The government: who or which?


New Member
I want to write a relative question using the noun government. As it is formed by people, should I use the relative who?
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Welcome to the forum, elenams_6. :)

    We would like to help you.

    Please give us the question you have in mind.

    We can be much more helpful when we see what you have in mind. There are various reasons we might use one or another form. Also, it makes a difference whether you want the word to function as a pronoun or as an adjective.


    New Member
    I would like to make one sentence of this, using a relative: The government has a good reputation. It has not solved the problem yet.


    Senior Member
    British English
    Give us the sentence you want to use, but leave a space where you're unsure about the relative pronoun.



    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    (Thank you, elenams_6, for the context. ;))

    Like onemorning85, I would use which, and for the same reason.

    I speak American English. I would like to know what a speaker of British English would say. Sometimes I hear them use "who" to refer to the government, because they are thinking of the government as a group of people.* However, I don't know how they decide whether to do this, so I don't know whether they would do it in this example.



    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Well, as a moderator is asking for opinions and not just closing the thread . . . The problem with looking at previous threads is that they will go all round the general issue, but it might be hard to find a specific answer.

    In this particular sentence I would definitely say 'which'. It is only the collective government that has the good reputation, not the individuals that compose it. Singular agreement is the only one possible in:

    The government was formed after the May 2010 election.
    The government was dissolved in preparation for new elections.
    The government consists of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

    I would use plural (but could also use singular) when 'the government' could be replaced by 'the members of the government':

    The government have agreed on a new policy.
    The government are keen to resolve the issue without delay.


    Senior Member
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This question is slightly removed from the "government - singular or plural" question, though the two are connected.

    In BE, we are happy to consider government as singular or plural - as explained above. etb has explained the rationale for our choice.
    If we find ourselves needing a relative pronoun for government, it depends on the same rationale. Speaking of government as a set of individuals, we use who; speaking of government as an impersonal entity, we use which.

    In AE, as I understand the opinions expressed here, government is singular and therefore requires which, not who.

    I can't imagine either AE or BE tolerating:
    The government, who has a good reputation, has not solved the problem yet.

    So the answer to the post #1 question, as amplified in post #3, is straightforward: the sentence considers government to be singular - use which, not who :)