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Is A Collective Noun Singular Or Plural?

Collective nouns can use singular or plural verbs

But it depends on which form of English you are using.

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

I have decided to write this post after receiving quite a few criticisms regarding my plural use of certain collective nouns.

In particular, when referring to corporations such as Amazon and Apple.

This is understandable, though, because all the critical remarks I have received have been from the US, where singular usage of collective nouns is almost always the rule.

However, it is surprising that many readers have failed to notice my British spelling, which should give a clue to the fact that I am not writing in US English.

So, why do I insist on (sometimes) using a plural verb with a collective noun?

When is a collective noun singular or plural?

In US English, a collective noun such as Amazon would almost always carry singular verbs and pronouns.

For example, Amazon sells books. It is a big bookseller.

Apple has released a new phone. It sells lots of phones.

However, in British English, which is the form of English I use, it is more common to use plural verbs and pronouns.

Amazon sell ebooks worldwide. They are a big bookseller.

Apple have sold a lot of iPhones. They sell millions of phones.

My reasoning for often choosing to use the plural verb form is that corporations are by definition, a collection of parts or a group of people.

In the case of Amazon, there are multiple stores, such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca and Amazon.de plus many more, so using the plural gives the sense of these multiple components.

Companies and corporations can be compared to the collective noun, team.

Both singular and plural verbs can be used, because of the notion of the individual members of a team, or on the other hand, the unity of a team.

The team is winning. This expresses unity.

The team are celebrating their victory. 

This says that the members of the team are celebrating together but in their own individual way.

If you refer to members of a jury, it usually takes plural forms.

The jurors are deliberating.

But when the collective noun refers to the entire panel of jurors, it is a jury. Now it is a single unit.

The jury is deliberating.

But in UK English, one could possibly say:

The jury are deliberating.

The resistance to the use of plural verbs with collective nouns rests only on one side of the Atlantic.

For the rest of the English speaking world, there is no problem with using a plural verb, so long as it agrees with the accompanying pronoun.

Amazon sell a lot of books to their customers.

Amazon sells a lot of books to its customers.

So, I will continue to use plural verbs and agreement with a collective noun, when appropriate, because British English allows me this flexibility.

However, I will still get a bit cranky when I receive complaints from those with a lack of knowledge about this grammar point.

We use singular or plural depending on where we live.

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