Some collective nouns such as audience, class, club, committee, company, congregation, council, crew, crowd, family, gang, government, group, jury, mob, staff, team and union can be used with singular or plural verbs They are singular and can combine with the relative pronouns which/that and be replaced by it when we think of them in an impersonal fashion, i. e. as a whole group:
The present government, which hasn'tbeen in power long is tryingto control inflation. It isn't havingmuch success.
They are plural and can combine with who and be replaced by they or them when we think of them in a more personal way, i. e. as the individuals that make up the group:
The government, who are lookingfor a quick victory are callingfor a general election soon. They expectto be re-elected. A lot of people are giving themtheir support These collective nouns can also have regular plural forms.
Governments in all countries are tryingto control inflation.
Some proper nouns (e. g. football teams) can be used as collectives:
Arsenal is/are playing away on Saturday.
Collective nouns which do not have plural forms
The following collective nouns have no regular plural but can be followed by a singular or plural verb: the aristocracy, the gentry, the proletariat, the majority, the minority, the public, the youth of today:
Give the public what it wants/they want.
Offspring has no plural form but can be followed by a singular verb to refer to one or a plural verb to refer to more than one:
Her offspring islike her in every respect (one child)
Her offspring arelike her in every respect (more than one child)
The youth of today (= all young people) should not be confused with a/the youth (= a/the young man), which has a regular plural youths.
The youth of today is/are better off than we used to be.
The witness said he saw a youth/five youthsoutside the shop.
Youth (= a time of life) is used with singular verbs:
Youth is the time for action; age isthe time for repose
Collective noun + plural verb
The following collective nouns must be followed by a plural verb; they do not have plural forms: cattle, the clergy, the military, people, the police, swine, vermin:
Some people are never satisfied
The police/the military have surrounded the building.
People should not be confused with a/the people, meaning 'nation' or 'tribe', which is countable: The British are a sea-faring people.
The English-speaking peoplesshare a common language.
Nouns with a plural form + singular verb
The following nouns, though plural in form, are always followed by a verb in the singular:
- the noun news, as in: The news on TV isalways depressing.
- games, such as billiards, bowls, darts dominoes: Billiards isbecoming more and more popular.
- names of cities such as Athens, Brussels, Naples: Athens hasgrown rapidly in the past decade.
Nouns with a plural form + singular or plural verb
The following nouns ending in -ics take a singular verb: athletics, gymnastics, linguistics, mathematics and physics:
Mathematics is a compulsory subject at school.
However, some words ending in -ics, such as acoustics, economics, ethics, phonetics and statistics take a singular or plural verb. When the reference is to an academic subject (e.g. acoustics = the scientific study of sound), then the verb must be singular:
Acoustics is a branch of physics
When the reference is specific, (e.g. acoustics = sound quality) then the verb must be plural:
The acoustics in the Festival Hall are extremely good.
Plural-form nouns describing illnesses have a singular verb (measles, mumps, shingles, rabies, rickets, diabetes):
German measles is a dangerous disease for pregnant women. However, a plural verb is sometimes possible: Mumps are (or is) fairly rare in adults
Some plural-form nouns can be regarded as a single unit (+ verb in the singular) or collective (+ verb in the plural). Examples are: barracks, bellows, crossroads, gallows gasworks, headquarters, kennels, series, species and works (= factory).
- single unit: This species of rose isvery rare
- more than one: There are thousands of species of butterflies.
The word means (= a way to an end) is followed by a singular or plural verb, depending on the word used before it:
All means have been used to get him to change his mind.
One means is still to be tried.
Nouns with a plural form + plural verb
Nouns with a plural form only (+ plural verb) are:
- nouns which can combine with a pair of (boots, braces, glasses, knickers, pants, pliers, pyjamas/pajamas, scissors, shears, shoes, shorts, skates, skis, slippers, socks, stockings, tights, tongs, trousers): My trousers are torn.
Used with a pair of, these words must have a singular verb:
A pair of glasses costs quite a lot these days.
We cannot normally use numbers in front of these words, but we can say two, etc. pairs of:
Two pairs of your trousers are still at the cleaner’s.
Some of these nouns can have a singular form when used in compounds: e.g. pyjama top, trouser leg: Where did I put my pyjama top?
- a few words which occur only in the plural and are followed by a plural verb. Some of these are: antipodes, belongings, brains (= intellect), clothes, congratulations, earnings, goods, greens (= green vegetables), lodgings, looks (= good looks), means (= money or material possessions), oats, odds (in betting), outskirts, particulars, quarters (= accommodation), remains, riches, stairs, suds, surroundings, thanks, tropics: