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


Senior Member
In a discussion about collective nouns, I found that 'the police' should have a plural verb like'The police are looking for a missing girl.", and 'the government' a singular verb as in"The government has ".
Then how about 'the public'? Is 'The public has...' correct or 'The public have..'?
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    Hello, sungstar. Welcome to the forum.

    To me, it's "the public has", as in "the public has a right to know." That may be a characteristic of American English, so it would be good if you waited to hear from a British English or Australian English speaker to see if their flavors of English treat "public" differently.


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The normal principles in BE apply.
    If you are talking about the public as one entity, then public would be singular.
    If you are talking about the public as all of the members of the community, not organised together, then public would be plural.

    I think I would naturally write "The public are ..." because I see "the public" as a set of individuals. That seems to be the view of the OED as well.


    Senior Member
    UK English
    Both are very commonly used, but I think strict usage would favour "the public has." The BBC uses both. The Guardian newspaper seems to favour the singular "public has".


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The public has a right to know :tick:
    Good example - I could live with that one :)
    Although I would also be happy with:
    The public have every right to be sceptical ...

    It is yet another example of the AE/BE difference on collective nouns. Search This Forum - for collective plural singular and you will find many previous discussions. None, that I recall, mention the public.
    The community as an aggregate, but not in its organized capacity; hence, the members of the community.
    In the latter sense now usually const. as plural.


    Senior Member
    English, UK (London)
    In speech, in British English the plural verb is very common in such cases.

    We could even say: "My bank have been treating me really badly." I know this sounds odd to some from other parts of the world, but this is perfectly natural colloquial British English. In writing, we would be more particular in using a singular verb.