Collective nouns - the government, company, team, fish <have, has> ... ?

C

Cat

Guest
From a Spanish student.
Hi everybody,
Could you tell me please what is the right form to be used when you speak about a company or a big group of people?
Example: "General Motors have/has asked me for a report".
What is rigth, have or has?
Thanks in advance.
 
  • elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Collective nouns are slightly tricky, but not too bad. As was said, they usually take the singular verb. The only cases in which it is accepted to use a plural verb with them are those in which you are referring to the individual members of the group.

    Example:
    The class is going on a picnic. (The class is going as a whole; hence, is)
    The class are disputing about how to spend the money. (Since you are referring to the individual members of the class, you need a plural verb. It would be illogical to say "The class is disputing" because that implies one agent - which is clearly not the case. But because this may sound awkward, many opt for a construction such as "The members of the class..." or "Those in the class..." etc. In spoken conversation you will hear the grammatically incorrect "The class is disputing...")

    Hope this helps.

    *As was said, in your example, you would need a singular verb because General Motors as a whole is acting.
     

    dworkman

    New Member
    USA, English
    British usage prefers the plural verb form for collective nouns. American usage prefers the singular. Choose the verb form according to the author/audience you are writing for.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Hm, are you sure it's an American/British thing dworkman? Are you saying in England one would always say "The class are...," no matter what the context is?

    It would be great if you could explain more. Thanks.
     

    modgirl

    Senior Member
    USA English
    elroy said:
    Hm, are you sure it's an American/British thing dworkman? Are you saying in England one would always say "The class are...," no matter what the context is?

    It would be great if you could explain more. Thanks.

    I don't know any official rules for the British, but I've noticed that nearly everything I've read that was written by Brits which includes a collective noun, uses a plural verb. It sounds strange to me. But I'm sure that using a singular verb sounds strange to them! You explained it extremely well, though, for when we would use a plural verb with a collective noun.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    modgirl said:
    I don't know any official rules for the British, but I've noticed that nearly everything I've read that was written by Brits which includes a collective noun, uses a plural verb. It sounds strange to me. But I'm sure that using a singular verb sounds strange to them! You explained it extremely well, though, for when we would use a plural verb with a collective noun.

    Yes, true modgirl. I think we do favour the plural verb. I hadn't appreciated that you guys tend to go for the singular - interesting, another difference between the two sides of the pond!:)

    Regards

    Tim
     

    Nick

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    modgirl said:
    I don't know any official rules for the British, but I've noticed that nearly everything I've read that was written by Brits which includes a collective noun, uses a plural verb. It sounds strange to me. But I'm sure that using a singular verb sounds strange to them! You explained it extremely well, though, for when we would use a plural verb with a collective noun.
    Being an American, I would never use a plural verb with a collective noun. If you want to break the group into individuals, then you do not use a collective noun.

    The class is disputing.
    The classmates are disputing.
     

    sallyjoe

    Member
    UK English
    In the UK we use: he, she, it,- has,

    I,we,they - have.

    So - 'the class has a bad smell' 'the class rooms have a bad smell.

    Hope this helps.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    sallyjoe said:
    In the UK we use: he, she, it,- has,

    I,we,they - have.

    So - 'the class has a bad smell' 'the class rooms have a bad smell.

    Hope this helps.

    Glad I didn't go to your school...;)
     

    dave

    Senior Member
    UK - English
    This has come up a few times in recent weeks, and it does seem that we British are more comfortable using the plural verb with collective nouns:

    - The government have increased taxes.
    - Manchester United are beating Arsenal - they are playing really well.
    - England are struggling against South Africa.
    - The police have arrested the murderer.
    - General Motors have asked me for a report.


    Etc.
     

    dave

    Senior Member
    UK - English
    In fact when talking about sports teams you will never usually hear the singular verb:

    Manchester United is beating Arsenal - it is playing really well. :cross:

    You will never hear a commentator say that!
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    dave said:
    In fact when talking about sports teams you will never usually hear the singular verb:

    Manchester United is beating Arsenal - it is playing really well. :cross:

    You will never hear a commentator say that!
    Of course in America it is normal to hear the singular, but notice also that most of our team names are themselves plural, the Jets, the Giants, the Raiders, etc. In fact offhand I can think of only three of our basketball team names that don't end in "s"...
     

    Edwin

    Senior Member
    USA / Native Language: English
    lsp said:
    Of course in America it is normal to hear the singular, but notice also that most of our team names are themselves plural, the Jets, the Giants, the Raiders, etc. In fact offhand I can think of only three of our basketball team names that don't end in "s"...

