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Proper collective nouns
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2007 7:59 pm Reply with quote
thegooseking
 
Joined: 10 Sep 2006
Posts: 64
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland


This is something that came up in a French class I had eight years ago, although it's just as applicable in English, and has popped up ever since. I've asked about it on several forums and never seemed to be able to come to a satisfactory answer.

Everyone knows (or should know) that if a collective noun is singular (band rather than bands, team rather than teams, flock rather than flocks), the verb should be conjugated in the singular. "The team plays" rather than "the team play".

This seems to get a little hazy when that collective noun is replaced with a proper noun, however. Is it "Radiohead is playing tonight" or "Radiohead are playing tonight"? In football, "Scotland is playing Germany" or "Scotland are playing Germany"? In some cases it seems obvious: "The London Symphony Orchestra is playing" is pretty much a no-brainer, and "The Beatles is playing" doesn't make sense, but these are exceptions.

I think the confusion comes because although the collective noun is singular, the appropriate pronoun ('they') is plural. But this doesn't get me any closer to figuring out which is right.

What do you think, or alternatively, how do you approach it?
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 5:25 pm Reply with quote
Dave
 
Joined: 08 Jun 2006
Posts: 357
Location: Washington, DC


I mentioned this in that other thread, the one about "there's" plus plurals.

I think, truly, that if I wished to sound like a British speaker of English I would refer to Radiohead as plural. If I wanted to sound like an American, I'd say "Radiohead was really good last night."

As I reflect on this, it seems stranger to me that we would singularize that word than that British speakers would pluralize it.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2007 1:30 am Reply with quote
RabiAkiva
 
Joined: 28 Jun 2006
Posts: 163
Location: Israel


I was taught:
1- the police are making an arrest
2- the cattle are on the meadow

would you say that is wrong?

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2007 12:41 pm Reply with quote
thegooseking
 
Joined: 10 Sep 2006
Posts: 64
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland


RabiAkiva wrote:
I was taught:
1- the police are making an arrest
2- the cattle are on the meadow

would you say that is wrong?


'Cattle' and 'police' are both plural nouns, so that's not wrong at all. I would say "a team of police are making an arrest" and "a herd of cattle are on the meadow" are 'wrong', because 'team' and 'herd' are singular.

As Dave said, there might be regional variations, though I'm a British speaker of English and would be more inclined to choose the singular - it just makes more sense to me to use a singular conjugation of a verb when the subject of the verb is singular, even if that singular is a collection of many things. Maybe I'm an exception to the British way of doing things, though Wink

I'm a Computing Science student, so maybe my decision here is informed by how we handle sets in programming - a set is a collection of objects, and we can refer to any element (object) within the set, but the set itself is still an object in its own right. It is one thing.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 5:09 am Reply with quote
Eileen Ann
 
Joined: 27 Jun 2008
Posts: 42


This is the old collective noun problem.

A flock of sheep is coming but The sheep are coming
A team of policemen is here but The police are here
A gaggle of geese is there but The geese are there


The Government is or The government are?

Technically speaking, it is singular. Indeed, especially in spoken english we revert to the plural if we are speaking about a body of people, an organisation etc.

The government's ministers are ....... has indeed become replaced with
The government are......

"They" being implied.

So in relation to what RabiAkiva wrote

1. the police are making an arrest
This is correct because "police" is plural so this is not an issue of a collective noun. Singular is The police man or woman.

2. The cattle are on the meadow.
This is correct because "cattle" is already plural and this is not an issue of a collective noun. Singular is the cow or the pig or whatever it is.

But the team of police is singular. If you can insert the indefinite or definite article in at the beginning it is singular:

A team of police is here.

To make it plural it requires this:

Two teams of police are here.

The "two teams" are the subject which gives the verb its conjugation.
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Proper collective nouns
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