Singular/plural - the staff (collective noun)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by cubbissimo, Oct 3, 2007.

  1. cubbissimo Senior Member

    US Spanish
    Hi i wanted to know which form of the following sentence is correct:

    The staff at Benny’s are so unprofessional.
    The staff at Benny’s is so unprofessional.

    Thanks for the help.
  2. twen Senior Member

    U.S.A. - English
    I would use it as a collective noun (singular) like "family" or "team." If you want to make it a count noun, you could use the word as an adjective before the word "member."

    The staff/family/team is planning a party.
    The staff/family/team members are planning a party.
    Each staff/family/team member is preparing something for the party.
  3. cubbissimo Senior Member

    US Spanish
    Thanks Twen. That sounds right to me. However, do you think the other form is grammatically incorrect?
  4. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I suspect there may be a BE/AE difference here.
  5. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    To treat "staff" as singular would be correct in AE.
  6. cubbissimo Senior Member

    US Spanish
    I think both of you are right. The person that wrote this was British and he wrote: The staff are so unprofessional, which sounded odd to me. That's when I decided to ask the forum.
  7. psychoticbarber Member

    Canada, English
    "The staff" is a singular collective noun in CE (Canadian English) too.
  8. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    There are quite a few previous threads about the fact that in BrE, collective nouns can take singular or plural verbs depending on whether the focus is on individual group members or on the group as a whole. Here, the BrE speaker would have been focusing on the unprofessionalism of individual staff members.

  9. Miss Communication New Member

    English - British
    The Guardian style guide says:

    • [h=3]staff[/h]
      are plural

      As a Brit the singular form sounds strange

  10. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Welcome to the Forum, Miss Communication. I must say that my reaction is similar to yours. Staff is always plural for me - except in this sentence, when I'm referring to it as a word! ;) ! Same with similar words like crew. But in some other words like family, I'm fine with singular or plural depending on context.
  11. stormwreath Senior Member

    English - England
    I'd agree with Loob: 'staff' can be treated as singular or plural in BE depending on whether you're treating it as a single unit (rare) or a collection of individuals (more common).

    The staff are going on their annual picnic.

    Napoleon's staff was comprised of half a dozen clerks and administrators; the staff of a modern army is more likely to number in the thousands.
  12. Embonpoint Senior Member


    This is correct. English grammar allows "collective nouns" to be singular or plural depending on your intent. Collective nouns include groups made up of individual people, such as "team," "audience," and "jury."

    I personally tend to prefer the singular in most of them, perhaps because I am American. But I remember clearly that the American grammar books I used in grade school specifically allowed the plural when the intent of the writer is to highlight the actions of individuals.

    "The jury took a lunch break at 1 p.m."(The jury as a whole.)
    "The jury disagree about whether Mr. X is lying. (The members of the jury disagree.)

    For Benny's, I would use either "is" or "are" depending on my intent. If I had in my brain a handful of individual people, all being unprofessional, I would say "the staff at Benny's are unprofessional." If the image in my mind at the moment I was speaking was cohesive about the staff in general (without visualizing each nasty face) I would say "the staff is."
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2011
  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Collective nouns - The staff <is, are> ...
    In that thread there is a sense that the usual British English "singular or plural depending on context" view doesn't really apply with staff.
    We mostly consider staff to be plural.
  14. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    In complete agreement. So did the ones that I used (I received some formal grammar education in middle school and high school). I think it is pointless to slavishly pair every morphologically singular noun with a singular verb just because there's no 's' on the end.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2011
  15. madcom New Member

    English - Australian
    I am not so sure about BE allowing staff to be plural. In grammar the aim is clarity so I always use:
    Staff as a collective noun so ... the staff is going to the picnic.
    If you want to use it in the plural you need to write ... members of staff are going to the picnic.
    But perhaps I am coming from Australian English!
  16. mobiuspizza New Member

    Sorry I am going to necro this thread as it is the top result on the topic in google search.

    Am I right in treating it as plural in this context as doing anything else would sound very strange:

    All staff should be kept up to date with training to ensure [they] comply with the company procedures.

    I can't imagine replacing [they] with [he or she], or [it].
  17. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Yes, you are right. Even in AmE, the "collective=singular" only applies to the verb immediately following the collective. Thereafter, the AmE style follows the BrE style and uses a verb that is singular or plural depending on the sense.

    Edit: In any case, your sentence uses "All" before the word, so it already creates the plural sense!
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2014

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