. are B. is

    My answer is A, because I see family here as family members.

    2. My family__very happy.
    A. are B. is

    My answer is B, because I see family here as a unit, as in "I have a happy family."

    But the answer they give is A for both sentences. I don't know if it's that the answer is wrong at all (because they do make mistakes sometimes by English teachers here whose native language isn't English), or I should just go by a rule where plural verb is preferred in British English?

    Thanks.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    My family is very large. (There are many members in my family)
    My family are very large. (The members of my family are tall and wide)

    The test question was set based on the assumption that the concept of describing emotions can only apply to individuals.
     

    joygogo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - Taiwan
    The following is a test question on my grammar book. The choices to choose from include "has" and "have".

    The police are determined to bring back the missing boy when his family _____ almost given up all hope.

    The answer shown on the book is "have", but how about "has"? Is it acceptable?
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    The answer shown on the book is "have", but how about "has"? Is it acceptable?

    Hello joygogo,

    The sentence is, I believe, an example of British English. (In AmE it would normally be 'The police is...') The answer to your question may therefore be found in posts 14-15, which were submitted by BrE/AuE speakers.

    (I would probably have used 'have' myself in that sentence, for consistency, since 'police' is used with a plural verb form.)
     

    joygogo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - Taiwan
    Hola, EStjarn,

    Thanks for sharing your opinion. After reading all the answers posted, I think either will do depending on BrE or AmE I use. But in the context of my sentence "when his family _____ almost given up all hope", I agree with you that it is better to use "have" because here his family should be viewed as allmembers of his family.

    Cheers,

    Joy
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hi joygogo,

    There are two graphs, one red and one blue. Each shows the relative frequency of a particular string of words that the Ngram Viewer found in the Google Books corpus, in this case in the American English section of that corpus. Such strings of words are called n-grams.

    To the right of the graphs are the corresponding n-grams: the red graph shows the relative frequency of "the police are" and the blue graph the relative frequency of "the police is." For the year 2000, the relative frequency of "the police are" is about five times greater than that of "the police is." (We get the exact percentages by pointing at the graph.) That's why I said the Ngram Viewer proved dn88 right. :)

    Note that relative frequency refers to the number of instances found of an n-gram divided by the number of word seqences of that same length in the corpus.

    This is how I think it works:

    Say our "corpus" consisted of a single sentence: "The police are working to solve the case." And say our n-gram was "The police are." Then we would have six three-word sequences: (1) The police are, (2) police are working, (3) are working to, (4) working to solve, (5) to solve the, (6) solve the case. And only one of them would match our n-gram. So the relative frequency would be 1/6, or about 17%.

    Mainly because the Google Books corpus consists not of a single sentence, but of millions, the relative frequencies of n-grams are usually small.

    EDIT: In case there's some technical problem preventing the graphs from showing (as indicated by a PM), here are a couple of screenshots of the graphs (with and without the percentages):
     

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    curiosone

    Senior Member
    AmE - hillbilly ;)
    We got into a similar discussion on a language forum here, and I'm connecting to this thread, as I think it's more a question of grammar and usage (than of translation). "Collective nouns" are often treated as plural in BrE (British English) but as singular in AmE (American English). I wish to stress that the plural form (connected to a singular noun (collective or not) sounds totally wrong, to American ears. In fact I asked my brother, a university professor (PhD in English) what he thought about it, and he gave this explanation which I found helpful:

    "It sounds incorrect to your ears (and mine) because they grew up in the US of A.

    I understand the British usage, but I think that grammatical logic (oddly, perhaps) supports the 'Murican usage. "Class" and "government" and "team" and so on are singular nouns; each has a plural form as well. Nouns and verbs are supposed to agree in number (as in other respects). I rest my case."

    I understand that Brits use both singular and plural verbs with collective nouns. So (as a teacher of English as a foreign language), my suggestion to Tomo01 would probably be to avoid using the plural verb form entirely (with "collective nouns" in the singular), as the singular verb form seems to be acceptable on both sides of the pond, and the plural verb is considered incorrect in AmE, BUT it's good to be aware that the plural form is sometimes/often used in BrE, and is considered correct (in BrE).
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    We got into a similar discussion on a language forum here, and I'm connecting to this thread, as I think it's more a question of grammar and usage (than of translation). "Collective nouns" are often treated as plural in BrE (British English) but as singular in AmE (American English). I wish to stress that the plural form (connected to a singular noun (collective or not) sounds totally wrong, to American ears. In fact I asked my brother, a university professor (PhD in English) what he thought about it, and he gave this explanation which I found helpful:

    "It sounds incorrect to your ears (and mine) because they grew up in the US of A.

    I understand the British usage, but I think that grammatical logic (oddly, perhaps) supports the 'Murican usage. "Class" and "government" and "team" and so on are singular nouns; each has a plural form as well. Nouns and verbs are supposed to agree in number (as in other respects). I rest my case."

    I understand that Brits use both singular and plural verbs with collective nouns. So (as a teacher of English as a foreign language), my suggestion to Tomo01 would probably be to avoid using the plural verb form entirely (with "collective nouns" in the singular), as the singular verb form seems to be acceptable on both sides of the pond, and the plural verb is considered incorrect in AmE, BUT it's good to be aware that the plural form is sometimes/often used in BrE, and is considered correct (in BrE).
    In the AmE usage, it is only the verb that immediately follows the "collective" that gets the singular form. Thereafter, US speakers use "they" in those situations where BrE uses plural immediately after the "singular" collective. AmE uses the grammatical "singular" even though the sense is plural, and then continues with plural.
     

    curiosone

    Senior Member
    AmE - hillbilly ;)
    In the AmE usage, it is only the verb that immediately follows the "collective" that gets the singular form. Thereafter, US speakers use "they" in those situations where BrE uses plural immediately after the "singular" collective. AmE uses the grammatical "singular" even though the sense is plural, and then continues with plural.

