Monday, January 21, 2008

Collective nouns -- plural in U.K.; singular in U.S.

One curve ball cropping up more and more in sportswriting and sports announcing is that collective nouns, when they refer to the group as a unit, as in "the team," have always been singular in American English. So sportswriters quickly learn that "the Lady Rebels" are plural, while "the West High girls' team" and "the Utah Jazz" are singular.
In UK English, however, collective nouns are plural. So you hear English announcers say, "The team are fired up today," Or "Manchester United are one of the finest teams anywhere."

Here in America, Harbrace 6a(8) says, "Collective nouns and phrases denoting a fixed quantity take a singular verb when they refer to the group as a unit and take a plural verb when they refer to individuals or parts of the group."

Singular (regarded as a unit):
The committee is meeting today.
Ten million gallons of oil is a lot of oil.
The jury convenes today.
The number is very small.

Plural (regarded as individuals or parts):
A number were absent.
Ten million gallons of oil were spilled.
The majority of us are in favor.

Although the use of data and media as singular nouns (for datum and medium) has gained currency in informal English, most writers still use data and media as plural nouns in formal written English.

FORMAL The media have shaped television.
INFORMAL The media has shaped television.

FORMAL The data are in the appendix.
INFORMAL The data is in the appendix.

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