Subject Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns

As a copy editor, it’s important to pay attention to subject-verb agreement in written content. This means ensuring that the subject of a sentence agrees with the verb in terms of number, whether singular or plural. Collective nouns, which refer to groups of people or things, can complicate this task. However, by following a few simple guidelines, writers can ensure correct and clear communication with their audience.

Understanding Collective Nouns

Collective nouns refer to groups of individuals, animals, or things. Examples include “team,” “family,” “herd,” and “committee.” These nouns are considered singular in terms of subject-verb agreement, even though they refer to a group. This means that the verb used with a collective noun must be singular as well.

For example, consider the sentence:

The team are playing well.

In this case, the sentence would be incorrect because “team” is the singular subject and requires a singular verb. The correct sentence would be:

The team is playing well.

While it may seem counterintuitive to use a singular verb with a group of people, animals, or things, it’s essential to maintain consistency and clarity in writing.

When to Use a Plural Verb

There are some cases in which a plural verb is appropriate when using a collective noun. This is typically when the group is viewed as individuals, rather than as a single entity. For example:

The family are having a disagreement about where to go on vacation.

In this case, it’s appropriate to use a plural verb because the family members are being viewed as individuals, rather than as a single unit. However, it’s important to consider whether a singular or plural verb is appropriate for each specific use of a collective noun.

Singular or Plural Pronouns?

Another consideration when using collective nouns is whether to use singular or plural pronouns when referring to the group. This can vary depending on the specific collective noun being used. For example:

The team is excited about their victory.

In this case, “team” is the singular subject, but it’s appropriate to use the plural pronoun “their” to refer to the individual members of the team. Similarly:

The committee has decided to present their findings at the next meeting.

Here, the singular subject “committee” requires a singular verb, but the plural pronoun “their” is used to refer to the individual members of the committee.

By understanding the rules of subject-verb agreement with collective nouns, writers can ensure clear and effective communication with their audience. Remember to use a singular verb with collective nouns, unless the group is being viewed as individuals, and use singular or plural pronouns as appropriate for the specific noun being used. These strategies will help ensure consistency and clarity in your writing.

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