Collective nouns - the majority <is, are> ... ?

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proofs

Member
Austria, English/German
Which is correct?


"The majority of children is educated in public schools."

or

"The majority of children are educated in public schools."

My gut feeling is the "are" version, but why??
 
  • Oros

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Children is plural. So the majority of children naturally falls into the plural category, as far as I am concerned.
     

    proofs

    Member
    Austria, English/German
    But I would have thought that the majority (being singular) of children would have to take the singluar "is" instead of "are"....
     

    AnnieF

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Technically, we're talking about the 'majority', which is singular, so the verb should be 'is' although I agree that it does sound unwieldy in this case. I wouldn't be too offended by 'the majority of children are'. Maybe you could say 'most children are' instead?
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Oros said:
    Children is plural. So the majority of children naturally falls into the plural category, as far as I am concerned.
    It may result in an awkward sound to us, but the subject is majority, and therefore s/b singular (not to be confused with "children," which is the object of the prepositional phrase, "of children," and does not affect the verb's conjugation.
     

    Jana337

    Senior Member
    čeština
    Some examples from the Cambridge Dictionary:

    The majority of the employees have university degrees.
    A large majority of people approve of the death sentence.
    Jana
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I think English is not quite so literal and linguistically-oriented as other languages (if that makes any sense :confused: ). In other words the strict linguistic subject may be 'majority' which is singular, but the true subject is really children, which is plural. 'Majority' is just a quantifier, even if it precedes 'children' and makes 'children' look like a prepositional phrase. A lot of quantifiers are structured in this way, such as 'a lot' which is singular but takes a plural verb. I bet no one flinched when they read the beginning of the preceding sentence and thought 'Hey, that should have been "A lot of quantifiers is structured in this way :cross: "'.

    In fact, in British English you can take this quite far: it's quite acceptable to say 'the government are going to introduce ID cards', for example, because the government = lots of people. Personally, though, I think I think this is taking it too far, although people do it all the time. :mad:
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    From the WR dictionary:


    majority
    A noun
    1 majority, bulk

    the property resulting from being or relating to the greater in number of two parts; the main part; "the majority of his customers prefer it"; "the bulk of the work is finished"
     
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    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Aupick, I agree 100%. And you reminded me that this has come up before (oh, how we need our search functionality back) and there is a difference between AE and BE regarding how far the rule stretches.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    For me "the majority of men are happy" is the only option, do Americans really say "the majority of men is happy"? Normally when there are BE/AE differences the AE one sounds strange but believable. "the majority of men is happy" sounds positively illiterate to my ears...
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    It sounds awful to me, too. And yet I remember being corrected constantly using "none." I was taught to say "None is exempt from the law." "None of the children is permitted to leave schoolgrounds unattended." Is that different? It's a contraction of "no one is," and I thought it should operate like majority, but it also sounds very odd to me.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Hmm, not sure of rules on this, I can only say what I would say, which would be -

    None is exempt from the law, but
    None of the children are happy.

    "None of the men is happy" sounds as strange to me as "the majority of men is happy".
     

    Nick

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    timpeac said:
    "None of the men is happy" sounds as strange to me as "the majority of men is happy".
    I agree. It's not an American thing to use a singular verb in either of these cases.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    timpeac said:
    Hmm, not sure of rules on this, I can only say what I would say, which would be -

    None is exempt from the law, but
    None of the children are happy.

    "None of the men is happy" sounds as strange to me as "the majority of men is happy".
    I'm with you. And I'm always likely to favor what sounds better over what the rules suggest.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    jess oh seven said:
    it's ARE because CHILDREN is plural.
    Yeah, even I got that. But CHILDREN is not technically the SUBJECT. The reason it deserved any conversation at all is because that might not be all there is to it.

    Not one of the children is brunette.
    1. Children is still plural.
    2. Verb should technically not change when sentence starts with None (= not one).

    And majority can be complex, too.
    If the majority represents more than one-third of the voters, the resolution will pass.

    Does anyone dispute that represents is correct in this sentence?

    We agreed on "the majority of men are happy" but what about "the majority of men, which is considered anything over 50%, are happy."
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Brilliant summary! I was lost actually in what I thought were contradictions in II through VI, and then there was VII! Magic! I can't thank you enough. Years of doubt explained away by one simple doc. I do not exaggerate! Thanks, Who (and elroy)!

