Collective nouns

 

Q:

“The government is?or “the government are? I’ve heard both ways. Which is correct?

HG
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A:

It depends. “Government?and several other collective nouns—such as “audience,?“committee,?“crew,?“jury,?and “team”—sometimes take a singular verb and sometimes take a plural verb.

One consideration is where you are. In England, they often say “the government are.?In North America, they say “the government is.?These nouns tend to take a plural verb in British English, and a singular verb in American English.

A stronger factor, however, is what you are thinking: are you thinking of the government (or another collective noun) as one unit, as a whole group? If so, the pronouns, possessives and verbs referring to the noun are singular:

(a)

The government is not having much success in promoting its anti-litter campaign.

(b)

The committee has only three more weeks to finish its investigation.

Are you thinking more of the individuals who make up the group? In that case, you are thinking in a more personal way, and the pronouns, possessives and verbs referring to the noun are plural:

(c)

The government—all they want is to make a fast buck.

(d)

The committee are going to investigate the matter in their own time.

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