Subject-Verb Agreement: collective nouns | Grammar

The committee was formed in 2012.
The committee are having sandwiches for lunch.

We often use singular nouns that refer to groups of people (for example: team, government, committee) as if they were plural. This is because we often think of the group as people, doing things that people do (eating, wanting, feeling etc). In such cases, we use a plural verb. (We also then need to make sure that other words agree – they instead of it, who instead of which.)

Here are some examples:

  • The committee have asked for sandwiches for lunch. They have to leave early.
  • My family, who do not see me often, have asked me home for Christmas.
  • The team hope to win next time.

Here are some examples of words and expressions that can be considered singular or plural:

  • choir, class, club, committee, company, family, government, jury, school, staff, team, union, the BBC, board of directors, the Conservative Party, Manchester United, the Ministry of Health

But when we consider the group as an impersonal unit, we use singular verbs (and singular pronouns):

  • The new company is the result of a merger.
  • An average family consists of four people.
  • The committee, which was formed in 2012, is made up of four men and four women.
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Notice that this is often a question of style and logic. The important thing is to be consistent.

Some writers of American English treat collective nouns as singular at all times.

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