    Still seems daunting, even for a native-speaker, that English has some gray areas that allow one subject to have two correct sounding verbs associated with it in one sentence: "The majority of men, which is considered anything over 50%, are happy."
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    lsp said:
    Brilliant summary! I was lost actually in what I thought were contradictions in II through VI, and then there was VII! Magic! I can't thank you enough. Years of doubt explained away by one simple doc. I do not exaggerate! Thanks, Who (and elroy)!
    Haha, you should say thank you rather to Elroy, I just copied the address.

    Still seems daunting, even for a native-speaker, that English has some gray areas that allow one subject to have two correct sounding verbs associated with it in one sentence: "The majority of men, which is considered anything over 50%, are happy."
    That's exactly what I didn't understand in the other thread. "The rest are ..." looks totally wrong to me, while "It's the subjects that ..." looks even more strange to me. :confused:

    Either I lost you somewhere or your sentence should be "The majority of men, which are considered anything over 50%, are happy." Because otherwise it makes even less sense than with only ONE "are", now with a "is" in between? :confused: :confused: :confused:
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    jess oh seven said:
    well, to me, "the majority of children is educated..." just sounds silly, but hey.
    To me too, but foreign speakers need to try to find a rule to stick to, because they do not have the "native ear" to tell them instinctively what is right and what is wrong (and even natives can sometimes be mistaken, or at least for some reason not instinctively vote for "accepted" usage).
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Whodunit said:
    Haha, you should say thank you rather to Elroy, I just copied the address.
    I did, but I will again. Thanks, Elroy!

    Whodunit said:
    Either I lost you somewhere or your sentence should be "The majority of men, which are considered anything over 50%, are happy." Because otherwise it makes even less sense than with only ONE "are", now with a "is" in between? :confused: :confused: :confused:
    Not sure I grasp the question, but let me try this...
    The majority is considered anything over 50% + The majority of men are happy = The majority of men, which is considered to be anything over 50%, are happy.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Whodunit said:
    To my German ear it doesn't. Because it's natural German to use the singular verb in such a case. ;)
    In Italian it would be singular also in this case. It leads me to think that once upon a time it would have been less controversial and also singular in English.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Ah, that one is easier, IMHO.
    "As such the situation (of a vast majority of children) is worse now than ever before."

    The subject is situation, and so it is clearly singular. If you removed the parenthetical phrase (which was not in parentheses in the original), the sense of the sentence is unchanged.

    Of course that logic is how I got confused before. I had been taught to remove the prepositional phrase, conjugate the verb, and add the phrase back. Here, though, I think it works nicely.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hey ho.

    The "rule" - sorry the convention - on this is very clear.
    This was all discussed very recently and the resolution has to do with whether or not the collective relates to countable or non-countable stuff.

    Most of the countable stuff are...
    Most of the non-countable stuff is...

    There are, of course, exceptions - I mean it IS English we are talking about - but the above generalisation, which I sincerely hope is consistent with what I said last time, is the general rule.

    Check out count v non-count nouns.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    When that distinction is clear, the answers are easy. Isn't it ambiguous when we use words like "majority?" (and where the hell does that question mark belong? is it always inside the end-quote punctuation? :confused: :eek:)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Easy first; the ? belongs either outside the " BE, or inside the quote, AE (I think - didn't check this time) - unless of course the question is what is being quoted in which case it is "...?".

    Majority is a bit of a @~#'£ of course. I don't think its singular/plural is determined the same way as "Most of" - which follows the guideline, I think.

    So, don't use majority if you have difficulty working out how:)
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    You missed your calling (unless you actually are a politician or diplomat)!!
     

    Yulan

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Hello everybody,

    I hope not to be a pain :) but I have been checking many threads about this topic and it finally results that it is just a question of personal preference whether the collective noun "majority" has to go with teh verb at the 3rd singular or 3rd plural person.

    My point is: does it actually make no difference to say

    - The overwhelming majority of appliances are unused
    or
    - The overwhelming majority of applicances is unused.

    Thanks a lot and ... I apologize in advance should I have missed a thread where the question has been settled.

    Thanks :)
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I think you need to fit in with the usage of the variety of English you wish to emulate. For me, your first phrase sounds fine - the second odd. That's not to say other native speakers might not have the opposite opinion. In other words, there's no choice - people do one or the other.
     

    Yulan

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Thanks Timpeac,

    Your statement confirms that I can somehow decide on my own based on the context.

    Thanks, that settles the question for me :)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If I am using "the majority" to mean "most", then I use a plural verb.

    If I am using "the majority" to refer to the numerical amount by which one set outnumbers another set, or in some way as a single entity, then I use a singular verb.

    This is not a matter of personal preference, it is the way BE usage has impressed itself on me.
    I am not free to choose based on my own notions. To avoid being thought odd, I must follow this usage.
     
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