    So are you implying that the plural verb is "more correct?" I disagree. I think a distinction can/must be made between British and American English, here. Brits don't seem to apply this plural form to ALL collective nouns - which makes it difficult to provide a specific "rule".

    Personally I think the first rule in English is that there are exceptions to all rules (or, as in this case, different interpretations). However I also think it would be useful to provide some examples of both BrE and AmE usage (since you seem familiar with both), for the benefit of non-native speakers wishing to improve their English.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    So are you implying that the plural verb is "more correct?" I disagree. I think a distinction can/must be made between British and American English, here. Brits don't seem to apply this plural form to ALL collective nouns - which makes it difficult to provide a specific "rule".

    Personally I think the first rule in English is that there are exceptions to all rules (or, as in this case, different interpretations). However I also think it would be useful to provide some examples of both BrE and AmE usage (since you seem familiar with both), for the benefit of non-native speakers wishing to improve their English.
    I described the difference in usage. I specifically avoided making a judgement on correctness :D The link I gave provided an example or two. Here's an illustration of the "singular, then plural" concept. Below is a quote from a post I made on the issue as a side comment in a separate, but related, thread
    It looks like a similar situation to the team/police/government is/are discussions. In many cases, the speaker or writer uses the word "team" to refer to the members (not the singular unit) but feels obliged, simply from a grammar viewpoint, to use a singular verb. "Grammatically correct" is therefore only one way out while a "common sense" way that is clear and sounds right may be grammatically incorrect.


    :warning:This dichotomy will always polarize these kinds of threads
     

    curiosone

    Senior Member
    AmE - hillbilly ;)
    Thanks for providing the further links (especially the illustration, which provided sample phrases - which is what I was looking for), as well as the specific thread links, as when I tried searching the English-only forum, I found the FAR too many threads about "collective nouns" to be extremely confusing (and I'm a native speaker!:eek:).

    Far be it from me, to suggest one way is more correct than another :rolleyes:. However it seems to me that the key problem here is that what "sounds right" to British ears simply does not sound right to an American speaker. So how can we then define "common sense"?

    I find no logic or sense in the fact that many languages apply male or female gender to inanimate objects that lack reproductive organs, but I accept that it's "grammatically correct" in those languages.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Far be it from me, to suggest one way is more correct than another :rolleyes:. However it seems to me that the key problem here is that what "sounds right" to British ears simply does not sound right to an American speaker. So how can we then define "common sense"?
    I wrote that a while ago and had in mind the usage of plural verbs as being "common to both forms" after the first instance of the verb following the collective in which the sense relates to the members rather than the unit. That's why I was glad to find some examples of AE using singular then plural, to illustrate that point.

    In any case, there are many things in your category of "Sounds right one, but does not sound right to the other" in the AE vs BE discussions (Wikipedia has some articles: partial list of word differences can be found here, and language here). They just "are".:D
     

    curiosone

    Senior Member
    AmE - hillbilly ;)
    I suppose we could (and have, and will) discuss this until the cows come home. :)

    As far as differences are concerned, I have compared notes with British language teachers, and our consensus has been that, thanks to modern communications (and television, cinema, etc), many words put on lists of specifically "BrE" or "AmE" terms are now used on both sides of the pond. Which I suppose shouldn't be surprising, as distance and separation are how the differences were originally created.
     

    Moon1696

    New Member
    Vietnamese
    Hi guys! How you can answer the question “ Is your family from the U.S.A?” We can use “ Yes, we are” or “ Yes, it is” for this question. I hope someone can reply me soon . thanks so much ^^ Love you all
     

    Incornsyucopia

    New Member
    English
    Hi guys! How you can answer the question “ Is your family from the U.S.A?” We can use “ Yes, we are” or “ Yes, it is” for this question. I hope someone can reply me soon . thanks so much ^^ Love you all
    You could use either, depending on whether you're stressing the unity of the family ("it is") or the plurality of those who make it up ("we are").
     

    Incornsyucopia

    New Member
    English
    I suppose we could (and have, and will) discuss this until the cows come home. :)

    As far as differences are concerned, I have compared notes with British language teachers, and our consensus has been that, thanks to modern communications (and television, cinema, etc), many words put on lists of specifically "BrE" or "AmE" terms are now used on both sides of the pond. Which I suppose shouldn't be surprising, as distance and separation are how the differences were originally created.
    Such differences are undoubtedly diminishing, but they still exist. To my Canadian-English ears, "the government are..." or "the team are..." sound strange, but are common in the British English textbooks I use with my ESL students.
     

    curiosone

    Senior Member
    AmE - hillbilly ;)
    Such differences are undoubtedly diminishing, but they still exist. To my Canadian-English ears, "the government are..." or "the team are..." sound strange, but are common in the British English textbooks I use with my ESL students.

    The list of differences we compared notes on referred to nouns (such as: petrol/gasoline, handbag/purse/bag, flat/apartment etc), and not to verbal forms or grammar usage (including single or plural verbs connected to collective nouns). So I totally agree with your assessment. Yes, there are still differences. However the lines are blurred (many terms are now interchangeable), and in the cases where there is still a difference, they are usually understood on both sides of the pondùùù
     
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