Collective nouns - ... the school board <has, have> ...

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giberian

Senior Member
German
Please help me with this one:
"Dexters truancy problem is way out of hand.
The Baltimore county school board have decided to expel
Dexter from the entire public school system."
Is it grammatically correct? I would use "has" because of the subject being a third person singular...

Thanks a lot!
 
  • tablecloth

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I think it should be "Dexter's truancy problem..." I think you can choose freely between have or has. I have seen many times "My family have ..." instead of "My family has..." I think it depends on whether you consider the noun as a colective or as several people. Let's wait for a native...
    Best wishes.
     

    1337pino

    New Member
    United States / English
    "Dexter's truancy problem is way out of hand.
    The Baltimore county school board has decided to expel
    Dexter from the entire public school system."
    You must use "has" here because the school board is singular. Although the school board itself is made up of numerous people, it is being referred to as a single entity.

    If you want to use "have," rephrase it like this:

    "Dexter's truancy problem is way out of hand.
    The Baltimore county school board members have decided to expel
    Dexter from the entire public school system."
    This way, you are talking about the decision of each individual member rather than the collective unit's.
     

    Conchita57

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Spain/French - Switzerland
    Either 'have' or 'has' is possible with 'board'. If you consider the people/members that make up the board then it can take a plural verb.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Please help me with this one:
    "Dexters truancy problem is way out of hand.
    The Baltimore county school board have decided to expel
    Dexter from the entire public school system."
    Is it grammatically correct? I would use "has" because of the subject being a third person singular...

    Thanks a lot!
    Incidentally, it should be Dexter's [with an apostrophe]

    Traditional, formal grammar requires "has".
    The Board, and there is only one, has decided.

    Totally off topic: I don't see how expelling a student will fix his or her truancy!
     

    tablecloth

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I have always thought it should have a singular verb but then, how do you explain "My family are very happy" which I find everyday in my English books?
    Thank you.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I agree with Tablecloth and Conchita: both are perfectly acceptable.

    EDIT, REPLY TO #6: Because as you rightly pointed out in #2, Table, family is often regarded as meaning the members of my family and so takes a plural verb.
    If we had to go back and rewrite all instances where a plural verb has been written with a singular ['collective'] noun in English, we would have a lot of rewriting to do!
     

    1337pino

    New Member
    United States / English
    Maybe it really only matters in AE.

    From what I have been taught, "My family are very happy" must be either:
    1. "My family is very happy"
    2. "My families are very happy"
     

    tablecloth

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    That was I was taught at school as well, but ther's a tendency towars making collective nouns agree with plural verbs. It must be only in the UK. But I'd say i`´s a strong trend because I find more examples every year in our text books (printed in the UK).
    Best wishes.
     

    Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    Maybe it really only matters in AE.

    From what I have been taught, "My family are very happy" must be either:
    1. "My family is very happy"
    2. "My families are very happy"
    Absolutely, Pino.
    There is in Britain a rapidly growing tendency to describe almost any noun as "collective" if it can be said, in any conceivable analysis, to contain more than one entity. As a result we have:
    The government are...
    The orchestra are...
    The set of wheels are...
    and so on.

    This has lead us to the point where, unfortunately, the whole concept of singular or plural has been muddied, and many people simply do not know which nouns are which or even which verbs are which. A perusal of even a quality newspaper from Britain will quickly confirm this: even journalists, who should know better, create some egregious errors in this area.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    even journalists, who should know better, create some egregious errors in this area.
    Really, Lexi? I hadn't noticed it myself;)

    I just wanted to highlight the fact that giberian's example is, on the face of it, an American English use of a plural verb with a collective noun.

    So it's not just BrE...
     

    Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    Really, Lexi? I hadn't noticed it myself;)
    Yes, Loob, really! I read the Weekly Telegraph, and never a week goes by that I don't cough and splutter over some unbelievable piece of grammatical idiocy associated with singular and plural verbs (not to mention the use of their when one person of a clearly identifiable sex is meant (so I won't mention that)).

    Or is that which you hadn't noticed the fact that journalists should know better? :D
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It's another one.
    In BE, school boards and many other groups are considered to be singular or plural depending on the context.
    This is not a new deviation, as might be inferred from what Lexi says. It is a long-established practice.
    For discussion of the many other examples that have been discussed here, and the general principles as well, please look up collective in the WR dictionary.
     

    Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    Quite so, Panj. Collective nouns have been around for ages -- even ones which can be made singular or plural according to context. And that is how I would use them: sometimes the band is playing a song, at other time the band are fighting among themselves. My impression, however, is that there have always been more such nouns in BE than in AE.
    And my impression is further that the number is increasing in BE. Rapidly increasing. I've even heard "the basket of fruit are overflowing."
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Your impression about AE/BE is well-supported by the evidence of the threads here. I haven't noticed examples quite as eccentric as the plural basket of fruit - and I'm fairly sure that would have made quite an impact if I'd seen it "in the wild".
     

    wildan1

    Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)
    English - USA
    Your impression about AE/BE is well-supported by the evidence of the threads here. I haven't noticed examples quite as eccentric as the plural basket of fruit - and I'm fairly sure that would have made quite an impact if I'd seen it "in the wild".
    AE almost never uses a plural verb form with a collective noun unless the noun is itself in the plural. (And unlike the Queen or President, we do not use the "royal we"!)

    The board does not agree.
    IBM is laying off 3,000 employees.
    New York is playing Boston tomorrow.
    Who cares about children? The Department of Education does.

    And in some cases a grammatically plural noun takes a singular verb in AE (without talking about Appalachian dialect, which regularly does this for all nouns):

    The United States is a whole continent wide.
    "Due to the weather today, Charles County Schools is closing two hours early." (News flash just heard on radio that inspired me to add this.)
     

    Trouts!

    Member
    British English
    Please help me with this one:
    "Dexters truancy problem is way out of hand.
    The Baltimore county school board have decided to expel
    Dexter from the entire public school system."
    Is it grammatically correct? I would use "has" because of the subject being a third person singular...

    Thanks a lot!
    Psychosomatic... That boy needs therapy!

    It's just a colloquial thing... evolution of language and all that!

    Pah... :) "journalists who should know better"... Whhhhhaaatever.
    It still makes perfect sense. And actually I'd argue it's better to use "have" to make it clear that the "school board" contains more than one person.

    Who says it's a rule to use has?

    Uh oh. Traditionalist grammar's getting on my bits again.
     

    Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    And actually I'd argue it's better to use "have" to make it clear that the "school board" contains more than one person.
    Trouts, there's something fishy about this. I think you may have provided the perfect example of what I meant by "the concept ... becoming muddied." The use of a plural verb does indeed suggest [I wouldn't say it makes it clear] that the school board consists of more than one person. But nobody wants to know that! What possible reason can there be, in a sentence declaring the board's decision to expel Dexter, for then going on to elaborate on the composition of the board?
    The idea expressed in the sentence gets muddied because it is overlayed by another, totally spurious idea. And this second idea is not actually clearly stated but only hinted at, leading to an otherwise unnecessary need for for interpretation.
    My impression, from reading the Telegraph and visiting the UK occasionally, is that Brits have developed the perhaps enviable skill of guessing at what other Brits mean by their utterances -- but there is no certainty that they always guess correctly.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In this example, the school board has been acting as a single entity and therefore a singular verb is entirely appropriate.
    If you look through the previous threads referring to other collective nouns you should find that is the general pattern of usage. BE accepts a plural verb when the sense of the sentence calls for it.
    I wouldn't want to confuse such judicious variation with the kind of sloppiness that leads to the BBC report I noted a few days ago "Eight helicopters was required ...".
     

    Sorker

    New Member
    English-American
    The answer depends largely upon which version of "English" is being used. AE does not often consider a collective noun as being plural, especially compared with BE. That is at the core of differences in usage.

    One common example of differences in the concept of collective nouns is usage when the subject of the sentence is a sports team.

    Britons would consider team names as a collective nouns and, so, always plural in usage. Thus, for the "New Zealand All Blacks" team, "New Zealand are two down" and "The All Blacks are two down" [no difference in usage there].

    In contrast, Americans do not base usage on the concept of collective nouns but rather on the form of the noun itself. Thus, (and using here the team names "New York Yankees" and "Boston Red Sox" as example teams), Americans would use a singular verb for a subject expressed as singular (New York [referring to the team] takes a singular verb) and would use a plural verb when the subject is expressed as plural (the Yankees [also referring to the team] take a plural verb). Thus, "New York is two runs behind Boston" but (and in reference to the same two teams) "the Yankees are two runs behind the Red Sox".

    So, in this string, Americans would say, "The Board has" and "the members have". Britons would say, "The Board have" and "the members have".
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    So, in this string, Americans would say, "The Board has" and "the members have". Britons would say, "The Board have" and "the members have".
    This Brit would not. This Brit would, and does, say and write "The Board has ..."
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    I would always use a singular verb with a collective noun. And so does my 12-year-old Australian son, without any encouragement from me. (I have just tested him.)

    But if I had to choose between "its" and "their" in these examples, then I would choose "their":

    The group of boys crashed their car.
    The family lost all their possessions.


    My preference, however, would be to re-word them.
     
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