Collective Pronouns and Collective Nouns

Collective Pronouns

As we have noted elsewhere, some pronouns seem to be plural but are really singular. Take, for instance, everyone. Everyone refers to all people, but look at what happens when you break it apart: everyone. Each is the same way; though it may introduce a statement about a group, the word itself refers to one particular person. For this reason, such pronouns require a singular verb:

Wrong: Everyone swim the English Channel.

Right: Everyone swims the English Channel.

Wrong: Each man bring a hat.

Right: Each man brings a hat.
Collective Nouns

Collective nouns such as team, group, or Writing Crew, can also be tricky. While each noun is, properly speaking, singular— one team, one group, one Writing Crew— these nouns also refer to multiple people or things within them. You can therefore argue for either a plural or singular verb.

American English usually opts for singular verbs. Consider these examples:

The team wins every game.

The Writing Crew offers great advice.

In England, though, one would likely write:

The team win every game.

The Writing Crew offer great advice.

The real difference is one of connotation. A singular verb calls attention to the group as a single, united entity, while a plural verb calls attention to the individual members.

Here are two quick pointers consistent with standard American practice:

1. Treat collective nouns as singular. This usage is more conventional.

2. If you wish to emphasize the individual members of a group, rewrite the sentence so that the collective noun is no longer the subject.

For example:

The Writing Crew offers great advice.

Writing Crew members offer great advice.

See? You can get around the problems posed by collective nouns.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Go back to Table of Contents