Is a group one single unit or combination of separate components?

A collective noun—i.e., a group, team, couple, class, family, board, etc.—appears in a singular form but represents some number of individual members. Also, the members referenced are always animate (alive), but not necessarily human: a litter of puppies, a herd of elephants. Such words could be singular or plural, and that’s what causes confusion:

Should the accompanying verb for a word like team be singular (is) or plural (are)?

The following tips and examples will help you determine if the collective noun is singular or plural:

Tip 1: If the focus is on the multiple members who comprise the unit, then reference the collective noun with a plural verb.
- The varied group include many gifted performers in this year’s show.
- After evaluating her condition independently, Grandma’s medical team are meeting to devise a treatment plan.
- The couple are having only their siblings in the wedding.
- John’s family are all coming to dinner.

Tip 2: If the focus is on the unit, then treat the collective noun as one with a singular verb.
- Mary’s group is moving into the new building tomorrow.
- Our cohesive team functions well under intense pressure.
- This year’s class is outstanding.
- My family loves to joke around.

Tip 3: Don’t rely on the identifying noun in a prepositional phrase to assume that a collective noun is plural.
- Mary’s group [of IT support personnel] is moving into the new building tomorrow.
- Our cohesive team [of professionals] functions well under intense pressure.
- This year’s class [of electric cars] is outstanding.
- My family [of comedians] loves to joke around.
- The board [of advisors] has recommended a thorough review of hiring policies.

Tip 4: In many instances, the plural or singular status of a collective noun is subjective; therefore, the rule is to choose the form and then make sure any other words that pertain to the collective noun in the sentence coincide as singular or plural.
- This year’s varied group include many gifted performers, who are giving their all for their show. [NOT who is, its all, or its show]
- After evaluating her condition independently, Grandma’s medical team are meeting to devise their treatment plan. [NOT its plan]
- The couple are having only their siblings in the wedding. [NOT its siblings]
- Mary’s group is moving to its new building tomorrow. [NOT their new building]
- This year’s class of electric cars is outstanding for its value. [NOT their value]
- My family of comedians loves its jokes. [NOT their jokes]

Tip 5: Names of institutions are usually singular.
- Congress is never going to unite on this matter.
- The Supreme Court has decided to hear the case.
- The elementary school’s PTA raises thousands annually for enrichment programs.

Tip 6: Americans tend to identify institutional collective nouns as singular, while the British typically view them as plural. Choose the better approach based on the audience and your need to connect with it/them.

Got it?

If this is the greatest communication concern your team ever has, it’s going to be just fine!

My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. For additional articles on many topics, please visit Write Lady’s blog at http://www.writelady.com/writelady_blog/. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at www.writelady.com.