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Subject-Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns

The committee was formed in 2012.
The committee are having lunch at the moment.

We often use singular nouns that refer to groups of people (for example: team, government, committee) as if they were plural. This is particularly true in English and less true in American English. 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:

  • plural verb
  • they (not it)
  • who (not which)

Here are some examples:

  • The committee want sandwiches for lunch. They have to leave early.
  • My family, who don't 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 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.

Notice that this is often a question of style and logic. The important thing is to be consistent.

Using a plural verb with singular subject is less common in American English.

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