    For more examples:

    A team is often called by the name of the city or region it represents . So for example, we say

    Pittsburgh is playing New England for the AFC Championship next Sunday. :thumbsup:

    You will never hear a commentator (over here) say:
    Pittsburgh are playing New England :thumbsdown:

    On the other hand we do say,

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing the New England Patriots next Sunday.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Edwin said:
    On the other hand we do say, ...
    Only one Pittsburgh is playing. More than one Steeler is playing.

    I am not sure, but I think you and I are saying the same thing, right?

    p.s. I wonder if anyone knows all the singular team names, btw
     

    Edwin

    Senior Member
    USA / Native Language: English
    lsp said:
    Only one Pittsburgh is playing. More than one Steeler is playing.

    I am not sure, but I think you and I are saying the same thing, right?

    p.s. I wonder if anyone knows all the singular team names, btw

    I'm sure we don't disagree. I was just noting that we don't say things like "Pittsburgh are playing'' :cross: as our British friends would. But we do say ''The Steelers are playing''.

    You are right most of the names of teams seem to be plural, so in these cases we agree with the Brits. :)

    And I think you are right there are only three in the NBA. The singular NBA team nicknames are just Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. You can find the list of nicknames here: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~nickname/nba.html

    So would you say the Miami Heat is or are playing tonight?

    Actually Google gives hits on both:
    Miami Heat is playing
    and
    Miami Heat are playing.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    You didn't say which got more google results. Anecdotal at best, anyway, since Google just spits back what all of us have added to it in contexts of all kinds, but I guess it does, to some unscientific extent, reflect usage.

    We've been at this topic for so long now I think my ears are inured to either. Miami Heat is playing / Miami Heat are playing. I prefer the first but I guess I'll have to go with my old favorite - context. If the surrounding sentences seem to refer to the players, I vote plural. If the team as an entity is the subject, I'm rooting for plural.

    p.s. The Internet is killing the fun of good trivia questions. Well, maybe you knew the 3 teams without looking it up.
     

    Edwin

    Senior Member
    USA / Native Language: English
    lsp said:
    The Internet is killing the fun of good trivia questions.

    When everyone has an embedded chip in his brain giving instant wireless access to the internet and all human knowledge, then trivia questions will totally cease to exist. Meanwhile they will be with us for awhile longer. :)
     

    sallyjoe

    Member
    UK English
    I think most of our football (soccor) team names are singular, for example, Manchester City or Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal etc. When we do come to talk about them playing - we do say Liverpool are playing Manchester City today. I think we use 'are' because we mean the team players and not the city itself. However, we can say Liverpool's playing Doncaster - 'Liverpool is playing Doncaster'.



    Edwin said:
    I'm sure we don't disagree. I was just noting that we don't say things like "Pittsburgh are playing'' :cross: as our British friends would. But we do say ''The Steelers are playing''.

    You are right most of the names of teams seem to be plural, so in these cases we agree with the Brits. :)

    And I think you are right there are only three in the NBA. The singular NBA team nicknames are just Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. You can find the list of nicknames here: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~nickname/nba.html

    So would you say the Miami Heat is or are playing tonight?

    Actually Google gives hits on both:
    Miami Heat is playing
    and
    Miami Heat are playing.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Nick said:
    Being an American, I would never use a plural verb with a collective noun. If you want to break the group into individuals, then you do not use a collective noun.

    The class is disputing.
    The classmates are disputing.

    That's your personal preference; it's not because you're American. Using a plural verb in constructions such as "The class are disputing" is perfectly correct in standard American English, as was outlined earlier.
     

    Nick

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    elroy said:
    That's your personal preference; it's not because you're American. Using a plural verb in constructions such as "The class are disputing" is perfectly correct in standard American English, as was outlined earlier.
    Yes, but I am saying that "The class are" is rarley used in American English. I've never heard or read this on the news, for example. I think the majority of Americans use/prefer the singular verb.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Yes, I'm with you, Nick. "The class are" would get raised eyebrows from everyone I know. And I know people who speak well, and people who... well... don't! :)
     

    Special K

    Member
    USA English
    dworkman said:
    British usage prefers the plural verb form for collective nouns. American usage prefers the singular. Choose the verb form according to the author/audience you are writing for.

    Yes -- I have noticed this. Brits will say Shell Oil are thinking of investing.... where as Americans would say Shell Oil is thinking of investing....

    Even in a prior example given, Americans would tend to say "The class is debating the (whatever they are debating). They don't tend to bother to worry about whethe "the class" is a unit or a group of units.

    The only time Americans as a general group would use the plural is if the word is something like "fish" which can mean one fish or more than one fish.

    The fish is swimming means one fish is swimming, the fish are swimming means more than one fish is swimming.
     
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