Collective nouns - The staff <is, are> ...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Raelichu, Mar 10, 2006.

  1. Raelichu Senior Member

    Spain, Spanish
    Hello everyone!

    My question is actually very simple (hopefully!):

    is "staff", when referring to the people working in the same place (e.g. a hotel), a singular or a plural noun?

    I mean, would you say "the staff is" or "the staff are"?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. Moogey Senior Member

    New Jersey, USA
    USA English
    I think it can be either. I think it might even be different depending on where you are. For example, in AE we tend to put a singular verb after companies and in BE they tend to put a plural verb after it. I always put a singular verb after it because it's a collective noun--one entity--not plural.

  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I was about to start explaining the BE tendency to vary according to context - but I really can't imagine hearing the staff is without feeling queasy (unless of course the staff in question is six feet tall, very thin, and made of wood).
    Speaking about employees, I think staff is always plural.

    Ready to be contradicted .....
  4. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    In the U.S., "staff" is almost invariably singular.It is possible in the U.S., but somewhat rare, for the members of the staff to act as individuals, and then you'd want the plural.
  5. CarolSueC Senior Member

    It really depends on the context in AE. If the "staff" is thought of a unit or acting in accord, it is singular. However, as with other collective nouns, if one is thinking of the members individually the plural is used. For example, "The staff are divided about the benefits package offer." or "The committee disagree about how to proceed." As an aside, I cringe whenever I heard the word "staffers," which is increasingly heard in AE.
  6. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    As far as I have seen it, also Americans have usually the pronoun 'they' when referring to a company, so it's a kind of plural, too.
  7. turbo New Member

    Unless of course of course your are talking about a single member of staff as in "...if a member of staff is absent.."

    Sometimes the wooden variety can be more useful!
  8. Raelichu Senior Member

    Spain, Spanish
    As far as I am concerned, and since it's for an essay that has to be handed in in the UK, I'll choose the plural form. Thanks to everyone for your answers ;).

    On the other hand, we, the staff of the hotel I work in, are thinking of getting the wooden variety of staff, and see if thus our jobs' conditions are improved! :p
  9. Moogey Senior Member

    New Jersey, USA
    USA English
    Actually, it's funny because I almost always have a singular verb after but I use a plural pronoun to refer to a company. Hmm..

  10. sweetpotatoboy Senior Member

    English, UK (London)
    From a British English point of view, I am happy to confirm that I would treat "staff" as a plural at least 99% of the time.

    I edit financial reports and I always find myself changing this usage.

    Two examples:

    Many departments at XXX benefit from the extensive experience of staff who have often been employed for decades.

    Well-trained and well-compensated staff are required to facilitate good servicing.

    In no circumstances could I imagine these verbs being in the singular.
  11. tequillas

    tequillas Member

    is STAFF singular or plural?
  12. clapec

    clapec Senior Member

    As far as I know, collective nouns like staff (crew, family, team, etc) can take either a singolar or plural verb; singular if we consider the word to mean a single group or unit, plural if we take it to mean a number of individuals. When a possessive adjective is necessary, a plural verb with their is more usual than a singular verb with its, though sometimes both are possible:
    - The jury is considering its verdict.
    - The jury are considering their verdict.
  13. tequillas

    tequillas Member

    thank you! i was confused about that, you made it clear!
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    A word of caution.
    Through the many miles of threads on whether collective nouns take plural or singular verbs clapec's general conclusion is valid, especially for BE.

    But in the particular case of staff, there is a very marked distinction.

    I have just popped today's question onto the end of the staff, singular or plural thread. If you look back you will see a strong AE preference for singular, and a strong BE preference for plural. This is unusual because the normal BE pattern is to vary between singular and plural depending on context.
  15. I agree with everyone. As an AE speaker, I think I usually go singular with staff, but I refer to staff with a plural pronoun.
    What is the staff doing? They're....

    This staff is very well trained, they're also very nice.
  16. putney swope New Member

    USA English
    Here's a summary:

    Staff: collective noun - a body of assistants...

    BE: The staff are
    AE (global English): The staff is (or) The staff are [depending on whether you are actually thinking of "it" or "they"]. Ex: The secretarial staff is under the direction of Ms. Yoon. Ex: The staff are undergoing supplemental training.

    Right (both): We hired three new staff members.
    Minority usage / questionable (both): We hired three new staff.

    The second usage, with staff meaning "a member of the staff; a staff member" is popular in HR circles (of hell?)

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