You have asked a very good question, which has sent me to about ten
reference books and dictionaries. Here's what appears to be the case.
The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin,
1996) says that when majority refers to a group of persons or
things…, it may take a singular or plural verb, depending on whether
the group is considered as a whole, or as a set of people considered
individually. So we say: The majority elects
(not elect) the candidate because the election is accomplished
by the group as a whole. But we say, The majority of voters
live (not lives) in the city, because living in the city
is something that each voter does individually.
Celce-Murcia and Larson-Freeman (The Grammar Book, Heinle
& Heinle, 1999) cite Fowler (A Dictionary of Modern English
Usage), reporting that the nouns majority and
minority are variously described as singular, plural,
or collective, depending on which reference grammar one consults:
Fowler describes three related but slightly different meanings:
- An abstract or generic meaning, referring to superiority of numbers,
with a singular verb, as in The great majority is
- A specific meaning where one of two or more sets has a numerical
plurality, with a singular or plural verb, as in, The majority
was/were determined to press its/their
- A specific meaning where "most" is referred to (where
the word most can be substituted), with a plural
verb, as in The majority of my friends advise
Celce-Murcia and Larson-Freeman cite another study in which there was
no clear preference for the singular or plural verb. These sentences
- A majority of votes _______ needed to win.: 81% of
the people questioned chose is, and 19% chose are.
- The majority of Democrats _______ opposed to local blackouts
80% chose are; 20% chose is.
Huddleston and Pullum in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language
(Cambridge University Press, 2002) state that majority
and minority are similar to other collective nouns
such as bunch, group, and number that occur with "of";
in expressions like these, the verb depends on the concept of singular
or plural of the count noun following:
A bunch of flowers was presented to the teacher. (One bouquet;
flowers gathered together into one unit)
A bunch of hooligans were seen leaving the premises. (Several
hooligans; individual bad young guys)
The majority of her friends are Irish.
So, when your concept is clearly singular, like "a bunch of flowers"
in (a), use a singular verb, like this:
The majority of senators is
voting with the president.
There is still a minority of
women in the profession.
When your concept is clearly plural, like "a bunch of hooligans" in
The majority of voters don't
If the minority of parents who are
really upset by the school board's decision raise enough
objections, they could very well cause a change in the school's
You will probably be right with whichever verb you choose.
(To see a comment on this topic, click