Collective Nouns used both as Singular and Plural

While collective nouns, which refer to groups of people, animals or things are usually singular, some of them can be used in the singular or plural. If the writer wants to focus on the group, then he will use the singular form. But if he wants to focus on the members of the group, he will use the plural forum.

The jury were unable to reach a verdict.

In the above, the author by using the plural verb were, is focusing on the individual members of the jury. If he wished to focus on the jury as a group, he would say,

The Jury locks itself up for the duration of the trial, to avoid being influenced by television coverage of the criminal proceedings.

Likewise the other collective nouns such as government, teams, people, audience can be used with singular or plural verbs depending on whether you want to focus on the members of the group or the group itself.

A list of nouns that can be singular or plural depending on the context. This usually happens when the collective noun refers to a group consisting of individual members.

audience

crew

public

committee

enemy

team

company

government

class

family

bunch

group

pack

In British English the collective nouns can be singular or plural. However in American English, they are always singular except in peculiar circumstances.

In the SAT, the above list of words are always singular unless the context forces the reader to look at the individual members, in which case they are plural.

 

Subjects – Simple, Compound and not so Simple

The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is all about.

John is going out on a vacation.

The above is a simple sentence with John as the subject. The subject is made up of a single noun, John.

Now let us look at the following examples:

John and Mary are going out on a vacation. (2)

John, along with Mary is going out on a vacation

Either me or my brothers will come today.

The subjects are no longer single nouns, but are a part of a phrase consisting of many nouns, joined together either by a conjunction or additives. Essentially, now the subject is a noun phrase, consisting of many nouns tied together with conjunctions or additives.

In the specific case of two nouns combined by the conjunctive and, it is called a compound subject (as in example (2)).

Noun phrases can also be longer as in the following examples:

A swarm of bees is invading the farm. (5)

The committee of engineers is scheduled to meet today.(6)

The members of parliament are scheduled to get a pay hike. (7)

In the above cases, the subject consists of a several nouns connected by prepositions, In such cases, you should be careful when choosing the verb that follows the subject phrase. The verb usually refers to the main subject (swarm, committee, members) inside the subject phrase. Hence, whether the verb is singular or plural will be decided by the main subject and not the noun nearest to it.

The noun phrases in the above examples had nouns related to each other using prepositions. Hence structurally, they are referred to as prepositional phrases.Functionally, they are noun phrases.

Standardized Tests like the SAT often confuse the test taker by placing a singular or plural verb right next to a singular or plural noun in a subject phrase. The student has to comprehend the meaning of the sentence and correctly understand the noun the verb refers to and on that basis choose its number. In (6) and (7) the verbs is and are correctly refer to swarm and parliament.

 

In the following examples, can you correctly identify the verb that should be used?

The mechanic with the families repair/repairs the cars in their godowns.

The wives of the armed forces veterans is/are at the charity ball.

……………………………………………………………

…………………………………………………………..

……………………………………………………………

Answers:

repairs as mechanic is singular.

are because wives is plural.

Two more examples for you:

The grievance of the ladies in the apartment block , was/were that the security guards were not always present at their station.

The cat on the hot tin roofs look/looks ready to jump at me any moment.

The Mystery of the Missing Subject!

One of my students recently asked me:

What is the subject in the following  sentence?

There are many cats on the cold tin roof.

When I asked him to guess, he said “There” was the subject of the sentence. He said this because the usual word order in English is S-V-O. Therefore he thought “There” was the subject of the sentence. But is it so?

Lets analyze the sentence.

Grammar Diagrams

The sentence is about cats so that is the subject. And the verb is are. And we have the preposition on and its object cold tin roof.

So what about there? What role is it playing in the sentence? It is definitely not the subject since we are not talking about there, we are talking about cats.

There here functions as a placeholder. It has no meaning by itself. It is a filler. It is required simply for the sake of grammar. It is a syntactical requirement and has no semantic (meaningful) function.

In fact the above sentence can be re-written as:

Many cats are on the cold tin roofs. 

The meaning is perfectly conveyed even though there is omitted. There is not required.

The technical term for there in the above sentence is an expletive. It means a filler.

Expletives are used when in everyday conversations but you are required to avoid them in formal English.

Another example of an expletive is here.

  • Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
    (Richard Bach)

The word here in the above sentence is an expletive and is not the subject of the sentence. The sentence can be re-written as:

The test to find out whether your mission on earth is finished is this. If you are alive, it isn’t.

Another commonly used expletive filler or placeholder is the pronoun it.

It is raining.

It is a well known fact that the Chinese regard the turtle as a supernatural.

In the above sentences, it is not the subject, but merely a placeholder and the sentence can be re-written without it. Do it as an exercise.

Also it as a placeholder occurs frequently in statements given out by the weather station. For that reason, it is also called the weather it.

It is hot today. It will rain tomorrow. It snowed in the Arctic yesterday.

 

 

Pronouns that are always singular

The following pronouns are always singular.

anyone, everyone, someone, no one, nobody

No one knows that I have the key to the riddle of the cosmos.

Everyone loves to be in the shoes of Michael Jackson

Nobody knows anything about plane crash

Anyone has heard of the horse that bolted from the

Someone is going to be punished for this terrible accident.

 

 

Pronoun – Verb Agreement – 2 – Indefinite Pronouns

The following pronouns are called as indefinite pronouns as they don’t point to anybody or anything in particular.

anyone, everyone, someone, no one, anybody, everybody, somebody, nobody, anything, everything, something, nothing.

any, one, none, some, several, all, few, fewer, many, less, little, more, much,most

each, other, another.

either, neither

Of these some of them are always singular, others are always plural, some are both singular and plural. The usage and context will decide whether they will singular or plural.

The following pronouns are always singular.

No one knows that I have the key to the riddle of the cosmos.

Nothing is known about the lions which went missing from the zoo.

Everybody looks to Messi as their football guru.

Everyone loves to be in the shoes of Michael Jackson

Nobody knows anything about plane crash

Anything goes with a cup of well-brewed coffee

Anybody has the key to the lock?

Something is seriously wrong with the conductor of the orchestra.

Someone is going to be punished for this terrible accident.

Somebody is going to tell me where to find the cakes hidden in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

Pronoun – Verb Agreement – 1

We have seen many instances of subject-verb agreement and the rules that need to be followed when connecting them.

Now we move on to pronouns.

A pronoun should agree with the verb in the same fashion a noun agrees with its verb. Singular pronouns take singular verbs, plural pronouns take plural verbs.

He is an honest man.

She is a great teacher and has inspired many students to scale great heights in their lives.

They are coming today.

They have landed at the airport, and I am going to get them.

Refer to the following Pronoun Table to familiarize yourself with the singular and plural forms of the personal pronouns.

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